Book Commerce Book CarnivalAn Introduction to the Special Issue[Record]

  • Beth Driscoll and
  • Claire Squires

…more information

  • Beth Driscoll
    University of Melbourne

  • Claire Squires
    University of Stirling

Until early this year, an individual interested in, or professionally involved with, the twenty‑first‑century world of books could travel the globe incessantly, attending book fairs, writers’ festivals, and readers’ conventions. Our roving reader, writer, publisher, or other agent in the communications circuit of the book is a literary Carmen Sandiego, darting from country to country, crossing genres, finding herself at a festival on a ferry, a canal boat, or a train. Occasionally Carmen’s passage, and thus the whole communications circuit itself, might be inhibited by the consciousness of her carbon footprint, impeded by immigration policy and visa restrictions, or cancelled due to pandemic disease. Book fairs and festivals are hubs of literary, bookish activity. The annual global calendar includes, among thousands of others, Byron Bay Writers’ Festival in Australia, Iceland Noir, and Ubud Readers and Writers Festival in Indonesia, as well as the peripatetic—and travel-themed—Étonnants Voyageurs, which takes place in St Malo (France), Bamako (Mali), and Port-au-Prince (Haiti). Book fairs take place in locations including Bologna (Italy), where the focus is specifically on children’s books and illustration, Guadalajara (Mexico), and Sharjah (UAE). These fairs and festivals are a subset of a broader category of periodic global cultural and commercial festivals and events, from live music festivals to performance art happenings, and from automotive trade fairs to United Nations climate change conferences. Bookish events have very local manifestations, too, attracting participants from geographically close communities, or they can be based partially or solely on digital delivery, as with the Glasgow Women’s Library in Scotland, whose Open the Door festival is in alternate years digital and physical. Book-based cultural and commercial events are the subject of this special issue, BOOK COMMERCE BOOK CARNIVAL. From the foundation of the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1454 to the growth of the festival format in the postwar period to the proliferation of digital and live events in the twenty-first century, book fairs and festivals have shaped book cultures and publishing industries. The history of these events has by now been well established. Broadly, we would typify the existing scholarly frameworks as deriving from cultural sociology and creative economy studies. Such scholarship, as we outlined more substantially in our previous Mémoires du Livre/Studies in Book Culture article, “Serious Fun: Gaming the Book Festival,” has often taken a Bourdieusian approach, sometimes furthered via an attentiveness to Pascale Casanova’s arguments about the uneven global distribution of prestige in the “world republic of letters.” Book festivals and fairs have been analyzed as worlds, as games, as tournaments, as fields, as events, as microcosms, as situations, as institutions, as networks. Our own initial interest in book fairs and festivals gave rise to an ongoing research collaboration concerning the dynamics of book cultures. In “Serious Fun,” we put forward the approach of game‑inspired thinking as a strategy to create “a space between individual case studies and abstract theories to offer a mid-level perspective” on book festivals, one that is “deliberately playful and creative, an arts-informed complement to methodological empiricism” as well as super-structural conceptualizations. This article was foundational in our development of the conceptual school Ullapoolism, a post-data, activist, autoethnographic epistemology for contemporary book culture studies. We further developed this approach in our fieldwork and publications based on the Frankfurt Book Fair. As we argue in our forthcoming book The Frankfurt Book Fair and Bestseller Business, book fairs and festivals lend themselves to being read through theories of the carnivalesque. We pursue Brian Moeran’s idea that publishing trade fairs, and particularly their after-hours alcohol-fuelled social gatherings, have a carnivalesque aspect. Moeran sees a historical relationship between contemporary book fairs and medieval …