A big room full of books

Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.

Francis Bacon

I’ve never really known where I stood on the great “find your passion and follow it” debate. I guess the fact that my degree is in English Lit and Communications means that I followed my passion for books at least as far as university. But when the time came to earn some dollars/ yen/ pounds/ shekels/ francs/ euros to finance my other passions (travel, food and wine being uppermost amongst them), the pursuit of activities that someone would pay me to indulge in became an inevitable necessity.

I was thinking about this as I entered the Palexpo convention centre in Geneva for the Salon du Livre on Friday. The physical space I walked into was utterly reminiscent, at first glance, of the places I spent so much time in when I was working in the broadcast industry – huge, high-ceilinged, temporarily carpeted spaces packed with stands staffed by people desperate to sell their wares.

Me at Screen

(Me in a previous incarnation.)

There was a big difference this time though… When I’ve walked into exhibition centres before, I’ve been confronted by the bewildering technologies behind the dubious joys of television. The halls of Palexpo on Friday, however, brought me face to face with…books! Writers of books! Sellers of books! Children learning to love and appreciate books! Surely this was heaven, and the kind of environment that I should have been working in for my entire adult life!

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The enormous and immovable grin with which I walked around those halls prompted many a book tout to try their luck at selling me stuff. Their shoulders almost invariably slumped, however, when I responded with my usual, Pardon, je ne parle pas bien le francais, although a few accommodating traders switched optimistically into English. One enthusiastic new-business owner asked me to become an ambassador for the ingenious bit of kit he’s developed to encourage reading and multilingualism in kids. (My French isn’t good enough to really be of any use to him, but I did think his product was brilliant – http://www.lirekit.ch/).

I also had a conversation with the marketing director of a publishing company that a friend of mine is employed by. (Now there’s an example of someone fortuitously following her bliss – 24 years old, living in Geneva’s Old Town and with a fulltime paid writing gig… You go, girl!). I walked away from their stand with a copy, en gratuit, of a tome that my friend has worked on, and moved swiftly on to a talk being given by the Stanford University Librarian on The Future of Books.

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I was encouraged to hear Michael A. Keller explain that the definition of books has now had to be broadened to incorporate digital editions. The fact that my partner and I move countries every two years means that the purchase of heavy paper volumes makes little sense for us – most of the 350 kilos we shipped from Jerusalem to Geneva consisted of the books we’d accumulated during our stay there – but I still feel a pang of guilt every time I visit Amazon online to invest in another download for my Kindle. If only I could make these purchases from an independent bookseller, who Michael A. Keller described as a “threatened species”.

Perhaps the best thing about working in an industry which is not directly related to one’s bliss means that one’s joy doesn’t have to be sullied by the confines of commercialism. I can read and enjoy books and not have to worry too much about their profitability. I can attend gatherings of the Geneva International Book Club and talk with brilliant and inspiring minds about the most influential books of all time, without having to be concerned about the books’ bottom line. I can give my honest opinions about books that I read, love them or loathe them, without hearing a whispered warning at the back of my mind that my frankness might affect my bonus.

Yes, the books on my shelves are my bliss, and the time I have to read them is my passion. The stuff I’ve had to do in the nine-to-fives of my life just paid for my bliss to be there.

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