Book fair a welcome best-seller

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 July, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 July, 2005, 12:00am

What people are reading can reveal a lot about themselves and the times in which they live.

Hong Kong people are avid readers of newspapers and magazines, but not so well known for their enjoyment of books. The times have, however, been changing and the city's annual book fair has shown that the reading interests of our community may be changing with them - for the better.

The book fair closed yesterday on the high note of a record attendance. More than 639,000 went to this year's fair, up more than 130,000, or 20 per cent, on last year's figure - which was also a record.

Sales indicated that a market known for a preference for comics and practical books, such as 'how-to' titles, is developing broader tastes.

History, literature, religion and leisure sold better, for example, but political comics - a hit in 2003 - have lost a lot of their appeal.

These trends reflect a number of factors. With the economy improving, books are more affordable to the average pocket. A growing number of mainland exhibitors offered high-quality printing at a cheaper price than their local counterparts - and they have developed a better feel for what sells in Hong Kong.

Interest in politics has waned as the economy has improved and an unpopular leader has resigned and been replaced. Instead, there is a growing interest in Hong Kong's future and identity.

The general trend raises hopes that more parents will pass on an enthusiasm for reading to their children.

It is in childhood that a lifelong love of reading is developed. The children of today are Hong Kong's future, and the role of books in preparing children for an increasingly knowledge-based society cannot be underestimated. Reading plays an important part in self-learning and the development of skills. Avid reading and high achievement often go hand in hand.

So perhaps the best news from the book fair was that sales of children's tickets were up 30 per cent, with primary schoolchildren in the company of their parents strongly represented. Their main interest was in story books for children of their age.

These may not be classics of children's literature, or on lists of recommended reading. But that is not the main consideration at this stage. The important thing is that they are learning the enjoyment and benefits of reading.

Sadly, in a society where schoolwork dominates most children's reading, picking up a book often becomes a chore to be endured if one is to achieve good exam results. As a result, children tend to devote most of their spare time to television or computers.

Anything that gets children to read more - whether it is the Harry Potter series or other children's stories - has to be a good thing. The book fair has shown that it can play an important role.