The Ubiquity of Books

Across our four decades in Taiwan, we went through thousands of books. You might expect that for people in missionary work that meant bibles and religious books. Not in our case.  We’re voracious readers. Finding books is part of the bargain.

In the early 80s Kaohsiung hosted a former United States Information Service (USIS) library. The nearby YWCA also had a book exchange room, where folks leaving town often left what they weren’t carrying or shipping home. Before Taiwan joined the WTO and came under international copyright controls, bookstores on Wu Fu 4th Road supplied us with pirated editions of recent imports.    


                                                                                                    Photo by Susan Yin on Unsplash

When the USIS library closed, the books went to the city library branch in San Min Park.  On a visit, I noticed a corner full of what appeared to be the kinds of books that earlier went to the YWCA. One day I went to drop off some of our own excess there. The door was locked, so I left a stack outside.  

On sabbaticals or vacations in North America, we’d use the M-bag shipping rate for printed matter and send up to a hundred pounds at a time home to Taiwan. When that rate ended I got better at catalog and eventually at online ordering. Our collection outgrew available space. Once on a Kaohsiung Yahoo Group I posted “Free Library, 300 books. Come and take them all.”  Someone who ran a hostel came and did. 

When we moved to Tainan in 2007 we got more.  I began ordering used books by author names or by genres: history, travel, biography, women authors, spiritual autobiography. A west-coast screenwriter, Susan B. Isaacs, caught my attention. Forgetting the middle initial, I was thrilled to discover about a dozen books by Susan Isaacs. I ordered them all. Different woman, different coast: Susan Isaacs is an east coast mystery writer. But she’s good, and I still read everything I can find by her. 

Books came in by the dozens, and left by the hundreds (once a year).  When it came time to leave in 2018, we packed the best and offered the rest free for the taking on a Tainan facebook page. Many people came and left laden. When I took what remained to a used book dealer he refused them all. They ended up at a recycling dump.

Our current home is a mere thousand steps from an excellent public library. I no longer buy print books. Lately I’m reading mysteries. This too will pass, maybe by the time the plague does. 

David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.

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