The Salon du Livre is not as massive or trade-oriented as the London and Frankfurt fairs, but more intimate and infinitely more chic. Like the Delhi Book Fair, publishers sell their books, and not just the rights to their books. There are a number of author events, all open to the public, and book signings. So a bit of a lit fest atmosphere too.
The French are really proud of their books and their reading culture, and literary fiction titles regularly feature in their bestseller lists. Plus, the French book industry is highly regulated by the state, with both publishers and booksellers protected by laws that make it difficult for an e-retailer like Amazon to disrupt the market the way it has elsewhere. Therefore, there was none of the gnawing anxiety about the future one finds in every other gathering of publishing professionals.
The large publishing houses occupied substantial portions of the fair space, but there were significant corners devoted to publishers of graphic books and publishers of science fiction and fantasy. There is, I hear, excellent climate fiction coming out of some of these houses. When I met one of the SFF publishers—Annette Werther Medou of L’Atalante—she mentioned that one of their novels has sold over a 100,000 copies in Chinese. China has a proper SF readership. Cixin Liu’s wonderful The Three-Body Problem is clearly not a singularity.
I was excited to hear that more than half the fiction published in France comes from across the world, through translation — certainly something for us to emulate. We should be translating from around the world into Indian languages, and between Indian languages. In nonfiction, I was tickled to hear that a volume on the wives of dictators was such a big seller that the publisher commissioned a second volume. One can count on vulgar curiosity in every corner of the world!
Finally, South Korea, which was the guest of honour at the Salon du Livre, has perhaps the best production values I have ever seen in the business. Their books look superlative—the paper, the printing, the binding, the cover, the page layout! There was poetry, graphic novels, literary fiction and lifestyle books, all amazing to behold and hold. What’s more, the South Korean government is actively promoting its literature across the world, investing in its publishers and funding translations, and taking it to bigger markets.
My most delightful encounter was with the novelist and poet Abdourahman Waberi, considered to be one of the best French writers at work now, who confessed that he loves Amitabh Bachchan!
I rounded off my short visit to this courteous and lovely city with a trip to Éditions Gallimard, one of the most prestigious French publishers, with a backlist that has been described as the best in the world. Their imprint Bibliothèque de la Pléiade is perhaps the most exclusive imprint in the world, and an ‘entry into the Pleiade’ is considered a major achievement in French literature. In fact, it is extremely rare for a living author to be published under the imprint, with its emphasis on great literature framed by critical annotations and beautiful production values.
The Gallimard office is on a lovely little unfindable street. I went round and round and round, stumbled upon Musee D’Orsay unexpectedly, and finally knocked on the door of 5 Rue Gaston Gallimard. The elegant rights managers made up for my labours by taking me out for some delicious red wine.