Bookfairs and me

Since starting my studies last Autumn, I’ve attended three national book fairs: the BogForum in Copenhagen (November 2013), the London Book Fair (April 2014), and the BookExpo America (BEA) in New York (May 2014), and another book event called Crimefest in Bristol (May 2014). I spent the briefest amount of time at the BEA in New York, as it wasn’t officially open on the day I visited (but I attended a couple of seminars), so my impressions from this are limited. But here are some glib observations based on my experiences!

Size:

Naturally the Javits conference centre in New York for the BEA is huge. But that’s to be expected. When I visited the London Book Fair I was surprised by how big and empty it all felt, there were people milling about but it didn’t feel packed, but maybe that’s down to the size of the venue. I was most surprised by how large and busy the BogForum was – especially the amount of media attention it gets (on the morning television news, for example) and the huge number of stands and events, mostly focused around Danish authors and literature, not books in translation. Half-jokingly, one might think how can a country as small as Denmark have so many books?! It really brought home to me what a bookish nation Denmark is, despite regular paperback bestsellers costing the equivalent of around £20, it is a country of devoted readers.

Crowd:

The London Book Fair is primarily only for trade visitors, i.e. people who work in the publishing industry. In places it felt a bit surly and stand-offish to people like me just wandering around browsing; industry professionals arrange times to meet at each publisher’s stand and shake hands wearing suits. There were seminars, for instance I attended one on ‘Beyond Nordic Noir’ hosted by Nordic literary institutes hoping to widen interest in genres other than crime fiction from Scandinavia. But a cursory glance round the room revealed they were talking to themselves – a room of translators and people I recognised from other Nordic events, very little “outreach” to publishers or agents looking for something new! Denmark’s Bogforum is a huge national event, open to the public, and I saw many children and interactive activities for all ages and interests. The BEA falls somewhere in the middle – many of the exhibitors are there to talk business, but there were still book signings and book giveaways for the keen readers who attended. Crimefest was a lovely smaller event for real aficionados. I got the impression many delegates knew each other either from the social events surrounding the conference, or even from previous or similar get-togethers. There was perhaps a disproportionately higher number of older/middle-aged women than in other crowds, but I was surprised to see some younger delegates (in their twenties) too.

Position of translated literature:

London Book Fair‘s Literary Translation Centre was well-attended and got a fair bit of social media buzz, there are some good write-ups and videos around online of the seminars and discussions that took place there. For BEA, 2014 was the first year it had a section of the event called the Translation Market, devoted to books in translation, which is telling. I attended some seminars as part of the Global Market Forum ‘Books in Translation’ series, and – despite some excellent panellists – they felt a bit slapdash, rushed and marginalised, to be frank! Both BEA and the London Book Fair had stands for publishers from different countries (including Nordlit, see an earlier blog post of mine). Curiously I can’t remember the BogForum having the same, though it did have some publishers of translated literature, especially of non-fiction where related products could be marketed e.g. celebrity chefs. Crimefest had a remarkably well-attended and well-produced panel called Euro Noir, where translation was mentioned a number of times explicitly (including one translator being part of the panel!) and there were a lot of insightful and informed questions from the delegates. I also saw Swedish panellists Lars Kepler (a pseudonym for a husband-wife duo) interviewed in another panel on the same day, and the programme featured other Nordic Noir panels across the whole event.

Best coffee:

Back onto an inconsequential topic, Crimefest was near Park Street in Bristol which has a branch of Boston Tea Party, a lovely south west chain of coffee shops. At BEA I paid something silly like $8.00 for a regular Starbucks coffee, such is the mark-up at a conference centre! It was surprisingly hard to find coffee at London Book Fair, I arrived craving caffeine and wishing I’d taken advantage of the coffee cart outside on the way from the station. Bogforum had the best coffee – a few little espresso coffee carts dotted around with quick service at great value, a pleasant surprise.

First forays into publishing and fandom

I submitted my first written work to my supervisors in mid December and have already discussed their feedback, which was really positive and productive. That was a real boost and assures me I’m on the right track! Now I feel like I have many, many more strands of research and ideas to follow, which is exciting but also has the potential to be overwhelming, so I am trying to write up a few “to do” lists this weekend. I’ve reassured myself that my method of combining study and childcare seems to be working so far (see previous post), but looking ahead I would really benefit from some longer stretches surrounded by books so I will look into that!

The objective of my first literature review was to gain insight into the UK book market to put into context my corpus of texts (Danish literature published in the UK since 1990). An understanding of the publishing business and marketplace will provide a crucial foundation for my research project. It was also important to define terminology (e.g. “marketing”, “literature”, “success”) and find out which areas would be valuable to research in more depth (i.e. what’s next?).

So in my first period of study I found out a lot more about publishing (looking at the industry itself as well as the marketplace for selling books) – very interesting for someone who has studied marketing before (the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Diploma in Marketing Communications), but knew very little about publishing specifically.

I also got very keen on investigating taste and cultural value, the “sociology of genres”, if you like – put simply, where does the British reader place, for example, crime thrillers, Mills and Boon, a translated foreign novella, and celebrity autobiographies, on a scale of ‘high’ to ‘low’ culture?

Danish telly – including The Killing and Borgen – is very cool right now, and a certain fandom has been created around them, particularly via social media. It’s like a quirky “in club” of Scandi-drama lovers (no value judgment, I’m essentially one of the crowd, after all!), who have the potential to build a relationship based on their interest. I’m keen to look into how far people’s interest in certain cultural products becomes part of their identity (self-defined and defined by others). Taste is very subjective and insightful. Admitting you’re a fan of DR/BBC4’s Borgen and admitting you’re a fan of ITV2’s Peter Andre – My Life is likely to garner a different response depending on who you are and who is judging you, but why’s that then?