Sunday, 13 April 2008

Feeling Bookish?

Having rather focused on beer recently, here's something completely ale-free. Books.

The next few days (14th-16th April) see the annual London Book Fair in the Earl's Court Exhibition Centre. It's not as huge as the Frankfurt version in the autumn, and nor is it anything like as old (Frankfurt goes back 500 years, to the invention of the printing press), but it still claims to be the largest global publishing event in Spring.

It's not aimed at the general public, though. It's firmly about selling books to people such as booksellers, librarians, and maybe other publishers and agents who might want to purchase subsidiary publishing or translation rights. Categories include academic publishing, promotional publishing, travel publishing and maps, general publishing and - that category of the moment - children's and young adult publishing. Who would have thought that one child wizard would have set the literary scene alight?

All this, of course, begs a rather interesting question: why is it that, in a world of ever more pervasive IT, do people still wants books? (And an irony of the Fair is that you can get a guide of the event to download onto your mobile phone!). But it seems as though it's true. Part of it has to be that, for all the advances in technology, reading a printed book is still easier for most people than lugging around a laptop and trying to view anything on a screen. 'Blackberries' are more portable, but the screens are tiny. Books are both robust and convenient items - they don't mind if they get squashed or dropped, they don't need batteries, they take only a second to take out and put away again, and virtually anything will function as a bookmark.

And when you've read them, you can pass them on, or just add them to the already groaning shelves (well, it can make you look learned - so long as your guests don't actually read what's there), or give them to a charity shop. Pub interior decorators filled thousands of pubs with unwanted books in the 1990s. I've seen them used as door-stops, supports for furniture, and even - though less nicely - as fuel for the fire. But I also think that there's something incredibly irresistible about bookshops too. I know that the world is getting a bit more bland in this regard, as the mega-chains (and now even supermarkets) edge out the little guys, but I can still happily while away hours in a bookshop, wishing I didn't have to whittle down the choice to one or two affordable items.

Maybe it's because I was once a school librarian (I know: don't laugh. What other route was there, to stay in from the cold at break time?). Mind you, I never found the Dewy Decimal Classification System exciting - perhaps just as well. There was always something just a little bit sad about those with such a strong urge to order things in a system - rather like those whose CD collections at home are arranged in perfect alphabetical order. (And I am sorry if yours are: it's just not me).

Anyway, all this typing about books has given me an idea, so I'm logging off now, and going to bed with a good... Well, you know the rest. Night night.

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