The 35th edition of the Guadalajara International Book Fair, the largest meeting of the sector in Spanish, ends this Sunday and was – like a 35-year-old who said goodbye to his twenties and prepares the calm of his forties – a little more sober and a little more comfortable.
The capacity, to begin with, was smaller than normal to reduce the possibility of contagion of the coronavirus: 251,900 attendees as opposed to the 828,266 who visited the fair in 2019; 1,223 publishers present, compared to 2,417 who attended two years ago; 3,278 book professionals – such as publishers, booksellers, literary agents – compared to 18,906 in the past.
A considerable reduction that implies much more space for readers, but also less income for FIL Guadalajara. As explained today by the president of the event, Raúl Padilla, although in this edition the FIL managed to keep 70% of its sponsors, and adjusted its expenses for a total cost of 105 million Mexican pesos (around 5.6 million dollars ), did not recover the entire investment: they recovered 87 million pesos (about 4.6 million dollars), which leaves a deficit of 18 million for next year. FIL is financed largely through the sale of stands, or premises, to dozens of publishers in the space known as EXPO Guadalajara. But, as Padilla explained, after a year and a half of economic crisis due to the pandemic, “we had to show solidarity with the publishing industry, national and worldwide, so that they could come, giving them significant discounts.” Next year, he added, they expect presence to return to 100%. Perhaps all the stands will return with her, and her income as well.
FIL, despite the deficit, remained the great book party. With authors such as Paul Auster, Jonathan Franzen, Cristina Rivera Garza or Isabel Allende as stars in virtuality (18 million readers around the world connected to the events through social networks), FIL’s main dishes were served in Spanish. This newspaper toured the fair together with the Cuban Leonardo Padura and the Mexican Antonio Ortuño; he recalled with the Nicaraguan Sergio Ramírez the revolutionary adventures of Julio Cortázar, Gabriel García Márquez and other of his friends from the boom; and he sat next to former Bolivian vice president Álvaro García Linera to think about a world after the pandemic. There were representatives from 37 countries, concerts, plays, tributes to writers who transform the history of literature –Diamela Eltit, Margo Glantz, Fernanda Trías– book presentations and meetings between authors and boys from Guadalajara high schools. This was FIL Guadalajara’s 35th birthday:
A tribute to Almudena Grandes
The first official act of FIL, the delivery of the Prize for Literature in Romance Languages to the Chilean Diamela Eltit, began with a minute of silence in memory of the writer Almudena Grandes, who died that Saturday. A decade earlier, the Madrid-born author had received the Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz prize for the best novel published in Spanish by a woman, for Agnes and joy. Following the news of her death, FIL improvised a table to honor the author of The ages of Lulu and remember his work with journalists, storytellers and readers. Through the corridors of the fair, her fellow writers and editors remembered her as “a brave woman”, “an open, innovative voice”, “with a sense of humor”, “an endearing woman who portrayed gray Spain”. In the position of the Planeta group, where he published under the Tusquets label, a space was allocated to his books. “The stories you gave us will last forever,” read a poster next to his work.
Masks and adolescent phenomena
The mandatory masks this time made it very difficult to identify the authors or politicians walking through the huge premises of Random House or Planeta, to ask for an autograph or make a claim. “It still seems surprising to me to look at people from the eyes up, with half their faces, and it almost seems offensive to see a whole face,” the writer Alma Delia Murillo, author of Tales of Evil (and the odd cursed one). “I think it is a phenomenon that we have not sufficiently calibrated, and it is what is most strange to me.” Although no mask prevented a young writer like Flor Salvador from collapsing the traffic of assistants or the National Guard from having to send reinforcements due to the talk of former Spanish president Rodríguez Zapatero. There are people who, despite the masks, hardly go unnoticed.
The shadow of the omicron variant
The same week that the fair began, South African scientists detected a new variant of the coronavirus that worried the World Health Organization (WHO) because it has a very high number of mutations. Countries like the United States or Israel, or the European Union closed the borders to travelers from southern Africa before the appearance of the omicron variant. But in Mexico, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador downplayed it. “There is no reason to worry,” said the president. The organizers of the fair assured this Sunday that they did not have to take special measures against the new strain despite the fact that a part of the visitors had arrived from countries where cases had been detected – on Friday the first case was known in Mexico. “It was previously when we had more problems because fewer exhibitors traveled this year due to fear of border closures”, clarified Marisol Schulz. “Furthermore, we cannot impose measures that the government itself does not impose,” he added. The FIL director indicated that, in addition to taking the temperature and the sanitizing baths, 2,649 random tests for covid-19 were carried out during the week at the fair and that “all were negative.” “People have understood and supported us with the protocols,” he said. According to their data, 78% of the visitors had a dose or the complete vaccination schedule.
Less partying and more Peruvian music
At FIL, the saying that sometimes less is better was fulfilled. Less noisy and quieter. Yes, there were fewer night parties, but there was no lack of music or the euphoria that this year was provided by the music of Peru, the guest country this year. “Never / but never / leave me darling,” sang the psychedelic cumbia group Los Mirlos on Wednesday night, when it filled the Fair forum and even made passersby who stayed outside the concert dance.
“On the one hand, there is something very festive about meeting again, about seeing each other again in person, which I think is always very different from meeting on screens,” said Mexican writer Jazmina Barrera, who presented her novel this year Cross-stitch. “And, on the other hand, I think there is something somewhat solemn, sad even, to acknowledge all the losses that have occurred in this time, and also very sober because FIL is now calmer than usual.”
The fair is for the young
The return of the fair to face-to-face also set literature rolling around the city. Dozens of writers toured the outskirts of Guadalajara visiting schools, chatting with students and answering their questions. EL PAÍS accompanied the Argentine Dolores Reyes, author of Cometierra, and the Ecuadorian Mónica Ojeda, who last year published The flyers. Both have defended reading and writing as a place to cultivate. “When I went to high school, the writers were bronze beings, they weren’t bodies and they didn’t talk to us,” Reyes explained to the High School 16 students. “That made it take me years to think that I could also tell a story.” . The reading experience is also enjoyment, said the Guayaquil girl in High School 14, and “the best books are not those that one reads without noticing, but the ones that catch no matter how many have been closed before.”
Goodbye Peru, hello Sharjah
The guest country, Peru, arrived with some controversy over the disbandment of a handful of members of its delegation. A dozen authors decided to resign in protest at the changes of the Government in the final list at the last moment, which incorporated more writers from the regions but left out narrators such as Katya Adaui, Karina Pacheco and Gabriela Wiener, recognized for their work and for their feminist positions. Next year it will be the turn of one of the seven cities of the United Arab Emirates, which in 2019 was announced for 2020, but the pandemic pushed it until 2022. Sharjah is a hereditary monarchy with totalitarian features declared the world capital of the book two ago years by UNESCO, home of the largest fair in the Middle East and with coffers full of petrodollars.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.