Finding its feet in Cape Town

<p>With the word &quot;recession&quot; on almost everyone's lips, there had been some initial scepticism about the success of this year's Cape Town Book Fair in June, and 60 fewer stands in the exhibition hall added to that scepticism. However, from the first hour of the fair, the public began pouring in and by the end of the four days it was reported that a record 57,000 visitors had attended &ndash; an increase of 6,000 on last year.<br />
&nbsp;<br />
The drop in the number of exhibition stands actually seemed to work better, as the hall was less crowded and the event seemed more manageable to the visitor, with room to breathe. There had also been some initial concerns about the programme this year, with several people feeling that it was uninspiring, placing an emphasis on issue-related discussions rather than opportunities to meet a wide range of authors. However, this did not deter the crowds. There were a few repeat events &ndash; such as book-signing by Spud creator John van de Ruit, which occurred about eight times throughout the duration of the fair, but judging by the long queues of people wanting their copies signed, such continuing sessions were necessary.</p>
<p>Two of the highlights from the first day were a discussion among South African writers on the value of literary prizes, and a well-attended discussion on cartooning as social and political commentary in SA, with Zapiro, Andy Mason and Antjie Krog.<br />
&nbsp; <br />
An interesting panel discussion on Sunday morning was with the authors of <i>Load Shedding</i> &ndash; Liz McGregor and Sarah Nuttall &ndash; and Kevin Bloom, author of <i>Ways of Staying</i>. Both books look at contemporary SA, with themes of personal loss and how to manage continuing to live in such a violent society.<br />
&nbsp;<br />
The topic of crime and violence continued in a slightly different vein in an afternoon discussion among local crime writers Mike Nicol, Deon Meyer, Joanne Hitchens, Margie Orford and Roger Smith. One aspect of the discussion focused on the rise of local crime writing as not only a popular genre, but one that is now being respected.<br />
&nbsp; <br />
In all, Sunday had been just as busy, if not busier, than the first day, and by 6.30pm the exhibition hall was far from deserted. There were however some complaints about noise levels in the hall, particularly with TV soccer broadcasts at a 2010 Soccer World Cup stand, with fans cheering on their teams. Some exhibitors were also not happy with the volume of music from the children's corner.<br />
&nbsp;<br />
While Monday seemed slightly quieter than the weekend, the aisles still remained packed with visitors, and there were also a number of schoolchildren in attendance, and many learners were lining up to have copies of their Spud books signed by Van de Ruit.&nbsp;&nbsp; <br />
&nbsp;<br />
In collaboration with the Goethe Institute, the fair this year also ran an Africa Invitation Programme, with the attendance of publishers from other African countries such as Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Libya. However, these stands seemed to be mainly unattended.&nbsp;&nbsp; <br />
&nbsp;<br />
Also of special interest this year was that Johannesburg publisher Jacana did not take a stall at the fair, but made instead its presence felt through organised book events and readings, or by guerrilla-style &quot;flash&quot; appearances at various retailers' stands. Visitors could be notified of these flash appearances by registering with a text service, though this unfortunately fell flat on the first two days due to network problems. Not that this was a train smash, since Jacana &ndash; which organised its &quot;office' in the foyer of the convention centre &ndash; circulated flyers to visitors shortly before the events.<br />
&nbsp;<br />
Publishing director Maggie Davey said Jacana felt a need to adapt its marketing, though agreed that it could have been seen as a cost-cutting measure.&nbsp; &quot;Jacana felt a need to use more innovative, less conventional methods to put our authors forward and reach audiences,&quot; she said. Director Mike Martin added:&nbsp; &quot;We asked ourselves why we were participating at the book fair, and what we wanted to get out of it. When you start by asking yourself that question, you start thinking out of the box, and wondering if renting a stand is necessary.&quot;<br />
&nbsp;<br />
This is thought-provoking, though by Monday afternoon Jacana's guerrilla approach had annoyed a fellow publisher who lodged a complaint with the book fair organisers, accusing Jacana of &quot;pamphleteering&quot;, and Jacana was ordered by security to leave the convention centre.&nbsp; However, it seemed that there had been some misunderstanding, and the publisher was assured it could remain for the rest of the fair.<br />
&nbsp;<br />
On Tuesday morning, the public holiday and the final day of the fair, there seemed to be a drop in the number of visitors, but only slightly. One highlight of the morning was provided by Mahmood Mamdani, whose new book &ndash;<i> Saviours and Survivors: Darfur, Politics and</i> <i>The War on Terror</i> &ndash; has just been published in SA by HSRC Press. In his new book, Mamdani examines why, when conflicts in Africa are so often reported on sparingly and shabbily, the conflict in Darfur has received such detailed attention in the media. <br />
&nbsp;<br />
It was also encouraging to note that while previous Cape Town Book Fairs have tended to be mainly middle-class white affairs, this year there was a noticeable change in the demographics of visitors.<br />
&nbsp;</p>