Despite the unprecedented security measures and the talk of doom and gloom in the publishing industry, the 2016 Paris Book Fair attracted thousands of readers of all ages who attended a bonanza of events featuring some 3,000 writers from around the world.
|Korean writers discuss their work.|
More than 40 countries were represented at the four-day event (March 17-20), with about 1,200 publishers displaying a huge variety of books, on subjects ranging from historical fiction to cuisine. The guest of honour this year was South Korea, as France and the Asian country celebrate 130 years of diplomatic relations.
Rebranded Livre Paris (from the former Salon du Livre), the fair welcomed 30 Korean writers who included novelists, poets, essayists and manga creators – presenting their work and discussing current literary themes in their region.
Livre Paris equally highlighted the literature and authors of two Congolese cities, Brazzaville and Pointe-Noire, and turned the spotlight as well on the northern Algerian town Constantine, which has long been a symbol of culture and the base of many writers, according to the fair’s organisers.
|Words and music at Livre Paris.|
One of the most “animated” pavilions during the four days was that of the Congo Basin, where African music was an integral feature of the various literary events that saw authors launching new works and debating issues such as the relationship between art and literature.
The 22 participating writers there included the outspoken Alain Mabanckou, a French-Congolese author who often writes about the African Diaspora in France and was a finalist for the 2015 Man Booker International Prize. In a public lecture that coincided with the opening of the fair, he said that writers of his generation were determined to reject efforts to "compartmentalize" them.
Entertainers also linked music to words at the French Overseas Territory pavilion, where the promotion of children’s books and young authors was a notable aspect among the various activities.
|Writer Alexandre Tellim|
Alexandre Tellim, a Paris-based writer from Martinique, said the fair strengthened his belief that books do have a viable future, in spite of statistics showing that fewer people are reading.
“When you see so many parents bringing their children and giving them a love of books, it makes you feel encouraged,” he told SWAN. “The children are attentive and interested in what writers have to say, and they take something away from the fair which they’ll carry with them for a long time.”
Author of the Trempage Kréyol trilogy set in Martinique, Tellim added that through literature readers can “travel around the world without getting on a plane”.
Such feelings of optimism contrasted with some of the expressions of concern, however, as publishers pondered the future of the book in Europe and criticised what they reffered to as Amazon's "monopoly".
"They want to control everything, not leaving anything for anyone else," a French publisher charged, speaking of the U.S. giant.
The fact that visitors had to run a gamut of security measures to enter the fair (as Paris is still on high alert following the deadly November 13 attacks) could have dampened the mood, but it seemed not to affect book-lovers’ enthusiasm, as people overcame fears to express support for writers, literature, free expression and culture.
“I’ve been coming to the fair every year for a long time now,” said Marie, a Parisian who had just bought several books. “C’est un moment magnifique pour moi (it’s a great event for me), and I plan to keep attending and discovering new writers.”