The ongoing 8th annual book fair is a one-stop shop for every reader’s want

Inside the Tamukkam grounds the smell of newly printed books overwhelms you. The speaker blares out names of new-arrivals and titles by award-winning authors. Brightly lit stalls, piles of books stacked up or neatly arranged on shelves, sellers distributing discount coupons and pamphlets and book-lovers browsing through their favourite genres – the ongoing 8th edition of Annual Book Fair looks every bit like a carnival for bibliophiles.

This year, the fair is being visited by students, teachers, readers, families, women and children in large numbers – everyone on the lookout for their own soul-stirring piece of book! And most visitors to the fair return with loaded bags. And the ones who managed to strike a big deal can’t hide a radiant glee. Amritha, a home-maker, bought a dozen books for Rs.1000, “This fair makes up for the lack of a decent book shop in the city. Now that I have got my stock for the year, I can happily wait for the next expo.”

“Book expos are best places to buy assorted titles at competitive prices,” says Ilavarasan, a collegian, who visits the fair every year with his friends. “We buy a variety of authors and exchange and borrow among ourselves.” This year’s edition is much bigger with over 200 stalls, a million titles and five million books! “But the journey to become the most popular book fair in the city wasn’t easy,” says A.R.Venkatachalam, Treasurer, The Booksellers’ and Publishers’ Association of South India. “We had a tough time in Madurai for the first six times, so much that at a point, we thought we wouldn’t continue. But last year’s success gave us a boost. And currently, we are crossing 20,000 footfalls a day.”

Noting that Madurai is the only place where the fair is held other than Chennai, Suresh, who manages a stall at the fair, points out, “If the increasing response is any indication, then the reading habit of Madurai denizens has surely improved.”

“Madurai readers are a composite lot. Most of them are serious readers,” opines Sivan, a bookseller. “Tamil classical literary works like Kalki’s Poniyin Selvan and Tirukkural treatise find more takers even today. No wonder, the city has been the cradle for Tamil literature.” Almost every stall dealing with Tamil books, has stocked the classics. But modern Tamil literature, called ‘Puthu Ilakkiyam’ strikes a chord with young readers. Muthukumaravel, an agriculture student from Paramakudi, says, “I like communist and Periar’s books and novels that talk about serious social issues.” The novel, ‘Yeriyum Panikaadukal’ that was made into the film Paradesi, is a bestseller among the youth.

Authors like Jeyakanthan, Sujatha and Ramanichandran find fancy among more middle-aged men and women. Mother-daughter duo, Komala and Shivani who are regular buyers at the annual fair feel that a wide range of novels and genres are available at the expo, unlike the few varieties that lie unsold in bookshops. “Latest editions and new-arrivals are difficult to find in any city bookshop. Whereas, we get to know new authors and titles at an expo,” says Komala.

Crime novels of Sujatha and Nanjil Nadan, Self-help books by Robin Sharma and Gopinath and biographies of leaders seem to be the hot picks this year. But some readers rue the lack of more English novels. Shravan, a Class X student, says, “I usually Flipkart my books. But the huge collection brought me here in the hope of getting some rare books. Yet, finding authors like Stephenie Meyer and Jeffrey Archer and even Indian English authors is a task. Most times, I don’t find them at all.”

If majority of the visitors are ardent readers and book lovers, some also come to the fair, just to immerse themselves in the feel of it. The pattimandrams on interesting literary topics and cultural shows of classical dance and music, folk art performances, conducted as part of the book fair, are huge crowd pullers. Apart from the enthusiastic readers inside the stalls, a dedicated audience always sits and enjoys the events outside. Ajay Rajan, a collge-goer, says, “I feel online book stores have better pricing. But as expos give that awesome feel of browsing and being surrounded by thousands of books, I never give this fair a miss. I also enjoy the debates and cultural programmes going on simultaneously.”

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