The choice of Bhutan as the honored guest at the 2011 Taipei International Book Fair (TIBE), running from February 9 to 14, is both unexpected and groundbreaking. “Bhutan may be an insignificant market in the publishing world but this small nation of 700,000 people that measures its national wealth based on gross national happiness instead of gross domestic product has a lot to teach us,” says Jung-wen Wang, Taipei Book Fair Foundation chairman and founder/managing director of Yuan-Liou Publishing. “In these stressful times of unequal income distribution and relentless wealth creation, we need to refocus on quality of life and happiness. And since happiness and contentment can be found in books and the act of reading, our choice of Bhutan is both timely and appropriate.”

For TIBE advisor and former Frankfurt Book Fair director Peter Weidhaas, a book fair has to provide the stage for both culture and literature, and not just about promoting a specific industry. “Bhutan has a wonderful culture to offer. At the same time, the opportunity to exchange ideas is important to the people of Bhutan, and this is especially so since TIBE is the nation’s first outing on the international stage.”

Weidhaas, who has been involved in the planning of TIBE since its beginning 19 years ago, remains optimistic about the fair’s status as the must-go regional event. “The Taiwanese brand of hospitality, innovative spirit, professionalism and their ability to communicate clearly in English makes coming here a pleasure for exhibitors and visitors alike.” Experts from the U.S. Commercial Service share Weidhaas’s sentiments. This year, their booth displays more than 2,000 titles and offers catalogs from 130 publishers. “The focus is on children’s books, academic titles and language learning publications. We also started a magazine segment representing about 150 publishers,” says senior international trade specialist (and first-time visitor) Dawn Bruno, who sees a lot of potential in the U.S.-Taiwan book trade. “There is an appreciation and demand for U.S. content here, and we are working with the Ministry of Education and libraries to get to the readers.” For Taipei-based trade specialist Menny Chen, the whole idea is about connecting with local publishers while providing American presses with the greatest exposure possible to their target market.

Bruno and Chen’s mission is similar to what business development manager Sam Huang of the Australian Commerce and Industry Office is doing. “This is our sixth TIBE, and it provides Australian publishers with a platform to reach not just their Taiwanese counterparts but also those from Korea, Japan and China. As for Taiwan market, while it is not huge, its readers are interested in a wide range of topics, and this fits well with our publishers who have lists catering to every age and interest group.

Overall, nearly 700 cultural programs are scheduled during the six-day event that will showcase 724 publishers, of which 512 are from overseas. Fifty-nine countries participate in this year’s event with special pavilions occupied by Australia, Denmark, Finland, France, Italy and Sweden—nations that ranked among the world’s top 20 in terms of Gross National Happiness. International authors scheduled to give talks include Jostein Gaarder (Sophie’s World) and French illustrator Olivier Tallec (Big Wolf & Little Wolf, Gus is A Tree).

Fair visitors will get to see several treasured Buddhist texts including the 12th-century Eight Thousand Verses of Transcendental Wisdom (handwritten using liquid gold) and 17th-century Wish-Granting on Behold: The Biography of Padmasambhava. The Bhutan delegation led by Karma Ura—scholar, former Congress member and the president of the Center of Bhutan (which monitors the nation’s Gross National Happiness index)—includes several authors including Kunzang Choden, the first Bhutanese author published internationally. Her book, Circle of Karma, is available in five languages including Turkish, French and Italian.

This year, TIBE also holds its first-ever Reading Festival where authors from various countries give readings of classic literature in their mother tongue. Says Wang, “The idea was inspired by Leipzig Reads. We hope to emulate the success of Leipzig Book Fair and grow our reading festival from 100 authors to more than 1,000 authors come 2020, and to encourage publishers and industry players to hold reading events outside of the TIBE venue.”

“Visitors will also have a chance to visit the Impossible Library, a collection of art objects from Italy’s Centro Pecci Museum. These are mental representation of a book as seen by the artist. The whole idea of having this collection here is to get us to think, and think again, about books and things related to books,” explains Wang, who sets up a Digital Publishing Pavilion as a nod to the growing popularity of e-books, e-book readers and the influence of Amazon, Google and Apple in the book industry. “Each publisher needs to find his own niche, and this special pavilion is meant to provide new ideas and possibilities for content creation.”