AFTER CLOSING THE BOOK FAIR
February 23 through 26, the Lithuanian Exhibition and Congress Centre Litexpo hosted the 13th International Vilnius Book Fair, this year embracing the Baltic Book Fair. As the fair organisers note, the chance of buying books off price is not the sole attraction for visitors, culture events becoming equally important. This year recorded 380 of those, enabling the fair to qualify for Lithuania’s largest culture event of the year.
There were indeed many events, all different, making it rather tricky to find your way around. This means people who did their homework before coming, i.e. who knew what they wanted, made the most of it all. The organisers themselves pointed out a few groups of events to attract visitors’ attention.
First, this was the Discussion Club with activities ‘controlled’ by the fair’s organising committee. The discussions of the club have long stretched beyond the boundaries of literature, recording a tremendous boost in interest year after year. Visitors to the fair are looking for more philosophical, economic and political discussions. There were assorted ones this year: VBF discussions spanned from literary critics to presidents (the conversation “Occupation: President” between Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and Polish President Aleksandr Kwasniewski).
Second, Sigutė Chlebinskaitė’s creative studio You Can Create a Book is another important part of the culture programme. Supported by her team, originator of the studio Chlebinskaitė, who is a graphic artist and book illustrator, was throwing a party for kids four days in a row. They all gathered to draw, model, colour maps, learn how to type in Braille and socialise with studio guests, famous book illustrators. “I can’t skip doing it: the same kids come here every year, each time a year older, which gives me loads of satisfaction,” the graphic artist says.
The Book Cinema Hall is another ‘spot’ of the culture programme. After opening last year, it snowballed this year. The project is run in cooperation with foreign culture institutes in Lithuania.
Speaking of art exhibitions, the travelling ones in particular, one should mention the Illustrarium. This is not new as this display show of children’s book illustrations visited Bologna Children’s Book Fair, where Lithuania was the honorary guest. Lithuanian illustrators of children’s books are generally very potent and popular worldwide.
Organizers made calculations: around 600 people visited conference hall 5.1 Saturday afternoon and the other halls were also crowded. This means that over one thousand people are sitting at culture events contemporaneously. This may be the right time to quote the popular French writer David Foenkinos, who visited Vilnius Book Fair this year by invitation from Tyto alba publishing house. Previous participant at London and Frankfurt book fairs was sincerely surprised at how many people come to VBF events. He repeated for a number of times that he could have never imagined or had ever seen this before. He was echoed by representatives of French Minedition publishing house.
The events of the fair’s culture programme are very powerful, and the atmosphere here is superb.
News of the fair
Last year some calculations were made to find out what regular visitors to the Vilnius Book Fair could do. They could do as much this year: 1. Meet their favourite writers, 2. Buy new books at publishing house prices and books published a long time ago off price, 3. Participate in the Discussion Club, 4. Give the joy of creation to kids by taking them to the Children’s Hall, 5. Stretch out on bean-bags in the 3rd hall looking out the window at snowflakes falling in melancholy, 6. Watch a movie in the Book Movie Hall, 7. Have a snack at the cafeteria, restaurant or another catering zone at Litexpo, 8. Meet friends, 9. Take the fair’s free return buses from Cathedral Square to Litexpo, 10. Cater for their individual needs, etc.
And although coming up with something new seems impossible, there were news this year.
First the expanded 4th hall and its new and different area for second-had booksellers should be mentioned . It is cosy and slightly bohemian with a scent of old books and coffee. The organizers say it was not easy to invite second-hand booksellers to VBF: they were calculating and contemplating, simply not expecting people to come and buy something. And those who came were satisfied – during the peak hours on Friday and Saturday some of their stands were impossible to squeeze over to.
Director of Vilnius second-hand bookstore Keista Gintarė Liočienė confesses she went to the book fair with great fear. “Everyone hits the fair for the latest publications and for the chance to buy them off price directly from publishing houses, which made us doubt whether we would be of any interest to the visitors,” Liočienė says. She tells how she could not sleep for three nights contemplating which books to choose – you can’t bring the whole bookstore. Then she thought if she can’t decide for others, she’d decide for herself and would bring what she herself found interesting. “Thank God we still have something left and don’t have to stand over an empty counter,” Liočienė said as the last day of the fair was coming to an end.
The expanded 4th hall housed not the second-hand booksellers only. Much more space was dedicated to the children’s creative studio You Can Create a Book, without which VBF has been unimaginable for quite a while. This year the display shows and workshops were laid out far more spaciously and more quiet repose zones appeared. Some parents with small children were joking that they came here not for their children, but for themselves – to get some fresh air and to rest from the hustle and bustle.
The travelling international youth social project Live Library is another novelty of the fair. The ‘books’ of the library are special people, not like the ones you may come across on the street. Say, alcoholics, former or present drug addicts, prostitutes, autists, other races, etc. A visitor to this type of library picks a ‘book’, a living person, and chats with him or her or listens to their story. The Living Library was popular as visitors had to queue for hours to get the ‘book’ they wanted, which fosters tolerance for others and for the different ones.
Traditions of the fair
Speaking of traditional events, one should first mention awards to books and to their authors. Formerly VBF used to announce only the winners of the Book Art Competition. Now it has absorbed next to all literary awards. VBF currently hands out Jurga Ivanauskaitė’s, Patriots’, translated book and Friends’ prizes and announces winners of the most creative book competition arranged by the Lithuanian Literature and Folklore Institute and of the Book of the Year Election.
Another tradition is the ‘accelerating’ readings. This year VBF opened the year of Maironis readings. Members of the Government, actors, writers, celebrities and regular readers read verse by this Lithuanian poetry classic. A similar project called ‘All Lithuania Reads for Children’ ran in the 4th hall. On Sunday the event entitled ‘Famous People Are Reading’ attracted much attention.
Open for a few years, the 3rd hall could be attributed both to traditions and to peculiar innovations. The new thing here is that its ‘inhabitants’, who are mainly representatives of academic publishing houses and creative organisations, have finally settled down in this hall and visitors to the fair have eventually discovered it. The Forum operating here and, of course, the Illustrarium display show, which returned from Bologna, can be called spots of attraction of this hall.
Both organisers and visitors no longer break down the writers visiting the fair into locals and foreigners while the proverb saying that you can’t be a prophet in your own land does not work on the territory of VBF. Lithuanian readers have their favourite Lithuanian authors, buy their books, go to meetings and wait for their autographs with patience. Fifteen thousand voters at this year’s Book of the Year Election is best evidence for the fact that people read Lithuanian writers and have an opinion about them.
Referring to foreign writers, a lot came this year: around 30 from 14 countries. Visitors to the fair were curious to hear them speak. And this came in handy for publishers of their books. It should also be pointed out that apart from foreign writers the fair featured exhibitions, display areas and literary agents. The exhibition of exquisite books by famous Italian illustrator Bruno Munari was outstanding, showing that book publishing can seek supreme artistic peaks. Each year VBF receives more and more literary agents and publishing house representatives.
On the other hand, VBF, which prefers readers over professionals, is normally compared with the Goteborg Fair. VBF has established as the region’s biggest book fair.
Old-timers and newcomers
VBF has lots of old-timers. Some have shrank, others have expanded, but this year their feedback is more cheerful: the readers are improving, they are more aware of what they want and started spending more on books.
Newcomers to VBF say they did not experience impressive sales, but are happy with the fair. Director of Artbooks.lt Urtė Jankauskaitė says that for them, who are new both in the fair and on the market, the fair is a very good place to introduce themselves and to show who they are and what they have.
“We are also a web-based bookstore for art books, where we are trying to have all and primarily Lithuanian art books. At the same time we are a publishing house. We brought some of our books and here is a perfect chance to show them,” Jankauskaitė said. She adds her participation in the fair is also a good chance to see what people are attracted to. “They are mainly attracted to theoretical explorative books of art like The Guide to Vilnius Architecture or History of Photography by Agnė Narušytė. These books are intended not for professionals, but for a slightly broader audience. The publication Canteen Guide also gained great attention. Although published back in 2009, it has attracted people to date, refreshing the good feelings,” Artbooks.lt director notes.
There is a winged phrase gliding on the Lithuanian sky of ‘stars’ and ‘starlets’: “If you’re not on TV, you’re nowhere”. In this respect VBF is not endangered being ‘nowhere’ as its TV coverage was as broad as never before.
This was the first year when many people at home could be watching live forecasts from the Book Fair. Television has also worked as a sort of seduction . Alternatively, it you can’t come, particularly from the other end of Lithuania, it’s better to see it on TV. Organizers are very happy that LTV started a job this big. Any publicity is of benefit to the fair and it reminds people there are books not only of entertaining content, but also those that make you think, reflect and to spend time with your book.
Referring to the content of offered books, publishers publish what the audience wants. Readers should raise demands for themselves. It is not only about reading, but also about understanding what you are reading and about wanting a good read. And this is the mission of the Vilnius Book Fair in general.
In EPUS you can fill in and submit the request forms for participating in the expositions organized by JSC "Lithuanian exposition and congress centre LITEXPO".