Be that as it may, the organisers of book fairs take no chances. Putting up a book fair can be a costly matter, and it must be worth the recompense. A book fair, therefore, is often much more than a mere showcasing and selling of books. It may include, as well, seminars and talks by the literati, poetry recitals, live face sketching sessions by budding artists, and competitive events for children like essay writing, quiz and extempore speech competitions.
The owners of book-stalls—publishers, organisations which get their books published elsewhere, diplomatic missions of foreign countries, and book-sellers (how many of these are present would depend on the venue and the reach of the fair)—leave no stone unturned to ensure that their books are displayed in as aesthetic a manner as possible, and back this up with popular measures such as book signings by authors, author-reader interactive sessions, the release of first editions, and the sale of books at less-than-market prices.
For book buyers who have to make do with a limited budget, a book fair often provides a golden opportunity for thrift book buying, with a number of stalls selling usable second-hand, partially damaged or soiled books at incredibly low prices.
It is often the unassuming patrons of such stalls who are the truest book-lovers—they buy books not to show off, but because they are genuinely interested in their content.
In a book fair, one would naturally expect books to be the centre of attraction, but I have personally been to one such fair where a fish stall offering a fair variety of novel and delicious fish preparations hogged the limelight, with almost everyone entering the gates of the fair making sure that he at least took a bite there! It became something to talk about afterwards!
Similarly, there may be ice-cream, snack and candy-floss counters, all of which contribute to the creation of a festive or picnic-like atmosphere.
Any event where large numbers of people are involved is bound to have its share of problems. A book fair is a shoplifter’s paradise, owing to which stalls in the larger book fairs usually try to make their own security arrangements. The flip side of this is that it may lead to long, winding queues before the stalls in question.
Litter has been another traditional area of worry in book fairs, at least in India. Dustbins provided are either not adequate or are not adequately used, and the post-fair cleaning-up operation becomes quite a challenge.
While book fairs, wherever they are held, are certainly to be encouraged, it would be good to spare a thought for the millions in India who can still neither read nor write, and to whom a book fair has no significance unless they are vending something in or around the site of the fair. Since books take the cause of civilisation forward, can we afford to leave such a huge army of our brethren behind?