TBF building on achievements

THESSALONIKI – The sleek lines of the French stand set the visual tone of this year’s Thessaloniki Book Fair (May 29 – June 1). France, as guest of honor, also led the way in sheer volume, having brought a raft of publishers, writers, illustrators, agents and journalists. Having a guest of honor for the first time gave the fair a distinct focus and drew together other threads and themes. TBF’s «Books on Politics» theme, for instance, was a perfect fit with discussions and screenings related to the long-term reverberations of May 68 on politics and culture. Next year’s guest of honor, Germany, already has plans in place for a lively presence and promotion of German books. Fine-tuning In five years, TBF has established itself as a going concern and the organizers are confident enough to fine-tune the bits that don’t quite work. Next year, for instance, there will be fewer professional seminars because they didn’t attract sufficient participants, Catherine Velissaris told the press at a summing-up on the final day of the fair. Velissaris is director of the National Book Center of Greece (EKEBI), co-organizer of TBF with the Panhellenic Federation of Publishers and Booksellers (POEB). Admission is free, so there are no official attendance figures, but numbers were obviously down. Velissaris attributed that to the hot weather and the rival attractions of the beach. She is willing to tweak the opening and closing times to suit the local preference for evening visits. The ruckus caused by violent protests at the nearby university over rectors’ elections, which led to traffic jams, also played a part in discouraging visitors. Some appreciated the quieter mornings as an opportunity to meet people and get business done. And there was plenty of that. Susan Harris, editorial director of Words Without Borders, a website that specializes in fiction in translation, was a first-time visitor to TBF. She relished the opportunity to track down people she would never see in the immensity of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Turkish literary agent Nermin Mollaoglu was impressed by the liveliness of the fair, which she contrasted favorably with that of the much older Istanbul fair. Like all international events, TBF fosters synergies. Nilli Cohen, director of the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature, appreciated the contact with book people from the Balkans. Dutch, French and German book and translation experts shared their know-how with Arab players who are entering the arena with deep pockets but little experience. It’s too early to predict which meetings will result in publications, but not to celebrate ones that stemmed from last year’s fair. Guardian newspaper culture correspondent Maya Jaggi, who met Gazmend Kapllani last year in Thessaloniki, was delighted to have been instrumental in getting a publishing deal with Portobello/Granta for his «Small Diary of Borders,» published in Greek by Livanis. For ordinary visitors, the fair and parallel events had much to offer. British writer Jonathan Coe shared his ideas and methods with a rapt audience; Apostolos Doxiadis and his team sparked intense interest in their upcoming graphic novel «Logicomix,» and Le Monde’s cartoonist Plantu demonstrated his craft. Quibbles Quibbles are minor, mainly housekeeping matters. Banners advertised the fair but Helexpo’s woefully inadequate signage alienated visitors trekking through sweltering heat in search of the entrance. The total absence of catering fueled ugly scenes at the official opening where some of the famished crowd forgot their manners in an unseemly scrum over the first refreshments witnessed all day. The expansion of the children’s corner by incorporating it with publishers’ stands translated into too much empty space. Best to return to a smaller space for EKEBI’s imaginative activities and installations. It won’t take much to set that right for next year. [email protected]