Friday, July 28, 2006

a day, a life, is brightened

I am in Taipei, Taiwan right now, and I have just visited the most wondrous bookstore.

You enter from the ground floor, passing by a parcel of shops—clothes and purses and the like. After a ride up the escalator to the second floor, the books begin to appear. The next floor up is where the real ambiance starts.

As I wander through these literary grounds, I smile to see people perched all around, some strung along the side of the room, others leaning against the shelves alone or in pairs. Readers share benches, sitting hip to hip, engrossed in books, tomes, volumes. Side by side, they appear in profound enjoyment, some practically in ecstasy.

Every point is connected to the bookstore in space and spirit, so a reader never feels isolated. Yet engrossed in a novel, one is already in a completely different world.

Of course, there is a particular concentration of visitors around the shelf where you find Harry Potter. I wonder what the boy sitting on the ground is reading, then glance up to see that he's in the midst of "War & Spy." It's hard to suppress a grin. I can't believe there are two teenage males standing around reading "Contemporary Literature." I don't know if you can judge a store by this criterion, but it sure helps when they have Hannah Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism. (A whole section labeled Liberalism, actually).

People move and look and watch and look and read and look, and the air quivers, vibrant and full of life—a calm, focused, determined, enjoyable life of love and learning.

Here lie the Four Great Classical Chinese Novels: Journey to the West, Dream of the Red Chamber, Tale of the Water Margin, Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

I love that people share here a camaraderie in books. Looking, searching, holding, turning, finding, freeing: as you flow from section to section, you are never treading in a circle. Though you eventually return to where you started, the entire time you are afloat.

Literature fiction history contemporary clouds wind feathers (f)light.

Winding my way through the bookcases, I find it's not quiet, but it is tranquil. Books (or is it you?) move from one section to another, seamlessly. I want to sit, to watch, to capture the look on people's faces, beaming as they sit and read in rapture.

On a bench along the wall, between two towers of shelves and cases, sits a line of readers—each individual enthralled—creating an ensemble. Everyone coexists: citizens of this land. It's not a kingdom of books, but a republic.

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