Somewhat (Totally) Subjective Account of the Budapest Book Festival

We’ve been graced with some rather inclement weather conditions in Budapest these days, as in a spot of a snowstorm in April, though frankly there is something almost literary in walking through at least three seasons of weather in one day. The organizers of several events planned for this weekend, such as the Budapest 100 historic house visits or the I Bike Budapest parade might have felt less inclined to feel the charms of the situation, but when it comes to the 24th International Book Festival, the rain and hail might have come in almost handy, as buying books is one of those things better done indoors.

The festival is housed by the Millenáris event centre once more, with the small inconvenience of one of its wings being closed for repairs (more about the repercussions of this state of things a bit later). I thus had the wonderful opportunity of going to Orhan Pamuk’s podium talk through some dense and pretty wintry, or at least late autumny fog covering the Danube, which was basically not there, so in a wild flight of fancy it could have well been the Bosphorus.

Usually it’s the white Elisabeth Bridge, somewhat similar to the much larger one across the Bosphorus, that gives me an odd feeling of connection-  before you object to the spectacular discrepancy in size and the fact that we’re talking about a river versus a sea, I’ll just say that for me they belong to the same realm because they are ultimately places of the mind, constructs of the present I see and the past I learned of, and stories too, both real and imaginary.

The real was very much on display when I finally arrived for the talk- as I said, the Teátrum is closed, therefore we were huddled on the gallery of the main exhibition hall, and there I encountered my arch enemy in term of smells. Perhaps you did not guess it, but it is connected to that weather I’ve been mentioning, and it’s mercifully a smell I rarely face in spring, but sadly had to this time around: naphthalene.

The fact that people would resort to that vilest of substances in the year of the Lord 2017 transforms my entire being into an incredulous question mark, but use it they do, and the otherwise adorable little old ladies and gentlemen who turned out to listen to Orhan Pamuk’s talk collectively reeked of pestilence and perdition. It is to his great credit then that I could actually ignore the putrid furs, what’s more, at the end of the hour I kind of forgot they ever existed. I did take notes too, something which I mostly failed to even during my college years, but I will leave it to more articulate people to give an account of the talk itself.

Instead I will turn to some practicalities, starting with the fact that the festival has a great little booklet with all the programmes, which are staggeringly many, interesting and varied, and therefore I hardly manage to see any, because my mind freezes at the sheer though of organizing something. It’s also a given that most things I am interested in coincide time wise, but that is a drama I often elaborated about during the Sziget reviews, so no blame is to be placed on the organizers, it’s me, not them.

This year there was no entry fee- although in the previous years it was symbolic too, a 500 forints which could be later spent inside, this contributed to a freer flow of visitors. Combined with the oft mentioned weather which might have encouraged people to choose indoors programmes, the crowd was rather considerable Saturday around noon, and kept swelling as the day went by. While this might be a bit uncomfortable when it comes to browsing the stands, I will not complain- the fact that people still want to buy books and do not abandon print for electronic versions fills my heart with warm contentment.

My getting lost does not limit itself to the programmes, but extends to the stands as well- there are always ridiculously many, with most of them offering discounts of at least 20 percent on their titles. If I am to recommend something, I will go for two totally subjective choices: the Romanian stand, with its now familiar luminous fonts and wooden shelves, plus a wide variety of book launches and talks, and the stand of the Geopen publishing house, which specializes in quirky titles with beautiful covers and also offers some similarly beautifully wrapped ‘cat in the bag’ packages, which come accompanied by a tote bag. You guessed it, that’s pretty too.

 

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