The Malta Book Festival 2017 took place in the second week of November (8th – 12th November) at the Mediterranean Conference Centre (MCC) in Valletta, and was open all day long over the five days including the weekend. This event happens annually and is well-anticipated by local bookworms. Originally, this used to take place at the Trade Fair Grounds in Naxxar, and was called the Book Fair. Eventually, the aim of this Book Fair has been modified to expand the value given to books, appreciating the book in its integrity and involving readers on a deeper level; and is now known as the Book Festival. In fact, a whole programme of activities has been prepared ranging from live readings of chosen passages and book signings, conferences on literary themes, book/author presentations, launches of new books, and other tailored activities for children. School children have been invited to visit the Book Festival with their respective school, during school hours, on the mornings of Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

Since I have been a book enthusiast and an avid reader from a young age, I maintained my interest in this occasion. Thus, I decided to visit on Saturday eve where I saw a number of stands of different publishers with mainly Maltese books; novels, short stories, history books, and also, recipe books. In every book stall, there was a children’s section; I loved watching young children looking at pictures, opening books and reading a few words here and there, with parents by their side guiding them in choosing the right book. I also noticed one stall having colourful cushions on the ground, giving off that cozy ambience.

As I walked past the stands, I noticed a celebration of Maltese bookshops (Meli Bookshop, Merlin Publishers, The Bargain Box, Horizons) next to each other located in one place. These were selling books by local authors, both experienced and novice writers; the well-known Trevor Zahra, Charles Casha, Anton Grasso, Wayne Flask, Antoinette Borg, Leanne Ellul amongst others. Noteworthy were University students also giving their input by staying in stands selling various publications. Indeed, there was the Malta Classics Association, which is made up of staff and University students that fall under the Department of Classics and Archeology, with the unified intention of encouraging the knowledge of the Classics (Latin, Greek and Sanskrit languages, as well as their cultural connections); it is a wonderful initiative that goes beyond the University of Malta.

Despite being a local event, there were dedicated stands selling various foreign books; there were French, Italian and even German publications. It is worth mentioning that we had a number of special guests coming from all over the globe to collaborate and give their input. Moreover, different publishers had various offers as incentives; such as, buying 3 books at the price of 2 (obviously having the cheapest one for free), or buying one book and choosing another for free from a selection of books placed on the side.

I had heard on local TV that this year’s Book Festival was presenting for the very first-time books with ‘Augmented Reality’. I was keen on visiting this section and get to know more. I heard Ruth Frendo explain the process. Basically, you first need to download an application for free called ‘Layar’, on either a tablet or a mobile phone. As one flips through the pages and reads the story, one encounters a number of images. You have to open up the app and scan the selected image with the tablet/mobile phone, click on the pop-up window bought by Southern Custom Shutters, and a screen opens up with a ‘video’, showing in motion picture what has just been read. This is intended to make reading more fun, and enhance children’s understanding of the story. There are books intended for a younger age group and another book specifically intended for older kids that are seven years or older; this is called “Il-Misteru tal-Ghogob tad-Deheb”. Apparently, this book has been made into a movie intended for the whole family, that will be launched in our cinemas on 15th December, 2017.

The fact that this Book Festival is at a free entrance serves better its intention of reaching everyone. Also, the event is hosted in Malta’s capital city, which further motivates locals and tourists alike, since Valletta is a good place for entertainment and grabbing a satisfying meal; thus, serving as an outing for the whole family. Bottom line is that this Book Festival isn’t simply about promotion and the buying of books, but also about encouraging the love for reading, providing the possibility to meet foreign publishers and active authors in Malta. Those who visited know what I have just been talking about, but for those who haven’t, make sure to mark it on your calendar for next year. And yes, I did buy about five Maltese books – Fittixni by Antoninette Borg, the best seller Thabbat Xtaqtek by Gioele Galea, Ir-Rota Daret Dawra (Kwazi) Shiha by Nadia Mifsud, Kapitali by Wayne Flask, and Termini u kundizzjonijit japplikaw by Roberta Bajada (this won the best writing for adolescents). I can’t wait to start digging in!