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This report is taken from PN Review 37, Volume 10 Number 5, March - April 1984.

Frankfurt Book Fair (1983) Michael Hulse

Punctually every October the Frankfurt Book Fair re-opens a debate so familiar as to be tedious: will this year mark the final irreversible decline of our reading culture? somebody asks, usually in the speech to open the Fair, and everybody else nods with glum pleasure and says probably it will. The cultural pessimists came into their own this year, rather more than before; video gadgetry was on show in greater quantity, and for the first time I discovered a publisher with not a single book on his stand, only the equipment of the new media. 'Video electronics represent a fascinating extension of the possibilities open to the book,' said this man, and the glum nods grew glummer.

I remember how shocked I was eighteen months ago to discover in Stoke Newington - assuredly not a wealthy part of London - three video libraries in one shabby street, and not a bookshop anywhere in the area. But that shock was a panic reaction. Panic may be salutary, true; but on the whole it begins to look very much as if our enduring end-of-the-written-word panic may just be too flapping and strident. Certainly we all loathe these nasty bleeping machines, and the shifting images on the household screens. But I have found very little hard evidence that that minority we call the reading public - and it has always been a tiny minority - is getting proportionally smaller. The culture-glumness that tries to smother Frankfurt every October would do ...


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