“Gymboree? Greek? Gazebo? Galumphing Galah?”
“All good, but not what we’re looking for…”
“Nah. G is for this….”
Amazing what you’ll find in a kids book these days.
I had managed to coerce Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist and one half of Les Quebecois down to the Queen Sirikit Convention Centre for the Thailand Book Expo 2013. As I have mentioned previously, this year Bangkok is the World Book Capital. This is the third and last event at this particular event hall. Given there was no panoptic of the site we plunged into section ‘D’ which was welcoming us under a title of…
Inside it was a heaving mass of humanity, a resplendent library of people and a crowd of paper that a fire insurance executive would be having a heart attack over. That’s not to say it was endless shelves of books. No indeed; toys were there, food was everywhere, some stunning artwork and the odd person dressed in an M&M costume. It was huge. You could easily spend two days there trying to see everything; our problem was we had to march up and down rows seeking the odd stalls that had stuff in English. Most of it was Thai, a lot was the Asia lexicon of Chinese, Mandarin, Japanese, Cantonese…yet we even found some Russian, Polish, French, Spanish. We’d gone there on the premise Richard Barrow had assured us it was noteworthy. I was a little disappointed because compared to Book Fairs I have visited around the world this was a bit of a shambles, low on presentation, high on stuffing as many books as possible into one space to sell. Fairly atypical, to be honest, of a lot of conventions here. There didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason to the layout; I had been hoping for open air author viewings, discussions; on having the place themed better. You know…kinda like “University books over there”, “kids books over there”, “fiction here, history there…” but if there was such a classification it was not a message passed to non-Thais.
We grabbed a super sweet lemon ice tea and meandered casually as we could through a labyrinth that was by turns IKEA, by turns a quest for the Goblin King. I stopped and eavesdropped on a farang book stall owner being on the receiving end of a monologue from a florid-faced Kiwi extolling his ability to translate texts into Latin, how he’d won a prize for being “just awesome”, and that he could ‘bring along some of his work for the seller to peruse if he liked?’ I’ve no idea where the book seller was from as he wasn’t permitted to get a word in edgeways; though I spotted a silver filling in his lower right 5 tooth when he yawned at one point. We moved on into the swell of literary snobbishness, enthusiasm, pedantry, and good-natured catcalling. I was offered “Fifty Shades of Atrocious Writing” at least four times and discovered a stall where I could get a fine education on the “Wave mechanics of fluids” or “Piezoelectric motors” if I so cared. There was a moment of pure delight when I saw a 3rd ed. copy of “The Howling II”. Every teenage generation thinks they are the first to find anything…so we have it with Stephanie Meyer’s ‘Twilight’, Suzanne Collins’ ‘The Hunger Games’, et al.. News flash from the over 30s…a generation back was Anne Rice with Lestat and co. or Gary Brandner’s “The Howling” series. Everything’s cyclical..yep even your parents’ fashion sense.
I swept a pile of ludicrous L. Ron Hubbard’s Dianetics away. “Hey look at this! I’ve not seen this in twenty years! What a great book. It’s one of ‘The Howling’ books!”
“Likely because it’s been waiting here for you.” quipped Canada’s Finest Jazz Vocalist.
I noted the two Chinese girls crouched at the pile of books dissolved into giggles. Never assume people younger than you aren’t fluent in both English and the subtleties of its humour.
We were there about an hour, picked up a few things, shuffled into the heat of a Bangkok afternoon, grabbed a taxi and headed home. Not bad…you need to like reading to want to go…oh and be a lover of sugary lemon ice tea.
Be prepared to wander…now how does it go? Oh, yes:
I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing Daffodils;
Along the Lake, beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze.
Is this what diplomacy is all about?