Remember when you used to sneak a flashlight under the covers so you could read a book after bedtime? A bookshop in Taiwan promises you a similar experience.
Wuguan Books is located in Kaohsiung’s Pier-2 Art Centre, a warehouse-turned-creative hub in Taiwan’s second-largest city. And it is just as much an art exhibit as it is a bookshop.
Visitors make their way through the store in extreme darkness, except for the dim spotlights on each of the book covers and reading lights on some desks.
The unique bookshop is created and founded by the award-winning architecture and space designer Chu Chih-kang.
Chu designed Fangsuo Bookstore in Chengdu, which local media has described as the most beautiful bookstore in China.
No flashlights allowed
The mix of the pitch-dark environment and dimly-lit books creates the illusion that the books are “floating” while the rest of the environment disappears.
There are 400 bookshelves in the shop, each with just one “floating” book.”
This is designed so that people can focus on every book. In an environment where you can’t see, your other senses will be heightened,” Su Yu-shan, the shop manager, told CNN Travel.
But don’t try to cheat by using your smartphone to light the way: The use of flashlights and flashes are banned inside Wuguan. And that isn’t the only rule at this experiential store.
A list of tongue-in-cheek rules is printed at the entrance.
They include “Don’t shout when someone steps on your toes. Step on his/hers” and “If someone wants the same book (as you), buy the book or get his/her number.”
Harry Potter fans will also appreciate one of the guidelines: “if you think it’s too dark inside, pick up a tree branch and shout: “Lumos’.”
The bookstore is not for ‘taking Instagram beauty shots’
But, ultimately, Wuguan is so much more than a store — the store’s staff believe there is a higher purpose to book buying.
The bookstore’s slogan is “Wuguan Books — about soul reading.”
“In this environment, you’re free to be yourself, to communicate with your soul — your truest self,” Su said.
That’s why the entrance of Wuguan is decorated as a traditional Chinese mourning hall.
It’s a metaphor for visitors to let go of the images and judgments that have held them back.
“Visiting Wuguan, it’s to spend time with yourself and find a book that can resonate with you, instead of taking Instagram beauty shots,” Su said.
“Wuguan Books doesn’t care about having the biggest selection. Instead, it focuses on creating an experience.
“Although we don’t have a massive selection like a normal bookstore, people spend longer times (here) to communicate with books,” Su said.
“The dark environment has helped people to pick up books they dare not to pick up in other bookstores.
“Mostly erotic, but also books about souls, emotions or negative energy. It helps people to summon up their courage to be rebellious, or face their wounds,” he said.
Wuguan is only open to visitors over the age of 18 at the moment, as the store contains some books that cover sensitive topics, and sells merchandise that is not necessarily appropriate for younger readers (such as sex toys).
‘Haunted house’ vibes
In addition to books, Wuguan is also home to a small shop section that sells an eclectic mix of curiosities, home accessories and sex toys, as well as a coffee bar.
“Things that we thought might happen like guests tripping, sleeping and stealing have almost never happened,” Su said.
“But many were hesitant to come in because they were afraid of the dark — they thought it was a haunted house.”