Book fair around the globe02 February 2023
Dr. Forqan Uddin Ahmed :
After the Second World War, in 1949, the German Book Publishers Association launched an official book fair in Frankfurt. This fair is now the oldest book fair in the world. More than 20,000 organizations from more than 100 countries took part in the fair. The London Book Fair was the most popular in the world after Frankfurt. This fair was basically a fair for publishers, readers which don't get much importance there. Publishers took part in the fair to promote books to be published, to sell books or copy rights from other publishers. In 1979, the largest fair in the Arab world was held in Cairo, the capital of Egypt. Large book fairs also held in Doha, Qatar and Tehran, the capital of Iran. The Moscow International Book Fair, which started in 1977, is recognized as one of the largest book fairs in the world. The Calcutta Book Fair, the largest book fair among Asian countries, started in 1976. According to many, it was the third largest book fair in the world. Bangladesh was the theme country at the 2013 Kolkata Book Fair. The history of book fairs in Bangladesh is older than Kolkata.
Although Ekushey Book Fair is a national book fair, in many ways it is on par with any international book fair. Book fairs are held all over the world under different names. It has a long history. Books are the oldest medium of knowledge in the world. The need for books to spread knowledge has been felt since ancient times. However, before the invention of the printing press, the spread of the book did not happen much. Promoting handwritten books was difficult. The invention of the Gutenberg printing press in Germany in the fifteenth century revolutionized the world of books. Gutenberg used to bring printed books to Frankfurt for sale. After seeing him, other local booksellers also started sitting there with their published books. Buyers from different cities also started coming to buy all those books. And this is how book fairs are introduced in the world. This is how the world's oldest book fair started in Frankfurt, Germany. With the advent of the Renaissance and the Industrial Revolution, book fairs were introduced in other European cities as well. The first book fair was organized by Matthew Kerry in 1802 in New York City, USA. In 1875, about 100 publishers organized a large book fair in Clinton, New York. At present, publishers, buyers, writers, distributors, importers and exporters from more than a hundred countries from all over the world assemble to the five-day book fair of Frankfurt in October. The importance of the Frankfurt Fair for expanding the range of library and information science-related thinking is immense. It is said to be a place of pilgrimage for the promotion and dissemination of the concept of book production and marketing. The specialty of this fair is to nominate a country as 'Guest of Honor' every year and to show respect to their literary culture. The Delhi International Book Fair started its journey in 1982 with a collection of books in different languages. Organized by the Indian National Book Trust, the fair has caught everyone's eye for arranging high quality book exhibitions. Every year a traditional book fair is held in Cairo, Egypt with the help of popular books to help the children to develop their thinking. The market for manuscripts, old books and geographical maps sits at the California International Book Fair. People from about 30 countries gather here to buy and sell all the expensive books. The eight-day book fair in Taipei, Taiwan, in February, features publications on ancient Chinese culture and traditions.
The Dhaka Lit Fest helped us to come in close contact with some of the celebrated literary and social personalities beyond our frontiers. The Ekushey Boi Mela has for decades offered us some of the best of writings from authors based by and large in Dhaka. But beyond the capital lies an untapped treasure of literary talent in the form of writers and poets who have had little opportunity of reaching out to readers on a national level. With the Dhaka Lit Fest over and with the Ekushey Boi Mela coming up, thoughts need to be given to a projection, in regular and organised manner, of books written by our authors at book festivals in the West. Again, Bangladesh's diplomatic missions in the West as also in such capitals as Delhi could be tasked with arranging book festivals once or twice a year, the objective being a dissemination of our cultural heritage before the global community.
Starting in 1972, in the last 50 years, the fair has become a habitus of our cultural marker. It had a modest start with the proprietor of Muktodhara publishing house, Chittaranjan Saha, taking the initiative. The Bangla Academy started formally hosting the fair from 1978, and in 1984 it was named after the martyrs of the Language Movement. The inauguration of the fair by the prime minister, and the conferral of Bangla Academy award for literature have added further weights to this event. The nature of the festival is, therefore, changing. It is much more democratic and participatory. For a long time, it was dominated by the middle-class civic society in general. To be particular, by the cultural middle class who buy books to read and preserve them at home. This group consisted of the writers, readers and publishers. The dynamics are changing. We have already seen that the holding of the international literary fest in the Bangla Academy premises has introduced a different economic class to the fairground. The nature of the fair management has changed due to the osmosis process that took place between the national and the international events.
Book Fairs in Bangladesh is gaining prominence all around the country. In Bangladesh prominent book fair held in the country is Aamar Ekushey Book Fair around the ramparts of Bangla Academy, Dhaka. Apart from the above there are also regional book fairs held in major cities of the country like that of Rangpur, Kushtia, Jashore, Chittagong etc. As per the available records in the year 2019 Book Fair sales amounted to around 700 million BDT. This is quite significant as this gives us an indication that reading habits in that country is increasing by leaps and bounds. Though the key focusing is upon regional Bengali books but now as per the progress of Bangladeshi societies concerned we find demand for English language books are also gaining importance.
(The writer is former Deputy Director General, Bangladesh
Ansar & VDP).