The book fair has a special significance
While it may seem that the city’s reading culture is in decline as attendance at the event declines, its significance lies in the fact that it is the only such event on Chinese soil where writers can interact with readers freely
If the city’s annual book fair is any guide to people’s eagerness to read, it would be tempting to say that our reading culture is on the decline. Despite a record number of 670 exhibitors from 37 places, attendance fell short of the target of one million. Average visitor spending also shrank by 10 per cent to HK$812, according to a survey by the fair organiser, the Trade Development Council. But given the seven-day fair was forced to shut down for a few hours on Sunday because of a typhoon, and some sellers tried to make up for the loss of business by offering steeper discounts than usual, perhaps we should not read too much into the figures.
That said, it may be true that people are reading less these days. In Hong Kong, we are more likely to come across commuters fiddling with their mobile phones rather than reading books or newspapers. More bookstores have also shut down or downsized in recent years.
According to a government survey in 2014, about 46 per cent of residents had not used public libraries in the past 12 months. Of these, about 44 per cent said they had never read any books at all over the past year. In Britain, about 38 per cent of adults admitted to not reading for pleasure. Similarly, the proportion of American adults regularly reading literature fell from 47 per cent in 2012 to 43 per cent in 2015. Some sellers at the Hong Kong book fair complained that sales were down by 50 per cent this year.
Others said the situation was the worst in the fair’s 28 years of history. But it is not unusual to come across visitors leaving with wheeled suitcases and shopping bags full of books. Children’s books remain among the bestsellers, which shows that many parents are still eager to nurture a reading culture in their children at an early age.
There is more to the book fair than just bargain sales. After all, genuine book lovers do not just hunt for cheap books once a year. What sets the Hong Kong book fair apart is perhaps its cultural significance. The event is not just one of Asia’s biggest, it is also the only one on Chinese soil where writers from different regions can converge and interact with readers in seminars freely.
It is the free flow of knowledge and thoughts that has made the event so unique and successful throughout the years.