LIRE EN POCHE: FROM THE AIRPORT LOUNGE TO THE SALON
The Bible, erotic iconography, ‘airport literature’, noir fiction, the Very Short Introduction collection... the paperback, or “pocket book”, has had a hugely varied ascendance since its creation, first appearing in the anglophone world in the 30s (Penguin and Pocket Books), then in France in 1953. The format became generalised for the diffusion of classic literature before becoming the norm for all literary genres, breathing new life into contemporary works. It took until 2005 for paperbacks to receive a dedicated ‘ salon’, at the initiative of a teacher working in the world of books and the town of Gradignan, in the Bordeaux suburbs. The town was looking to highlight the quality and ambition of its brand new multimedia library. Publishers were interested, but sceptical about the likelihood of authors coming. The event’s success blew away any misgivings, and decisively demonstrated readers’ attachment and consideration for a format that had long been the target of condescension. Now, Gradignan welcomes 25,000 visitors for the book fair over three days;that’s roughly the size of its population. The event is still organised by the town but, since 2012, it has been under the stewardship of Lionel Destremau, a great lover of literature who writes as a poet and also as a critic in le Matricule des Anges. He was previously an editor, specialising in critical analysis, but more importantly he was the director of Seuil’s noir and poetry collections before becoming chief editor of Points, a paperback collection.
How does the paperback distinguish itself from the traditional larger format?
In terms of publishing, the production is more technical, where marketing has more of an influence, and where it is as much a question of the figures as it is the letters. The paperback is strategic, it’s a cash cow for publishers. However, its real strong point is its ability to lead the reader towards other writing and genres that they never would have tested if it didn’t exist. Its low cost, its practicality and the range of catalogues invite much more curiosity, whether you’re a keen reader or simply reading on the beach or in transit.
How does Lire en poche convey this diversity?
It is a universal book fair. We host 12 booksellers who each have their own specificity and sensibility, and who cover a large spectrum of the paperback with great, lesser-known, popular, new, experimental or technical authors… and after that we have children’s literature, which occupies a third of the fair’s offering. In fact, it is a salon which opens doors. I love seeing this sort of clash of genres there, like a young girl, last year, putting a book by Éric Chevillard in her bag and another by Bernard Werber. Thanks to the paperback, we have all of
these contradictions on our bookshelves. It is only really university teachers who might see them as contradictions, when in reality they are simply varied pleasures. Even when you are disappointed, or unable to comprehend a book, there is always a kind of discovery, an exploration.
What about the authors?
There is a wide range here as well. Our sponsor- this year it is Harlan Coben- is a prestigious host, but he is not the only talent. Take his carte blanche guest as an example; Lee Child is even more popular than he is in the Anglo-saxon world. In total, around 100 authors will be present. That said, the goal is not to line them up as if in a stable and make them sign autographs non-stop. Lire en poche is a little like a producers’ market, where direct contact is what makes it special. 90% of the authors are taking part in events such as public audiences, debates and activities. Our theme for 2017 is “the powers of the imagination”: a vast subject which also allows us to give focus to sciencefiction, fantastical and fantasy literature.
Don’t e-readers and other digital innovations make you fear for the future of the paperback?
Digital usage is a compliment to the paperback, not a replacement. You don’t take your e-reader to the beach, you don’t bend it in your trouser pocket, you can’t dogear it or underline passages in it. Many users are returning to paperback, or they’re combining the two… at least, those who are familiar with paper. The issue is really with the very newest generations; they use screens from a very young age, they need to have access to books. It’s the best way of developing concentration and a long memory, which can’t be said for the web. From a writing and publishing point of view, I believe that the improvement of the book is a priority. But it’s true that working in collaboration is somehow opposite to the literature writer’s character.
Do you have a favourite this year?
There are many. I will mention one for the confidence it transmits, surprisingly for a post-apocalyptic setting. Among a broken, sorry and survivalist version of humanity, hope springs anew in the form of a troupe that get together to perform Shakespeare. What follows is not about technique and infrastructure, but art and culture. It’s a great work, ‘Station Eleven’ (finalist of the National Book Awards, ed.), and has a Canadian author, Emily St John Mandel, who will be present at the salon and is also holding a special audience (7/10/2017 at 4.30pm).
Lire en poche from 6 to 8/10 - Parc de Mandavit, Gradignan Buses- Liane 10, 36 plus a shuttle from Quinconces running on 7th and 8th between 1pm and 5.50pm. www.lireenpoche.fr