Bookville At Paris-Expo

photo: stand, salon du livre

Near closing time, a typical stand at the Salon du Livre.

20 For the Salon, Six for Me

Paris:- Friday, 17. March 2000:- On my way to the Salon du Livre at the Porte de Versailles I decide to break with routine by skipping the métro and walking. It is only down through the 14th and over to the bottom of the 15th arrondissement.

The day is grey; Rue des Plantes, Rue d'Alésia, Rue de Vouillé, then cut south through the Georges Brassens park. The Porte de Plaisance is anything but 'pleasure' in appearance - where the name comes from is a mystery, buried under history.

As somber as this is, there are the bright stands of the book fair to anticipate. I don't have any particular plan in mind - no 'theme' to nose into - just get into it and pick up whatever is in the air.

Instead of bothering with talking my way in past the guys who want to keep out journalists without cards, I pay the 30 francs entry fee first and get the salon's press card second. I could have picked up a free entry from a half-dozen book shops yesterday, but I didn't think of it.

I don't think I am thinking at all. I get hung up in aisle 'A' with Radio France International and then the foreign editors, where I wait to talk to a guy for a long time for what turns out to be nothing. I can buy the annual catalogue for all French books on a CD for 3000 francs, the special Salon price. This price doesn't include the vital quarterly updates.

The aisles are lettered up to 'S' at the back of the hall, and there are 11 cross-aisles. Next to the 'foreign editors' Canada has a stand and Lawrence Poole is sitting on a wheelchair on it, beside a Powerbook that is making cricket noises.

While Suzy Ethier looks on, a radio guy is holdingphoto: suzy ethier, lawrence poole a microphone to pick up the sounds of deliriously happy crickets. Over this racket Lawrence tells me about the jungle wonders of Costa Rica. Apparently, half the crickets in the world live there.

Crickets crick, Lawrence talks, Suzy listens, and the radio guy wonders what he's getting.

Lawrence makes this Central American country sound like the original Garden of Eden, a sort of tropical spa, full of non-offensive bugs and plants - the last place on earth where many exist in their original versions.

The purpose of Suzy and Lawrence's presence here is to promote ecolo-vacations, named 'Le Chemin des Rois-Jaguar.' Costa Rica is supposed to have 12 different biological zones, within an area smaller than Switzerland.

Lawrence tells me he is having no trouble getting around Paris in his wheelchair. He has a specially adapted jungle-roller for getting around in Costa Rica. Lawrence is very positive and brightens my day considerably, even if I forget to ask him what any of this has to do with this salon.

I sweep by the 'Bar des Sciences' and the antique books section and get entangled in the 'E-books Village.' Several publishers have several different kinds of e-book readers. I overhear one say, "Of course it's a bit heavy at 650 grams..."

The software house Adobe has a big stand to promote its 'PDF' format, presumably for the page layout of e-books; but most of the other stands seem to be selling either the 'readers' or the e-books themselves, or both.

Another overheard bit: "One e-book can contain up to - 30? 60? - complete books." This is not bad for 650 grams, if you don't mind the general dark-grey color of most of them.

While glare can reduce readability during the day, the e-books' back-lighting makes them handy at night - if you do a lot of reading in the dark - as if this is going to be another feature of our 21st century.

The occasion of the Salon du Livre is also the annual time for taking stock of the book trade in France. Booksphoto: joachim younes, posesie illustre are sold by the truckload in hypermarchés, and if there weren't government regulations governing the retail price of books, most independent book shops would be driven out of business.

Joachim Younés takes poetry into places most editors don't bother going in person.

Their fraction of the pie currently amounts to a mere 21 percent of sales. And here is the Salon du Livre itself selling books to its 200,000 visitors; books that won't be sold by book shops during the other 51 weeks of the year.

But the 'Loi Lang' that prevents the biggies from offering dumping prices, has achieved a delicate balance which allows the independent book shops to co-exist with the big operators, along the lines of 'price' for one and 'service' for the other.

Of course it is more complicated than this. Independent book shops have a hard row to hoe, and only exist because their owners are book-crazies.

There are 1800 publishers present; of which 450 are foreign, from 26 countries. Portugal is this year's 'guest' country, with 8000 titles on view and over 50 - mostly poetic - authors present, spread around four stands. The Brazil part of Portugal has live music too, but I need to wait 20 minutes for it.

Many of the other publishers also have their authors on hand to sign their books and meet their fans, or take part in conferences and debates. There are supposed to be 1800 authors invited; and 1600 journalists are supposed to report every word uttered.

There are also two big forums for authors, and a 'Petit Théâtre' to compliment them. Thus Molière is present - in spirit - to answer the question, "Le théâtre est-il moribond?"

'Les BDs' - comic books - stun traditional publishers with huge sales; one title sold 600,000 copies in France last year. Yet there is only one smaller stand to represent the BDs in general - although individual publishers have their own stands to receivephoto: minibook the expected hordes - the salon for students is happening concurrently at Paris-Expo.

The stand for 'youth' is bigger than the BD space. The multimedia sector has a whole, large corner to itself, and within this there is a 'discover CD' stand, a 'pique-nique' area and an 'animation' area.

Mini Livres require good eyes and deft fingers, but you can carry a lot of them with you.

In this last, it seems that it is entirely occupied by France Télécom's Wanadoo Internet-access subsidiary. This is not entirely true, but FT is its sponsor. TV-5 is the sponsor for the 'youth space' and the town of Issy-les-Moulineaux has appropriately sponsored the 'school of the future.'

I miss the 'Carré des Arts,' which I wanted to see; and the 'Espace Région,' which I thought I saw - but it was only the Ile-de-France stand. 'Only.' Paris is just a hard nut in the centre of this, but 'Régions' are pushed into a nearly hidden corner.

This leaves the entire centre of the exhibition space, which I don't notice until I climb the stairs for an over-all look, just before the closing buzzer sounds for the day. I have been going counter-clockwise around the edge of the big hall. Now I will back up a bit.

For some reason, I make a bolt away from the e-books and end up a short distance away face to face with 'Du Cannabis Pour Se Soigner' and parts one and two of the 'Fumée Clandestine.'

These titles - and many more like them - are distributed by Agora, which seems to be a collective of publishers: 'L'Esprit Frappeur,' 'Editions Dagorno,' 'Editions du Lézard,' '7 Mister Fantasy,' 'Editions de la Reine Noire,' and 'Purple Books.' I hope the audience for these are not already addicted to video games.

Then I chance on Joachim Younés' stand, where he has his 'Les Lumières de l'Ombre,' displayed. Quite simply, while displaying his own travelling exhibition, 'Poésie Illustrées,' he proposes to aid anybody - from children to adults - anywhere; in hospitals, in schools - to do the same thing.

He is financing this action from the sales of 'Les Lumières de l'Ombre;' without any aid, official or otherwise. 'Prêter ma plume,' in other words, for the creation of booklets of animated poetry by people who don't have access to pencils.

In about the same area I find the 'Mini-Livre' stand. These are miniature books of 80 pages, about 25 by 32 millimetres in size, weighing three grams, containing about 20 minutes' worth of words.

The contents include literature, guides, poetry, culture - anything that will fit into very tiny books. 'Le Peur' by Guy de Maupassant, for example, is even illustrated. In addition to being readable, the tiny books are also collectable, and there are mini-bookshelves available for them.

Some of the titles are now collector's items and despite their size have ISBN numbers. For the salon, the 'Collection Trois-Demi' has published the 'Testament d'Edmond de Goncourt.' Although only an extract of the 'testament,' the mini-book also contains a list of Goncourt prize winners.

In passing, another brochure attached itself to me. This concerns a Web site named Lili which contains the complete texts of 328 works in French, with comments, biographies of the authors and other extracts - all organized to aid classroom study.

This is a free service, offered by Biblionet, but its access is restricted to bona-fide teachers of French. The site is also interactive, in the sense that it accepts contributions.

The oddest stand I come across - without passing every stand at the salon - is the one belonging to 'mamaeditions.com.' This stand does have four books on it, but it has many more boxed bottles of wine, and some weird 'bio'-cigarettes - which smell like tobacco once did.

This oddness is a result of an apparent non-stop vernissage 'happening' which includes everybody on the stand and random visitors. 'Mamaeditions.com's' motto is, 'The first paper editor on the Internet.' This has beenphoto: debate, fnac cafe lit dreamed up by Tigrane Hadengue, who reckons that in our Internet era 'writing has never been more important.'

For this 'non-standard editor,' it means making the Internet a pivot between the publisher and the book-seller, or between the publisher and the final buyer.

The fnac chain is France's biggest bookseller, so it has a big presense at the Salon du Livre.

I don't know if this is a 'first' or not, but it is the only stand I've seen today that is in very high spirits - and has its street address is on the Boulevard Voltaire in east Paris.

Now people on some stands are throwing tarps over their displays and there are many open spaces between the stands. A lady on the public-address system is telling us to go home.

My sack is as heavy as my feet feel, so I decide not to walk all the way back. As the métro train slides into the Porte de Versailles station, the whole platform is full of people waiting to get on it.

I switch lines at Pasteur and am so deep in thought about things I've seen at the salon, that I get off the train one station too soon - and end up walking the rest of the way from Raspail anyway.

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