Some random thoughts on the Malta Book Festival

The Malta Book Festival 2021 – the Bookshop Edition, has come and gone. And of course, avid reader, book buyer and regular blogger Paul Grech has his thoughts on this first covid-era live Festival. Needless to say, opinions expressed here belong to the author and not necessarily to Merlin 🙂

Here goes Paul:

For those who love to read there is nothing better than a large room filled with books. Which explains why many made their way to the Malta Book Festival after a year’s covid-induced absence. It was great to be able to browse on the various stands and talk to others as passionate about books as you. Of course, there are always things that could be done differently and, with that in mind (and definitely coming from a place of love and appreciation) here are some thoughts on this latest edition.


Quality is on the rise

It was heartening to see so many new Maltese books at the festival; a sign arguably that despite all the setbacks of the past months the publishing industry is still alive. Perhaps an even better signal is the improving production quality of the books themselves. More attention is being given to the quality and design of covers. The same goes for the layout of the books themselves. If Maltese literature is to survive, then it must be good enough to compete with what is coming from overseas. That starts with the look and feel which, judging from what I saw at the festival, is a challenge that is being met head on.

Lovers of graphic novels underserved

There was only one bookseller who had a decent(ish) selection of graphic novels for sale and that corner of the stall was among the busiest that I came across, particularly among teens which isn’t always an easy bracket to attract to reading. It never ceases to amaze me how underserved this market is and how retailers fail to spot what seems like an obvious opportunity. One could argue that the book festival is not a comic convention, and it would be a valid argument. If there is an opportunity to attract more people to reading then it should be addressed.


Location location location

It goes without saying that it was delightful to be able to go to a physical book fair. And it is equally true that the Malta Book Council did an amazing job finding an alternative location, having been bounced off the traditional location of the festival. I have a couple of minor criticisms (authors were too isolated for instance) but when it all comes down to it, let’s just enjoy being able to meet to celebrate books.

Why no online?

I get that people are excited to return to live events. And I understand that nothing can beat being in the audience during a discussion. Yet, surely there was room to host hybrid events; ones hosted live but also streamed online. As someone who will never be in a position to visit the festival more than once or twice during its run, I would have appreciated the opportunity of listening to some of the talks from home.


Are books just for kids?

This is more of an observation rather than a comment about the Book Festival itself. A huge chunk of the people there (including myself, to be honest) when visited did so with their children. There’s nothing wrong with that. But I also seemed to notice that whilst a lot of the adults were very eager to get their children to pick out books, they weren’t doing the same themselves. I’m generalising here, of course, but that of adults reading (or not reading) is an issue that is worth thinking about and, perhaps, something that future editions of the Book Festival might want to address.

Paul Grech is an avid reader particularly of sports, sci-fi, fantasy and non-fiction books. He is also a writer as well as the publisher of Paġna Mmarkata, a magazine (that is also a bookmark) of original Maltese writing.