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Book fairs should do more than go by the book

Update: October, 08/2017 - 09:00
Viet Nam News

by Khoa Thư

Jostling in the dense crowd in the Nhã Nam Book Company booth at the fair, I told myself not to fret.

“Come on. This fair is the only chance to get those books for half of the price. Keep calm, and go for it!”

Even before I could list in my mind the books I’d bought, news arrived of yet another fair, this time in the former Imperial Citadel of Thăng Long.

“No, thanks,” I told myself. “Got enough books for the six months to come.”

Typical millennial that I am, however, there was a fear of missing out (FOMO) that pushed me to ask my bibliophile friends whether they’d go to the newly opened book fair. “No way!” they said, with a lot shaking of the heads.

“They will be all the same,” one added.

A close friend, however, replied in excitement: “I would,” but offered an unexpected reason. "The Imperial Citadel in twilight is perfect for a photo-shoot.”

The number of book fairs being held in the capital city might be impressive, but organizers need to rethink these events.

Although they have different themes, like “Books and the community’s intellectual development” or “Autumn Book Fair”, of “International book exhibition” or “Books and start-ups”, there is essentially no difference between these fairs. Same books, same publishing houses and almost the same activities. It feels like a copy and paste job.

These events can be primarily about sellers wanting to move their inventory and buyers looking for discounts, but they can be so much more, deliver much more value.

And even if the focus is firmly on the bottom line, there’s this to consider: The sales of VNĐ10 billion (US$440,000) at the International Book Fair in Hà Nội’s Thống Nhất Park last August may sound like a lot till it is compared with VNĐ50 billion ($2,200,000) recorded at the 2016 HCM City Book Fair.

The key to this success is simple. The presence of popular writers. There was a long queue waiting for Nguyễn Nhật Ánh, the iconic storyteller of tales for children, to sign books. There was an excited crowd at the launch of a novel by Anh Khang, another best-selling author.

Then there was a talk show hosted by MC Thuỳ Minh and writer Nguyễn Ngọc Thạch, two opinion-makers on the Internet, which attracted hundreds. This shows that a book fair can create experiences beyond reading while promoting the laudable habit.

The appearance of Prof Ngô Bảo Châu, Field Medalist, to introduce Love and Math by Edward Frenkel was the highlight of the 2016 Hà Nội Autumn Book Fair. However, nothing similar happened this year.

Tuấn Phi, a private library owner in the West Lake area, compared book fairs in Hà Nội and HCM City.

“In HCM City, I joined two book fairs which were much smaller than those in Hà Nội,” Phi said.

“I think the organisers there are really active and creative. I took part in some discussions on old and rare works and others were free to join various panel discussions. There was a team taking charge of online and offline communication. Participants could easily follow upcoming special events on the book fairs’ fan pages as well,” he added.

Though there are a number of ways to introduce readers to its exclusive events, the 2017 International Book Fair, like other such fairs in Hà Nội, chose the traditional method: a big schedule was hung in front of the Thống Nhất Park. The book fair’s fan page, additionally, seemed to have air of mystery, containing nothing bout the simple information of location and time.  

What makes a book fair different from the popular Đinh Lễ book street are the various events it hosts. At its best, a book fair should be a place where booklovers gather, where readers can meet writers, where publishing houses can seek potential works and of course, be a platform for encouraging and fostering the reading culture.

Recent book fairs in Hà Nội have not been a success in terms of using the event’s real potential. Reading opens up new worlds and encourages creativity, so events based on reading should do the same.

American poet Robert Frost said: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”

I hope book fair organisers in Hà Nội get the message and spring some surprises for the readers. VNS

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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