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Thursday November 8, 2007

What's the point of a book fair?

Miami’s Book Fair, one of the largest* in the nation, now in its 24th year, is considered generally a big deal. I’ve never been, and I don’t intend to go this year, unless someone coughs up a compelling reason. It’s not for a lack of love of books — in the last year I’ve finished several novels, a couple of books of essays, and an ass-load of non-fiction books (including Woodward’s 600 page State of Denial). I should be the book fair’s target demographic. But the whole idea strikes me as ass-backwards.

For a fair to make sense, the subject of the fair has to gain something from gathering lots of people with whatever the interest together in close proximity. Star Trek, stamps, ham radio, PHP, international relations, and lobster eating all make great subjects for a fair/convention/conference. But “books”? Books cover everything. You can be a fan of lots of things, but what does it mean to be a “fan of books”? Reading is an inherently solitary activity. It is, essentially, a specific mode of dispensing language. I see nothing that is gained by gathering adherents of a particular mode of language-dispersion together.

There are exactly two types of people for whom a “book fair” makes sense: #1: writers, and #2: book “fetishists.” Baring that, here are some reasons thrown out for why the book fair is great:

  1. You get to meet lots of authors. I’d suggest spending the time reading more. The whole reason someone wrote a book is that they took their best thinking and put it down in words. Do they have other interesting things to say? Maybe so, but if they’re a halfway decent author, their best thinking is in their books. If an author you particularly admire happens to be at the fair, it makes sense to go. But the author of a book you enjoyed? Would it be better reading another great book, or hearing “the story behind” the first one?
  2. You discover books you’d otherwise never see. Spare me. This is the fucking internet. Over here is Google book search, and there is the New York Times book review, which allows you to see any book review published in the last 100+ years. That’s two websites out of several million on the web. And you’re going to tell me that a fair is a good place to find a good book? Is your age higher then your room temperature?
  3. You’ll meet other book lovers. I don’t want to meet book lovers. I may possibly have some interest in meeting people who have interests similar to mine, but insofar as books cover every topic known to man, this is no more likely to happen at a book fair then at Starbucks.
  4. It increases literacy/awareness of books. No. Nobody wanders randomly into the book fair (ESPECIALLY NOW THAT THEY CHARGE ADMISSION) and suddenly realizes what books have to offer. And, nobody says “I heard about this big book fair happening, let me go check that out” and suddenly becomes a big reader.

The fair is probably great as an industry get-together, similar to what lots of industries have. It’s terrific for would-be writers, and for those who get a warm fuzzy feeling when they hold that special book in their hand and flip through those beautiful pages. But for anyone who’s interest in books doesn’t extend beyond the words, sentences, paragraphs, knowledge, ideas, and perspectives they contain, what is there to be gained from a “fair”?

* Or the largest?

Update: Thanks to Steve for helping me hash out some of these ideas a little bit. Obviously they’re not hashed out adequately by any stretch, so, to answer robotkid, yes: I’m fishing for someone to convince me that I’m wrong.

Update: Ha ha — the book fair build a new website, but to see what’s actually going on, you go to this page and download a 16 megabyte PDF. Nice work guys. Also, your navigation is all in graphics (with no Alt tags!), so it’s invisible to screen readers and search engines. That’s ok, right — the visually impaired don’t use books, do they? MKH still has plenty to be embarrassed about.

Update: Sweet Jesus — I just opened the PDF and it turns out to be graphical reproductions of the fair’s program — again with no machine-readable text. Barely human-readable, in fact.

Update: I just spent 20 minutes surfing the site and PDF looking for the answer to ONE question — is the fair charging admission like they started last year? — and couldn’t find the answer.


Monday July 24, 2006

My one big complaint with last December was: “Not enough art fairs.” Well, this year it’s going to get a little better. The lineup: Art Basel, NADA,Pulse, Aqua. Scope, Bridge, Design Miami, DiVA, and Flow. See Artnet for brief descriptions and dates of all but the last (scroll way down). (via dig)