You know, for a nation that supposedly doesn’t read anymore, Romanians are ever-present in bookstores, libraries and other similar venues. Or at least in Bucharest we are: both yearly book fairs we get — one in late autumn, the other at the start of summer — are always packed with people despite the ample venues. Admittedly, this year’s Bookfest seemed a little smaller and more sedate than the 2015 edition, but I’m pretty sure it’s still within averages: some 2000 square meters, or almost, lined with booths big and small, mini-cafes, conferences spaces and more.
To begin with familiar things, all the big publishing houses — Art, Rao, Nemira, Paralela 45 — had large displays in the usual locations; if there was any notable absence, I couldn’t say. There were dozens of events going on in parallel, thankfully less noisy and busy than usual. A bad sign for the market perhaps, but it made navigating the three large pavilions much easier; book fairs are exhausting enough as it is. At first, banners for an unrelated fair made me think Bookfest had been cut in half, but they turned out to be leftovers.
In the way of titles, it feels like kids always get offered the most popular international franchises (a whole table of Angry Birds books surprised me… I’m old), with indigenous writers aiming strictly at mature audiences. On the plus side, the educational market keeps getting better, while prices are lower than in winter. And I’m sure the new VAT rate helps, but still. Kids’ coloring books at 1 leu?! That’s roughly a quarter for American readers, and it’s refreshing to see books this cheap.
Not so cheap were the toys and games next booth over; you’d think prices expressed in single-digit dollars are low, but they add up quickly, especially with the quality and variety on offer. Yes, I said toys; Romanian book fairs have long segued into multimedia, with music, movies and even fine tea looking like they belong.
At Chris Meadows’ request, I made a point of seeking out the Romanian Cultural Institute, but sadly nobody was available who had also been to Book Expo America; it would have been interesting to hear a comparison.
Towards the end, I ran into a friend by pure accident, who dragged me over to the booth of publishing house Paladin (a subsidiary of Art) for a book launch. Sadly, apart from The Martian, the only notable books were reprints of Elantris, American Gods and Solaris, along with new translations of Ray Bradbury and Isaac Asimov. Yes, the Romanian speculative fiction scene is still firmly stuck in the past. Why do you ask?
Seriously, readers my age are likely to just buy original e-books, or whatever Nautilus — the bookstore, not the Nemira collection — imports from the UK, even if it’s at a premium. That spares them the extra wait, cuts out some middle men, and puts them right in the middle of a global conversation.
But then, where does that leave our own local culture?