I was initially surprised when I first saw the headline of this article (which this post’s title is a copy of), but after some thought, not anymore. Basically, Taiwanese don’t read much, much less so than people in countries like France, Russia, Japan, and mainland China. This worries the government so much that the ministry of culture has come up with a plan to help local publishers. The Atlantic Monthly article describes the decline in reading and, and mentions this is contrasted by Taiwan’s many bookstores, highlighted by the very well-known Eslite, an elegant local version of Borders (US) or Chapters (Canada). The main conclusions are that Taiwanese mainly buy Western bestsellers or self-help books, reading isn’t very popular, and that the local literary scene is not in good shape.
I do have local friends and acquaintances who read, and Western books are indeed popular. I can’t confirm the article’s assertion that nobody reads (the title is definitely a very hyperbolic one). Many people do read newspapers, magazines, and manga (Japanese comics). However, I’d say I don’t find it surprising that locals don’t read much books on average, since I feel that many young people, or even middle-aged people, don’t seem curious about or want to know more about the world. Since most available books are written by non-Taiwanese and about the world, I’d think this doesn’t make books very appealing. Couple that with the fact that the local media is not very professional and focuses more on gossip and scandal than news and information, and that there’re many forms of entertainment and leisure to distract Taiwanese, and it’s not hard to see that reading, especially serious literature and nonfiction, may be seriously declining. As the writer says, many people in libraries here are either studying or browsing magazines or newspapers, or making out (I can’t say I’ve seen this), while Eslite is popular but it’s mostly a hangout spot (to be honest, I do see many people reading whenever I’m there).
Conde Nast Traveler features “The Grand Tour of Asia,” that covers 12 countries in 45 days by one of its editors. It’s luxury travel, done mainly by taking planes (my favored form of transport, I should say) and going on tours accompanied by archaeologists so the budget is probably well out of the range for most of us (including myself), but the itinerary is quite cool. China is there, of course, as are India, Japan, and Thailand, but smaller countries like Vietnam, Nepal, and even Bhutan are covered too.
Speaking about reading, I recently read a really funny Indian book about love called “2 States.” The book’s name might sound more apt for a geopolitical nonfiction, but the book is definitely a romantic comedy in word form. What makes the book really interesting is that its main theme is about North-South regional stereotypes within India. The two young lovers are from Punjab, in the North, and Chennai, Tamil Nadu, in the South. They love each other but the hard part is accepting each other’s cultures and getting their families to agree to their marriage. While it might sound trivial and comical, the stereotypes are serious stuff that are akin to racial or national prejudices, which isn’t hard to imagine given India’s vast diversity and history. I’d heard of this before, but I’d never known that it was so serious. For instance, the stereotypes invoked include seductive Southern girls preying on Northern men, Southern people not being good bosses, Northerners/Punjabis being so materialistic that everything in life including marriage is based on money, and the dark skin of Southerners (it is pointed out that it is good the woman, though from the South, is lightskinned). The book is really funny and gives a good insight into Indian cultures and the diversity and rivalry (and prejudice) interspersed in them.
The author, Cheetan Bhagat, very likely wrote this book based on his marriage, since he and his wife are from the North and South respectively, just like the couple in the book. Plus, the amount of jokes and ridicule that are flung on both cultures in the book, probably the only way he could get away with that is if he was from one of the two cultures and has links to both of them. The Bollywood hit Three Idiots (the highest-grossing Bollywood movie) was based on Bhagat’s earlier novel Five Point Someone.