Interview: Taipei International Book Fair’s Isabella Wu

In Feature Articles by Porter Anderson

Publisher Isabella Wu, chair of the Taipei International Book Foundation, highlights the vital role of books in public discourse.

The 2023 Taipei International Book Exhibition is in its 31st year, now open at Taipei World Trade Center. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘Universal Topics’
For all the bright lights and joyous colors of the 31st Taipei International Book Exhibition running this week in Taiwan’s capital, organizers of this sprawling, public-facing book fair know that there are very serious missions in place, as well.

“There are topics here related to politics,” says Isabella Wu, chair of the Taipei Book Fair Foundation. “There are several books from Taiwan’s point of view, like How To Keep Our Country Safe. That one is from a scholar with a military background—a very specific point of view. I think that’s good.”

This and other books of its kind help the show accomplish a part of its mission, she says: “We have to open the conversation. Not only on this side or that side” in terms of opinions, “but we have to open the conversation.”

Isabella Wu

Another important book, she says, is a new study of Chiang Kai-shek. “Not the story you learned from school, right? Maybe you have a very traditional story in mind from 50 years ago. Then we had different governments.

“I think that open conversation is important for our society to grow.”

Too often, Wu says, it can be hard to approach these conversations “because everybody in the room has their own point of view. “We don’t want to be provocative, you know? But work like this makes historical people more vivid. Younger readers will say, ‘Oh, this is a popular book, I want to take a look.'”

Needless to say, many in Taiwan are assessing their island democracy’s position, even as it’s reported by Sui-Lee Wee for The New York Times that the United States is “increasing its military presence in the Philippines, gaining access to four more sites and strengthening the Southeast Asian nation’s role as a key strategic partner for Washington in the event of a conflict with China over Taiwan.”

But it should be pointed out that the Taipei International Book Exhibition is hardly focused on geo-political issues of the moment.

Instead, many people on the vast exhibition floor are pleased to once again visit their huge book fair, buy books and meet authors. Students and families stroll the broad aisles of the center, rigorously masked but undeterred in their evident happiness at being there after two years of seeing the show challenged during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

‘To Occupy Different Platforms’

At Taipei International Book Exhibition, Poland’s guest of honor pavilion. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

Wu is a publisher, herself, leading CommonWealth Education Media and Publishing Company’s publishing division. “We have three magazines,” she says, themed on management, business, and economics; health and prevention; and parenting.

“Basically, you can say this is a content company,” she says. “We try to occupy different platforms.”

In her role with the company, Wu says, she’s noticing a trend in which women have surpassed men in buying business books.

In terms of patterns that aren’t picking up speed as much as she might like, Wu says, the book-to-screen development pace in Taiwan has been slower than she’d have expected.

“There are some projects, but not as many as we’d hoped,” she says. “I think there should be more. Right now, we’re still trying to build that linkage” between the world of books and the potential for film and television to expand those books’ reach.

“This is one we really are trying to learn from different markets. I want to learn from Korea,” where the book-film-television route is comparatively advanced among Asian markets.

To some degree, Wu says, the ability to cultivate books-to-screen adaptations may require writers “changing their mindsets. I hope we can have some more works with universal topics” that might translate to film and television projects, able to go past local interests and attract the attention of the international streaming networks.

And meanwhile, Wu’s own company is working on bringing the universal to Taiwan: “We’ll be publishing Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology, Chris Miller’s book published in October by Simon & Schuster’s Scribner, with its emphasis on Taiwan’s prowess in producing critical semiconductors needed the world over in technology.

“It reads,” says Isabella Wu, “like a novel.”

At the 2023 Taipei International Book Exhibition. Image: Publishing Perspectives, Porter Anderson

More from us on Taiwan and its market is here, and more on the Taipei International Book Exhibition is here. More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, which has impacted the Taipei program and so many other world book fairs, is here.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson was for more than a decade a senior producer and anchor with, CNN International, and CNN USA. As an arts critic (Fellow, National Critics Institute), he was with The Village Voice, the Dallas Times Herald, and the Tampa Tribune, now the Tampa Bay Times. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman.