Hong Kong gets serious about its annual book fair

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The Independent Culture

For most of its 21 years so far the Hong Kong Book Fair has been a place for people to gather in the hundreds of thousands to pick up bargains, learn a little about the literary world - and grab the chance to get a few autographs from their idols.

But times are fast changing. This year's event - which runs from July 20 to 26 at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre - is continuing to push matters a little more high brow, with an increased line-up of guest authors and seminars, and no place, it seems, for the scantily clad models whose signing sessions have became such a sensation at past editions.

Organizer the Hong Kong Trade Development Council is this year not extending an invitation to at least three publishing houses known for supporting the "pseudo" (or amateur) models with their forays into publishing, according to local media reports. The reason given is that their publications don't fit the image of the event.

How that goes down with the estimated one million visitors expected at this year's fair remains to be seen. Instead, they'll have to make do with the added excitement of hearing guest speakers such as English poet Wendy Cope and this year's Author of the Year, the locally based Xi Xi, or attend the launch of University of London lecturer Julia Lovell's new book The Opium War.

The Fair is making a concerted effort to firmly establish itself among the literary world's elite fairs - much like the annual Frankfurt Book Fair - hence the push to promote its more high-brow endeavors.

Local entrepreneur David Tang has been heavily involved in helping change the image of the event, previously enlisting the help of close friends and fellow authors Stephen Fry and Frederick Forsyth to come to Hong Kong.

Tang is this year hosting a seminar featuring the likes of British author Tom Parker Bowler, critic AA Gill and historian David Starkey and has been posting video interviews with his subjects on the HKTDC's Youtube site to help promote the event.

More than 520 exhibitors have signed up for this year's Hong Kong Book Fair, representing 16 countries and regions. It will this year run under the theme "Reading the World, Reading as Self Discovery." The fair will also feature an expanded section dedicated to the growth of e-books and e-learning resources.

22nd Hong Kong Book Fair
July 20-26
Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre