Visitors to the Fifth Thessaloniki Book Fair (May 29 – June 1) will find it bigger, more varied and with some new attractions, the organizers promised yesterday. With more than 500 participants from 49 countries, TBF has secured its place among the world’s major book fairs. Catherine Velissaris, director of the National Book Center of Greece (EKEBI), told the press. EKEBI organizes the fair with the Greek Culture Ministry, Helexpo and the Panhellenic Federation of Publishers and Booksellers (POEB). A major innovation is to invite a different country to be guest of honor each year, an occasion for a series of events highlighting that country, its book industry and its connections with Greece. French treats This year, France, as the first guest of honor, is bringing a flock of publishers, writers, illustrators, critics and other book people to take part in discussions, presentations and entertainment. Literature from the homeland and other Francophone cultures, the joys of Mediterranean cuisine, workshops with illustrators of children’s books and the long shadow cast by May 1968 are among the treats in store. Greek publishers already translate some 450 titles from the French a year, as French Ambassador Christophe Farnaud told the press, and the focus on France at the fair should spark greater interest from both sides. Greek publishers in general, with the notable exception of those based in Thessaloniki, have embraced the fair, making it their own by bringing their authors for presentations and discussions, which will be held at their own stands this year, a change inspired, Velissaris noted, by the success of the events held by Nefeli publications at TBF in 2007, which consistently attracted sizable audiences. Sour note POEB’s president Dimitris Panteleskos remarked on the reluctance of Thessaloniki publishers to join in, suggesting they had not yet realized that TBF, as an international fair, was not in competition with the book bazaar they hold annually on the waterfront. «Why,» he asked, «do 500 of us go up north if they aren’t prepared to be part of the fair?» That was the only sour note struck in an otherwise upbeat briefing. Spotlight on politics What else can visitors to the fair expect? Among the regular offerings is an exhibition on a special theme. In 2008, the theme is «Books about politics.» As well as the 1,400 titles to be shown there is also a display of posters made by the youth wings of political parties -from the collection of the National Historical Museum -films, discussions and a performance of «Marx in Soho» by Howard Zinn at the Egnatia Theater. Children have always had a dedicated area at TBF, and this year it has grown to a 500-square-meter space hosting 80 events and activities. Every visitor will receive a free copy of «Vivlia pou allaxan ton kosmo» (Books That Have Changed the World), edited by Aspa Hasioti and published by EKEBI. Innovations For the first time this year, the opening day of the fair has been set aside for meetings of book industry professionals, including librarians, literary agents and translators. Book clubs will meet to review two years of experience and to plan how to organize the Readers’ Prize, previously run by EKEBI, which will become their responsibility. It’s going to be a busy four days.