Openbook: A New Force in Literary Reviewing
by Hsien Jung-Chiu || Translated by Canaan Morse
Jan 14, 2018

The hottest party on the chilly first weekend in December was the Year’s Best Book Award ceremony, organized and hosted by Openbook. Publishers of all generations gathered on and off-stage to celebrate the winners; some old lions of the industry admitted that the news of having won brought them to tears, while some young editors averred it would be a moment they would never forget.


Though Openbook is still a very young digital literary review platform (officially started in February 2017), it has in a few short months attracted a sizeable following of diehard fans, and established significant credit in Taiwanese publishing circles.


Openbook’s Editor-in-Chief, Chou Yue-Ying, once sat at the helm of one of the most influential literary reviewers in the country: The China Times newspaper’s Open Bookliterary review section. In 2016, when the newspaper’s governing body decided to redesign the section and cut its long-standing awards program, Chou’s deep commitment to her work motivated her to resign from the newspaper and strike out on her own. When asked why she felt comfortable leaving a safe position in mainstream media in order to start a money-hungry online project from nothing, Chou responded: “Many readers would justifiably wonder, can’t our society sustain a professional book reviewing platform? Engaging once more in the work of literary reviewing, with a new philosophy and on a different platform, seemed like an absolute necessity to me.”


Obviously, “Openbook” and Open Book look like much the same thing, and the new project does on some levels carry on the spirit of its predecessor, yet it is also much more than just new wine in old bottles. Visitors to the Openbook homepage are greeted with a wide array of options. “OB Shorts,” for instance, stitch together short, clearly written reviews of seven to ten books within a single piece, allowing for a quick-hit style of reading that viewing numbers suggest makes them popular with busy urban readers. Another popular project is called “Monthly Partnered Reading,” and features input not only from authors and publishers, but also from housewives, rock stars, YouTube streamers and more, in a bid to draw out the full diversity of the reading experience. Even author interviews are crafted along unique lines; sometimes they’re held in the gym or in the kitchen, sometimes even with masks on. By changing the boundaries and sometimes poking fun of the format of the author interview, the author’s actual creative spirit finds new and different points of entry into listeners’ imagination.


Most of these new ideas are the brainchildren of Openbook’s Creative Director, the author, publisher and bookstore owner Chen Hsia-Min, who is both passionate about reading and a constant source of creative energy. He and his crack team of writers, makers, and videographers have been bringing readers new surprises for months now. “Our goal is to make content that’s powerful, as well as energetic and vibrant. We want that kind of atmosphere to motivate imaginative reading.”


Beneath this new and highly colorful surface is a vision that is closely attuned to trends in contemporary reading. Chou Yue-Ying states: “In fact, the core message we wish to transmit is that these books and author’s we’re putting out there are worth attending to in contemporary Taiwan.” Chen Hsia-Min emphasizes that “We’re not only looking to give off a youthful vigor; we also want to be closely connected to the times.”


Openbook stands as an excellent example not only of how traditional print publishers have re-invented themselves and their work online as their industry gradually dies; it also shows how an online cultural media outlet can break its way out of a flood of disjoined information, grab the attention of readers, and bring positive energy into their world. Two weeks before the Best Book Awards were announced, they posted this status on Facebook: “We sincerely believe that the choices for this year’s Best Book Awards, taken from a booklist that came together slowly over many long months, will embody the love our world has for reading.”


Truly, the people behind this new, promising project have themselves a tender and unspeakably deep love for reading, too.