The best books about Taipei

5 authors have picked their favorite books about Taipei and why they recommend each book.

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A Culinary History of Taipei

By Steven Crook, Katy Hui-Wen Hung,

Book cover of A Culinary History of Taipei: Beyond Pork and Ponlai

Despite the title, this is a history of the food of Taiwan, not just Taipei. The “ponlai” in the subtitle refers to a strain of rice developed in Taiwan during the Japanese colonial period, stickier and quicker maturing than the indica rice cultivated previously; and this specificity gives a good indication of the admirable depth the book goes into. There’s great breadth too, the authors covering almost everything you might be curious about, whether aboriginal crops or traditional banquet culture, religious food offerings, food folklore and prohibitions, the evolution of basic ingredients, and the origin stories of iconic dishes.


Who am I?

I’m a Kiwi who has spent most of the past three decades in Asia. My books include Formosan Odyssey, You Don't Know China, and Taiwan in 100 Books. I live in a small town in southern Taiwan with my Taiwanese wife. When not writing, reading, or lusting over maps, I can be found on the abandoned family farm slashing jungle undergrowth (and having a sly drink).


I wrote...

Formosan Odyssey: Taiwan, Past and Present

By John Grant Ross,

Book cover of Formosan Odyssey: Taiwan, Past and Present

What is my book about?

This mix of travelogue, history, and vignettes of small-town life is the kind of book I like to read myself: history and culture woven into travel narratives, and with a healthy sprinkling of eccentric characters. I think readers will be surprised to learn that Taiwan was – until the early twentieth century – one of the wildest places in Asia, as shown in the tales recounted of fatal shipwrecks, headhunting tribes, banditry, and revolts. From those early frontier days, Formosan Odyssey takes us through the period of Japanese colonial rule, and the post-war transition from impoverished police state to a prosperous democracy.

Leave Society

By Tao Lin,

Book cover of Leave Society

In 2021’s most widely-discussed literary novel, Lin, the former enfant terrible of the early 2000s alt-lit scene, rejects that movement’s terse and affectless style in favor of a more startlingly inventive prose alive to everyday experience’s strangeness. This autobiographical novel recounts its narrator’s attempt to wean himself from the toxic habits and substances of our “dominator” society and, through natural foods and psychedelic drugs, to return to a matriarchal cooperative tradition he describes at length. Whatever we think of Lin’s potentially sentimental historiography, he embeds it in a gentle family comedy that effloresces into a tender romance. I appreciate Lin’s countercultural commitment to rejecting fashionable pessimism and unthinking science-worship, and I respect his evolving ethic of personal kindness. It would be preachy if issued as a proclamation, but becomes a practice we can all learn to share when shown in a novel.


Who am I?

I’ve always been fascinated by philosophical ideas, the more radical and counterintuitive the better. But as someone who’s never excelled at abstract thought, I’ve found these ideas’ expression in argumentative nonfiction both dry and unpersuasive, lacking the human context that would alone test the strength of propositions about spirituality, justice, love, education, and more. The novel of ideas brings concepts to life in the particular personalities and concrete experiences of fictional characters—a much more vivid and convincing way to explore the world of thought. Many readers will be familiar with the genre’s classics (Voltaire, Dostoevsky, Mann, Camus), so I’d like to recommend more recent instances I find personally or artistically inspiring.


I wrote...

The Quarantine of St. Sebastian House

By John Pistelli,

Book cover of The Quarantine of St. Sebastian House

What is my book about?

I wrote The Quarantine of St. Sebastian House between March and April 2020. I wanted to capture not the factual history of those early pandemic days, but to record the period’s apocalyptic atmosphere—fears of impending doom amid the eerie quietude; the chaos of contradictory information and ideology in a society suddenly transported online; and above all how it felt for normal life to be suspended in an existential crisis, with all our values and priorities suddenly up for debate.

My story of one quarantined apartment building whose tenants face off over art, politics, and philosophy—a struggle that builds to terrible revelations, climactic violence, and redemptive love—is about how social crisis reveals the conflicting truths at the bloody heart of our individual and social lives.

Loveboat, Taipei

By Abigail Hing Wen,

Book cover of Loveboat, Taipei

I was hooked from just reading about the premise of this book–eighteen-year-old Ever Wong is sent to a summer program in Taipei, Taiwan in order to hone her academic skills and learn Mandarin. But little do her parents know that this program is known as “Loveboat” where kids are partying and hooking up when they’re not busy with academics. Ever is a well-rounded protagonist, trying to balance her parents’ expectations and first love while figuring out who she is, all in one wild summer.


Who am I?

Growing up, I always loved reading young adult romances where first love and growing up seemed like the perfect kind of summer story. As an adult, and especially as an educator, I have too often seen the likes and interests of my female students dismissed as silly or frivolous, romance being at the top of this list. I love cultivating a diverse classroom library, one that includes books for everyone’s interest and background. Writing stories for young readers and about what interests them has been the great privilege of my life.


I wrote...

The Edge of Summer

By Erica George,

Book cover of The Edge of Summer

What is my book about?

Saving the whales has been Coriander Cabot and her best friend Ella’s dream since elementary school. But when tragedy strikes, Cor is left to complete the list of things they wanted to accomplish before college alone, including a marine biology internship on Cape Cod.

Cor's summer of healing and new beginnings turns complicated when she meets Mannix, a local lifeguard who completely takes her breath away. But she knows whatever she has with Mannix might not last, and that her focus should be on rescuing the humpback whales from entanglement. As the tide changes, Cor finds herself distracted and struggling with her priorities. Can she follow her heart and keep her promise to the whales and her best friend?

Bu San Bu Si

By J.W. Henley,

Book cover of Bu San Bu Si: A Taiwan Punk Tale

Readers looking for something different will enjoy this. There’s no history lesson here, no cultural tourism of night markets, martial arts, and temples, no Western protagonists finding their feet and getting a girl. Bu San Bu Si is a gritty journey into the underground music scene in Taipei. In electric prose, the novel follows the triumphs and more often the travails of Xiao Hei, the bass guitarist in a four-man band called Resistant Strain, “a bunch of nobodies in a scene full of more nobodies.” The talented young man’s work ethic doesn’t match his ambitions for street cred, fame, and fortune. When gangster connections offer a shortcut, things spin out of control.  


Who am I?

I’m a Kiwi who has spent most of the past three decades in Asia. My books include Formosan Odyssey, You Don't Know China, and Taiwan in 100 Books. I live in a small town in southern Taiwan with my Taiwanese wife. When not writing, reading, or lusting over maps, I can be found on the abandoned family farm slashing jungle undergrowth (and having a sly drink).


I wrote...

Taiwan in 100 Books

By John Grant Ross,

Book cover of Taiwan in 100 Books

What is my book about?

This is the distillation of hundreds of titles and decades of reading. Telling the story of Taiwan through the most acclaimed, interesting, and influential English-language books, we travel from the early seventeenth century to the present. The book was great fun to write, and especially satisfying to shine a light on forgotten gems. It’s an accessible introduction to the country and also a bibliophile's elixir packed with the backstories of the authors and the books themselves; there are tales of outrageous literary fraud, lost manuscripts, banned books, and publishing skulduggery.

The Hell Screens

By Alvin Lu,

Book cover of The Hell Screens

One of my favorite books set in Taiwan, The Hell Screens is dreamy and chilling, creating a landscape of winding alleys, dark apartments, and half-seen ghosts. It captures some of the peculiar alienation that I felt like a newcomer in Taiwan. Alvin Lu has such a unique voice and way of depicting the world—I can’t wait for more work from him.


Who am I?

The ghostly/magical and Taiwan are two of my major interests—I have written about both in my fiction. After living in Taiwan for a few years and getting to know my mother’s side of the family, I gained an appreciation for its complicated history, riveting politics, and the energy of daily life there. Its confluence of people and histories has made it a unique cultural amalgam and these books capture the way folk religion and the spiritual/magical are wedded into the bustling contemporary urban life of Taiwan. I hope you find yourself as enchanted and intrigued by these stories as I have been!


I wrote...

Green Island

By Shawna Yang Ryan,

Book cover of Green Island

What is my book about?

February 28, 1947: Trapped inside the family home amid an uprising that has rocked Taipei, Dr. Tsai delivers his youngest daughter, the unnamed narrator of Green Island, as the city is plunged into martial law. In the following weeks, Dr. Tsai becomes one of the many thousands of people dragged away from their families and thrown into prison. His return, after eleven years, is marked by alienation from his loved ones and conflicts that loom over the growing bond he forms with his youngest daughter. Years later, this troubled past follows her to the United States, where she too is forced to decide between what is right and what might save her family—the same choice she witnessed her father make years before. 

Ghost Month

By Ed Lin,

Book cover of Ghost Month

In Ghost Month, the first in a 4-book mystery series, Ed Lin vibrantly depicts nightlife in Taiwan, particularly in the night markets. I love this book for doing what John Gardner says good fiction should—it creates a “vivid and continuous dream,” bringing to life so much of the sensory experiences of Taipei. I could see, smell, hear, and taste this book!


Who am I?

The ghostly/magical and Taiwan are two of my major interests—I have written about both in my fiction. After living in Taiwan for a few years and getting to know my mother’s side of the family, I gained an appreciation for its complicated history, riveting politics, and the energy of daily life there. Its confluence of people and histories has made it a unique cultural amalgam and these books capture the way folk religion and the spiritual/magical are wedded into the bustling contemporary urban life of Taiwan. I hope you find yourself as enchanted and intrigued by these stories as I have been!


I wrote...

Green Island

By Shawna Yang Ryan,

Book cover of Green Island

What is my book about?

February 28, 1947: Trapped inside the family home amid an uprising that has rocked Taipei, Dr. Tsai delivers his youngest daughter, the unnamed narrator of Green Island, as the city is plunged into martial law. In the following weeks, Dr. Tsai becomes one of the many thousands of people dragged away from their families and thrown into prison. His return, after eleven years, is marked by alienation from his loved ones and conflicts that loom over the growing bond he forms with his youngest daughter. Years later, this troubled past follows her to the United States, where she too is forced to decide between what is right and what might save her family—the same choice she witnessed her father make years before. 

Through Formosa

By Owen Rutter,

Book cover of Through Formosa: An Account of Japan's Island Colony

A delightful travelogue based on a brief trip Rutter made in the spring of 1921, from Kaohsiung up the west coast to Taipei. At that time, Taiwan was a Japanese colony and largely closed to tourists, and Through Formosa a rare glimpse. Rutter was an English colonial administrator and rubber planter in Borneo, so as well as typical travel descriptions of transport, accommodation, and sights, we also get informed opinions on matters such as how the Japanese colonial government was developing agriculture and trying to assimilate the aborigines. 


Who am I?

I’m a Kiwi who has spent most of the past three decades in Asia. My books include Formosan Odyssey, You Don't Know China, and Taiwan in 100 Books. I live in a small town in southern Taiwan with my Taiwanese wife. When not writing, reading, or lusting over maps, I can be found on the abandoned family farm slashing jungle undergrowth (and having a sly drink). 


I wrote...

Formosan Odyssey: Taiwan, Past and Present

By John Grant Ross,

Book cover of Formosan Odyssey: Taiwan, Past and Present

What is my book about?

This mix of travelogue, history, and vignettes of small-town life is the kind of book I like to read myself: history and culture woven into travel narratives, and with a healthy sprinkling of eccentric characters. I think readers will be surprised to learn that Taiwan was – until the early twentieth century – one of the wildest places in Asia, as shown in the tales recounted of fatal shipwrecks, headhunting tribes, banditry, and revolts. From those early frontier days, Formosan Odyssey takes us through the period of Japanese colonial rule, and the post-war transition from an impoverished police state to a prosperous democracy.

Green Island

By Shawna Yang Ryan,

Book cover of Green Island

Both a family history and a political primer of Taiwan, spanning the years from 1947 to 2003, this is my go-to fiction recommendation. The title comes from the name of an island where many political prisoners were sent during the martial law era. Green Island opens with the birth of the female narrator as a revolt against oppressive Nationalist rule breaks out on the streets of Taipei. She is delivered by her father, a doctor who is arrested and sent to Green Island. A deserved popular and critical success, this is one of the few Taiwan works available as an audiobook.


Who am I?

I’m a Kiwi who has spent most of the past three decades in Asia. My books include Formosan Odyssey, You Don't Know China, and Taiwan in 100 Books. I live in a small town in southern Taiwan with my Taiwanese wife. When not writing, reading, or lusting over maps, I can be found on the abandoned family farm slashing jungle undergrowth (and having a sly drink).


I wrote...

Taiwan in 100 Books

By John Grant Ross,

Book cover of Taiwan in 100 Books

What is my book about?

This is the distillation of hundreds of titles and decades of reading. Telling the story of Taiwan through the most acclaimed, interesting, and influential English-language books, we travel from the early seventeenth century to the present. The book was great fun to write, and especially satisfying to shine a light on forgotten gems. It’s an accessible introduction to the country and also a bibliophile's elixir packed with the backstories of the authors and the books themselves; there are tales of outrageous literary fraud, lost manuscripts, banned books, and publishing skulduggery.

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