London Book Fair: Bigger and better

LONDON – The London Book Fair gets bigger and better by the year. With 1,550 exhibitors from 62 countries attending the fair, April 14-16 2008, the organizers sold 15 percent more international space than in 2007. And they organized that space much more effectively. Having outgrown the venue it occupied for many years at Olympia and following a brief, unpopular transfer to Excel in the Docklands, the fair has settled into Earls Court One and Two. Smarter planning made it a more comfortable fit this year, with all exhibitors on the ground floor, seminars and meetings upstairs and a wider variety of catering options. Carpeting, clearer signage, and greater space between stands reduced the noise, crowding and general frazzle factor. Novelties included a pavilion from Russia, making its first appearance at LBF. Organized by Rossica Academia, publisher of Rossica journal, to help bring Russian publishers into the wider publishing world, it was linked to Russian Literature Week in London. The stand had a dedicated seminar zone for discussions, presentations and launches, a good idea that needed more room to make a real impact. Spacious though the venue in general felt, the small stand simply didn’t have the right acoustics to make speakers heard. Also new – and popular – was the Gourmand London Book Fair Cook Book Corner, where a series of international chefs, among them Vangelis Driskas from Greece, demonstrated their skills. And there were podcasts on the fair’s website of interviews with key members of the book industry. Not a lot of innovation this year, then, but plenty to get your teeth into. Focus on Arab world The highlight was the Market Focus on the Arab world, which attracted plenty of exhibitors with fancy pavilions and featured multiple promotions, events and discussions. Every year the fair focuses on a different country or territory to help boost international business. This year it was the turn of the 20 countries and two states that have Arabic as their official language to raise their profile. A solid cultural program designed in collaboration with the British Council gave maximum exposure to the writers, publishers and translators of works in Arabic. That was the fruit of several years’ preparation, and it’s encouraging to know that while official state policy to the Arab world seems less than friendly, a cultural arm of establishment has been reaching out, helping build the kind of bridges our world sorely needs. Though it’s impossible to gauge the long-term impact at this early stage. I’d lay odds that one of the most effective means of cross-fertilization is Banipal, a magazine of modern Arab literature which issued a free supplement for the fair. A selection of 47 short stories and extracts from novels, rendered in English by 23 translators for Banipal’s first 30 issues, the supplement celebrates contemporary Arabic literature and makes it available to the agents, publishers and translators who are capable of taking it to a global readership. Kalima Working in the opposite direction, an ambitious project called Kalima, from the Arabic word for book, has undertaken to revive translation in the Arab world. Once the language in which the great works of antiquity were preserved, Arabic now sees few translations, just one book for every million Arabs. Founded by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage, Kalima aims to announce an annual list of 100 titles to be translated and published. The choice will be based on quality and reader appeal, while maintaining a balance between classic and contemporary writing, literature and scientific and academic texts. Examples of titles already in the pipeline are works by Umberto Eco, Jurgen Habermas, Stephen Hawking, Haruki Murakami and Allan Greenspan. Meanwhile, a new joint publishing venture, inspired by the focus on Arabic literature, brings together established publishers Gary Pulsifer of Arcadia Books and Barbara Schwepcke of Haus, whose new imprint Arabia will offer Arabic literature in translation, with most of the titles coming from the American University of Cairo Press. Absent Greeks Amid all that, where were the Greeks? Absent, for the most part, except for a prominent banner promoting this year’s Thessaloniki Book Fair, and a stand staffed by a single person from the Hellenic Federation of Publishers and Booksellers (POEB), whose brief was to facilitate Greek publishers at the fair. In recent years the National Book Center of Greece (EKEBI) has made concerted efforts to create a visible Greek presence at international book fairs. This year, a planned collaboration with POEB fell through, EKEBI director Catherine Velissaris told Kathimerini English Edition, when POEB could not get funding from the Culture Ministry to cover the traveling expenses of an EKEBI representative. A pity not to build on past promotions at one of the world’s premier book industry events.

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