The Helsinki Book Fair is an annual celebration of the printed word. It is held at the Expo and Convention Centre in Pasila and fills vast halls with publishers and shops great and small. I am told 90,000 visitors came this year, which is a new record. It is a bustling market of books and magazines. A wine and food expo is held at the same time on the same premises. It gets crowded and sweaty very quick. The event is also a place to be seen and spot celebrities, and every year I bump into friends I did not expect to bump into.
Much has been said (and written) about the death of print. Based on the sheer number of people attending the fair on Saturday, it is easy to say that stories about the death of books have been greatly exaggerated. From what I saw this weekend, people still want to spend time with books. It is true that new media poses stiff competition, but there were things to distract us from books before and there always will be. We should remember that new media provides opportunities for marketing books on a very different scale than before. Maybe the effects cancel each other out in the end. In any case, at least I felt a new surge of enthusiasm for books after the fair. So much so, that I am afraid I have neglected my work, created very little new media today (which is what I currently do for a living) and mostly just read a new book.
My favorite pastime at the fair is to get lost between the shelves of the second-hand books sections. Another is to look for strange, small publishers among the larger ones. Sometimes you find more interesting things by accident than on purpose. This year, for example, I picked up a little something from a publisher of weird esoterica. With the help of my new strange tome, I may just be able to call up a few demons to help out at the next fair. However, I may also skip the conjuring, because the fair seems to be doing fine.