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Although the halls are inevitably noticeably quieter at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair, the verdict seems to be positive.  As Kate Wilson, MD of UK children’s publisher Nosy Crow put it: “It’s been a decent toe in the water for us.  We’ll have done two full days and it’s good to be here.  It’s our first fair since the pandemic and I think people are pleased we’ve made the effort.”

The fair, which wraps up this weekend, was a hybrid physical and digital event this year, with Canada’s guest-of-honor pavilion cleverly combining both.  There were sweeping, curving physical structures bathed in light to resemble all that huge country’s different landscapes, from mountain to prairie to ocean, while beamed on to the structures’ sides were holograms of authors talking about their work.

The fair had drama too with one author pulling out in protest at the presence of certain right-wing publishers.  Several statements were issued in defence of Frankfurt’s decision not to ban the publisher in question even if the fair found some of its ideas repellent.  At the International Publishers Association (IPA) Kristenn Einarsson, Chair of the IPA’s Freedom to Publish Committee said: “The Frankfurt Book Fair is a place for publishers of all sorts and the fair’s commitment to freedom of expression and the freedom to publish is well established. While the books published by some publishers may be controversial and should be subject to critical debate, the book fair cannot ban publishers, operating within the law, without succumbing itself to censorship.

The Arab world was strongly represented this year with the Sharjah Book Authority, the Emirates Publishers Association, the Arab Publishers Association, and the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair all taking stands.  Ahmed Al Amri, chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority, was busy talking about next month’s Sharjah International Book Fair:  “We have 1576 publishers coming to the book fair and 533 rights people from 83 countries.  It is increasing all the time.  We have many new countries represented in the rights centre this year – South Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda, Colombia, Zimbabwe, Greece, Malawi, and Tanzania.

“We have come a long way in 40 years.  We have the first appearance by the Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Abdulrazak Gurnah – that’s a big hit for us.  And we also have the National Library Summit, organised in collaboration with the American Library Association at which Carla Hayden, the Library of Congress librarian, is speaking.” 

Finally, there were fine words from Penguin Random House worldwide CEO Marcus Dohle on the importance of books at a time when fake news and inaccuracy on social media were rife.  He warned that there was “a crisis of truth” and that books had an important role to play in asserting the value of peer-reviewed, fact-based content, rather than the screams of social media that have caused such a problem on the question of vaccinations during the pandemic.

Publishing’s role, Dohle said, was in helping “society come together and heal from what has become a really, really polarised world”.  And many would agree that the Frankfurt Book Fair has a key role to play in helping get that message across.