Books are the new cool

merlinThis post first appeared on the Sunday Times of Malta’s Culture section.

Today is the last day of the National Book Festival. What’s that got to do with pop culture, I hear you ask. Plenty, given my eternally hopeless drive to put the ‘popular’ back in books.

If this drive never exactly worked back in my schooldays, there seems to be even less chance of it working nowadays, when there are plenty more options to distract us.

And yet, if this year’s edition of the book festival is anything to go by, hope is not completely lost.

Judging by my visits, the highlights are plenty – the first one being the way that the festival this year embraces a variety of art forms.

During the official opening on Tuesday, there was a welcome dearth of ministerial speeches.

These were, instead, replaced by a short performance by the Duo Kukkanja, made up of Justin Galea and Steve Delia (better known as id-Delli), who included a couple of covers in English and Italian to cater for the foreign participants and, naturally, original material in Maltese.

This performance was followed by a reading by Leanne Ellul, who read out an excerpt from Dak li l-Lejl Iħallik Tgħid, the anthology that earnt its author Pierre J. Meilak the EU Prize for Literature earlier this year.

It was a wicked start to a festival that, I was happy to see, has moved away from selling as its sole focal point and has become more of a celebration of the arts, with books at its centre.

I was happy to see that most of the publishers (the big names were all present) also made a good effort to present a cool facade to visitors and to organise events, rather than simply manning their stand.

There were readings aplenty and it’s fun to see that the concept is catching on.

Maybe a festival is not the best location, due to footfall traffic, but things seemed to work well enough.

Other art forms were incorporated in diverse ways. Some of the launches incor­porated music, which is always a winner for me (well, unless we are talking Niki Minaj covers, which we weren’t) and there were also some illustration workshops going on for the little ones.

Laqgħa ma’ Mara Morbi, a film adaptation of Immanuel Mifsud’s short story, was also set to premiere yesterday in another first for the event.

Sadly, I’m writing this too early to have actually seen the end result, but any endeavour that crosses disciplines gets my vote.

Other highlights – the second edition of #abbozz (a competition for novice writers); the discussion spanning the past, present and future of the Maltese language that is taking place today (1pm at the Temi Zammit Hall, organised by the Għaqda tal-Malti Università).

I particularly loved the mini-exhibition organised by the National Library (showcasing a gorgeous collection of antique books)… it is impossible to list them all here.

Go on. Pop in, even if for 30 minutes. There will be something to grab your interest for sure.