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Shanghai Book Fair 2015: Report From The Ground

So many books, so many grandmas with cameras...
2015-08-21 16:07:39

Shanghai Book Fair -- which runs daily until August 25 -- offers a glimpse at just how much intellectual property humans have produced throughout the centuries. Publishing houses from around China and across the world have converged at the Shanghai Exhibition Center (that big Russian building in Jing'an) to offer everything from Benedict Cumberbatch's biography to Xi Jinping's latest book in the 23,000 square meter space -- much of it for quite cheap.

On both visits, once in the day and another at night, it took less than a minute to get in, though the weekend could prove differently. It's the odor of popcorn and fast food that you notice when you first enter the venue. Food vendors like GoGet Waffles, Melrose and Dico's have charmed their way into the book world. Family Mart even managed to get a whole room, selling all kinds of food including 10rmb sundaes and 4rmb Cokes.

Just like every year, the amount of casual attendees at the event is a huge turn-off for book–nerds. Lots of grandmas with baby strollers, grandmas with DSLRs and tripods, tourists with huge backpacks taking pictures in front of the giant Shanghai Book Fair sign, and kids and students on summer vacation. The experience of browsing books can be quite unpleasant.

But solely caring about what kind of people attend a local book fair is like walking into a restaurant without trying the food. Books are the reason to come here, and the selection is well worth the ticket price. International best-sellers like Game of Thrones, Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book, and J.J Abrams' S. and Harper Lee's much anticipated new book Go Set a Watchman are ubiquitous among the other internationally popular books. And of course, that also includes Xi Jinxing's The Governance of China, whose minimalist book cover effortlessly put its peers to shame.

As for English books, there are plenty. The booths by the Shanghai Book Trade and China National Publications Import and Export Corp. -- located just near the entrance -- are the places to go. They have all the Amazon bestsellers, novels that were adapted to latest films like Testament of Youth and Child 44, comics like Walking Dead and Maus, mangas like Gundam and Slam Dunk, all kinds of children's books, and art-books from mainstream TV shows and movies, all at a fairly reasonable price. Some have discounts of 20% off. You might be able to spot American Gods and The Portable Henry Rollins for 20rmb, but due to the amount of readers browsing the discount area, most books are not organized.

Penguin Random House made their debut in the Shanghai Book Fair this year. Although the space is small for a large publishing house like them, their popularity was obvious. They focused more on colorful merchandise instead of books, and their 650rmb backpacks that contain a collection of 80 little black classics were gone on the first day.

People seemed to love the new technology on display, like Amazon's Kindle and the Himalaya FM, though actual books about technology were scarce. Educational publishers and the "social sciences hall" barely got any attention, nor did books on academic subjects such as Chinese art or music.

Overall, definitely worth the trip to Jing'an and the 10rmb entry. It can be hard to find a specific book, but the hunt is cool. And if you don't wanna carry all those books home, they have on-site EMS kuai-di.