Colombo doesn't have a lot of big events going on so people get really excited about the Book Fair. Bookworms everywhere rush to BMICH there and spend the day browsing for bargains.
This year it's on from the 10th to the 16th of September. There is a big selection of Sinhala books and less among English ones, but either way there's discounts.
BMICH is huge. I really wish they had proper 'THIS WAY TO' signs as soon as you walk in, and little golf carts to carry you around if you're a lazy lump like me. When you walk in, the book fair is to the right side of the main hall, at the Sirimavo Bandaranaike Memorial Exhibition Center. There are a whole lot of stalls at the fair but I'm going to give you the highlights.
The talking robot in Hall A (Samudra)
- Hall A is entirely English books, and has got Vijitha Yapa, Makeens, Perera-Hussein, Jeya Bookshop, Oxford and Samudra. Watch out for the life-size robot in Samudra. Yes, there's an actual talking robot at the book fair.
- Hall B is entirely Sinhala books, has a lot of stalls that have English-Sinhala translated novels, textbooks, Wasana bookstores which is pretty big, and an entire stall dedicated to Martin Wickremasinghe novels. If you're an artist, the Sakura Art stall in the corridor between the halls is a good place to stop at.
- Hall C & D: M.D. Gunasinghe bookshop is in Hall C and Sarasavi bookshop is in Hall D. Next to Hall C is the Children's Corner by British Council where you can leave your kids as they will be distracted by face-paint and story-time and what not, while you go flail through the book fair. Next to Hall D is the food - the Mount Lavinia Hotel food court and The Sovereign hotdogs and slushies. Also, the huge ProMate stall for stationery.
In terms of selection where the English books are concerned, it's a lot of generic stuff (Sidney Sheldon, 50 Shades, Jeffrey Archer, and so on), nothing so new. But since books in Colombo are anyway usually expensive, it's a huge relief to see '20% off' tags dangling from the ceilings, and there's the plus point of having all our bookstores in one place. Besides the usual stores, there's also a couple of Indian ones like Parragon India though the selection there is slim.
There is also this insane deal for lovers of classics, in the Sarasavi stall outside - plenty of shelves of it too. Classics are also quite cheap at Makeen's. A few other things worth mentioning: Perera-Hussein in Hall A promises 40 to 50% discounts (what!), the Sakura Art stall between the halls has got everything from charcoal pencils to millimeter pens for great prices, and Makeen's has a nice wide combo of books on display.
Comics (Tin-Tin more or less) and our favourite trilogies are still pricey at the fair, though you might find some coffee table books at Sarasavi that are way less expensive than they would be outside. Great deals at the ProMate stationery stall outside at big 40% discounts. Also the outside stalls are nicer to book-shop at as they seem better air-conditioned, less cramped and there's sunlight pouring in through the big glass doors.
There are plenty of translated novels from English and even Russian to Sinhala at Samira's and CBS indoors, and in Akura and Sarasavi outside. And although I said the selection seems generally predictable, if you spend enough time browsing through (as any avid book-shopaholic will tell you) you'll find some mad deal hiding between shelves - like the Roald Dahl Treasury we found in Sarasavi, or the short stories by Oscar Wilde book we discovered for less than Rs. 300.
There's a popcorn guy right outside the building entrance, Rs. 50 a packet. If you want a serious meal, head towards Hall D, next to which is the Mount Lavinia Hotel food court where you get short-eats and meals quite cheap. But The Sovereign stall seemed more appetizing - get a yummy hotdog for Rs. 130 here (you can watch them cook on the grill too), and a slushie at the Slush Bar for Rs. 100. There's also a spicy Maggi cart towards the main exit where you can get a cup of noodles for just Rs. 80.
We love the Colombo Book Fair, because it's Colombo's biggest book lovers' event, with the additional pro of discounts. The English selection is ordinary this year, the Sinhala stalls are plenty, and the bargains are exciting. So it's definitely worth heading out to for good deals.