The 3rd Thessaloniki Book Fair

Over four days, May 25-28, the Thessaloniki Book Fair brought together hundreds of book professionals from around the world and thousands of local visitors. The organizers served up a full – sometimes overflowing – program of events and entertainment catering to the trade and others, young and old. The tastings and outings related to the motif «Wine and Other Delights» created a cheerful atmosphere, especially when star pastry chef Christophe Felder flew in from Paris to share the secrets of his trade. Business was brisk for those who know how to make contacts, and participants mingled with people they might not otherwise meet. Children were well served again with activities that encouraged them to think and participate – such as making a huge dragon out of recycled materials. Focus and identity Now in its third year, TBF is a fully fledged institution, and it is time to clarify its focus and identity. At times the edges blur between a trade fair and one for the general public. Some major book fairs – think London – are strictly trade; others, like Frankfurt, only allow the public in on the final day. Perhaps TBF could open to the adult public in the evening, leaving the day for business and allowing small publishers who travel from Athens, as most do, to cover their expenses by selling books. Large local publishers who have been attending international fairs for years arrived with a full diary of engagements, while some smaller publishers seemed bewildered. Could one of the Greek publishers’ bodies perhaps ask the experienced publishers to share their expertise with the less experienced ones? Nilli Cohen, director of the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature, is familiar with the demands of promoting literature in a less-well-known language. «People have to prepare,» she said. «They have to know who will be there, which languages will be spoken and take people who can speak them. They need to prepare promotional material.» Cohen welcomed the manageable size of the fair, «for giving us a platform to meet people we don’t have time to see in London or Frankfurt.» She relished the opportunity to meet neighbors from Algeria, Egypt and Morocco. There are lessons to learn from the vast array of events. They worked best when translation was provided, opening up discussion to all participants, when contributions were short and to the point and time was allowed for questions. They really took off when speakers with strong convictions voiced opposing viewpoints. Sparks flew at a discussion about newspapers giving away free books. Florence Noiville of Le Monde delivered a measured comparison of the effect of such giveaways on the book trade, but the fur flew when Eleftherotypia editor Seraphim Fyntanidis, Ianos owner and publisher Nikos Karatzas and Cactus publisher Odysseas Hadzopoulos locked horns over the benefits and drawbacks. Moderator Apostolos Doxiadis reined the speakers in as needed, leaving time for at least two former PASOK ministers in the audience to speak. In contrast to that lively exchange was the Balkan Literature panel, unwisely scheduled for the dying hours of the fair and unsupported by interpreters. If event organizers want their message to go beyond a narrow circle, they need to put their hands into their pockets to pay for professional interpreters. And foreign visitors need dedicated events to introduce them to the books and writers they might want to buy rights to. That said, the fair was a credit to the organizers, the National Book Center of Greece, the Panhellenic Federation of Publishers and Booksellers, and Helexpo, who will certainly learn from this year’s experience to make next year’s fair even better.

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