In an age when books can be ordered through smartphones and delivered reliably at home or office by online sellers, it takes passion to sally forth to a book fair. Organizers of such events know this well, so they take pains to make it a bigger and multi-dimensional affair than just book buyers and sellers getting to meet once a year.
The hard-nosed book buyer may be used to bigger discounts given by online stores, and it is easy to use their search facility to compare books in terms of price and get an idea of content. But the genuine book lover knows that no online search can compare to the chance element that the book fair brings with it. The book he or she is not aware of or has not given a thought about, may just be out there on a shelf, waiting to be discovered; sometimes, this discovery can give direction to or change one’s life. There are other attractions in the festivals that book fairs are turning into — like getting to meet a favorite author, participate in reading sessions and discussions, enjoying cultural events or just soaking in the ambience. For some years now, a perception has been gaining ground about a ‘digital divide’ that is keeping the youth away from book fairs — that they would rather do their reading on smartphones, tablets or the Kindle, if at all they are willing to do so and can spare the time. Thankfully, organizers are now fighting such perceptions head on, and using a digital tool to turn the tide.
It is social media, the very tool instrumental in bringing hordes of youths to the theatres and kindling new hope in Assamese film industry. At the ongoing 21st North East Book Fair in Guwahati, the organizers are betting on social media; there is a dedicated cell streaming out posts about the happenings and upcoming events. While it is still early to surmise whether this will do the trick, the response so far has been encouraging. The crowd appears noticeably younger; it is gratifying to see lads and lasses with bulging packs of books, having a good time and seeming to own the grounds.
The government can surely lend a helping hand through infrastructural and institutional support, advance some grant-in-aid and ensure relief to book sellers through lower stall rents. Such events can raise the profile of host cities and metros considerably — the book fairs at Frankfurt or Moscow, Kolkata or New Delhi, never seem to go out of fashion, and in fact, are getting bigger every edition. The spark these fairs kindle should be used to keep the book reading habit strong and fighting fit for the rest of the year.
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