All the fun of the fair
Matt Fleming checks out what’s in store for literary lovers at this year’s HK Book Fair
It’s time to muscle your way into the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre, scramble through the bustling literature-loving crowds and get your hands on some new novels or, well, anything literary-based. Yes, it’s the annual Hong Kong Book Fair, a week-long run of sales, workshops, talks and activities. It’s one of the most anticipated annual book events in the SAR – and this year it’s set to be the biggest yet.
Organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council, the 23rd edition of the fair is held between July 18 and July 24, with thousands of people expected to fan through the stalls. Along with a huge selection of books, magazines and other publications, this year’s fair features more than 300 cultural programmes under the theme of ‘Reading the World – We Read Therefore We Know’. A host of forums and seminars led by celebrated authors from the Mainland, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Taiwan, the UK and the USA are also on the menu.
One big gap in the proceedings this year is the omission of the central forum, traditionally compered by the enigmatic Sir David Tang and has been graced by the likes of Sir David Starkey and Stephen Fry over the past couple of years. However, according to the HKTDC, Sir David has ‘prior commitments’ so there’s no talking shop in front of an audience this time around. But there’s still plenty of other events to keep all you bookworms occupied.
The organisers say there should be a ‘record exhibitor participation’ – more than 530 exhibitors with their books on display – and about 350 events being held under the fair banner. ‘An Introduction to Hong Kong English Authors’ spotlights authors living in the city, including Justin Hill, Anita Moorjani, Nicholas Wong and Xu Xi, who also offer creative writing workshops. And the ‘Renowned Writers Seminar Series’ features 17 writers from across the world. On top of all this, there’s internet reading sessions, art exhibitions and plenty of activities for kids.
India’s Chetan Bhagat, author of five novels (the film 3 Idiots was based on his novel Five Point Someone) and former Hong Kong resident, talks in public sessions at the fair, exploring his ‘unusual career path, from a banker in Central to now a writer in India’. He tells Time Out: “I am just looking forward to attending as many events as possible.”
Bhagat reckons events like the Hong Kong Book Fair are important to a city’s literary scene. “Books find it hard to compete in today’s age of relentless internet, TV and movies,” he says. “Events such as a book fair help reignite people’s interest in books. Reading culture is an important aspect of a city and Hong Kong should maintain one too.” Bhagat adds that he thinks the Hong Kong scene is ‘reasonably good but could be better’. “We do have some nice bookshops, a literary festival and a book fair,” he tells us. “However, we could use a couple more book events.”
Children’s author, Holly Webb, is flying in from the UK to also take part in public sessions. It’s her first time in Asia and she tells Time Out she can’t wait to talk to kids about her books – principally her Lily and Rose series – because ‘it still feels amazing to me that children read them so far away’. “I recently went to the Warsaw Book Fair,” she says, “and really enjoyed talking to children there about how they see my books. Lots of the children also had wonderful stories about their own pets that they wanted me to write and I’m hoping to get a different viewpoint from children in Hong Kong!”
Webb adds: “It’s interesting that so many publishers have opened subsidiaries in Asia over the past few years. I think there’s a strong sense that there’s amazing writing, which hasn’t found a voice throughout the rest of the world until now. I think an event centred around books is vital. If everyone who visits the book fair takes away a sense of excitement and delight in reading, it can have a wonderful effect.” We reckon so as well.
Check out the following videos from some of our favourite authors.
HK Book Fair is at the HKCEC, Jul 18-24. For times, a rundown on all events, prices and details, visit hkbookfair.com/en.