September 3, 2014
40 years and 40 books
If the Palermo Book Fair often finds a way of reflecting the state of the nation, its 40th edition this year might logically be expected to be more dramatic than most in keeping with the round number but quite the reverse is true — following the controversial presence in 2011 of the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa fresh from his Nobel Prize (a presence which some ultra-Kirchnerites made a sustained effort to prevent until President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner wisely gave a green light) and the next two Book Fairs at the height of political polarization over “going for everything,” this year could hardly have begun more serenely than with the veteran cartoonist Quino. Which is just as well for such a special year as the 40th because politically defusing this event restores to books the protagonism they should never have lost and which they are going to need in the era of the dotcom, the sound-bite and the tweet. Pluralism (even within a supposedly single political space like the Broad Front-UNEN alliance launched in the same week as this 40th Book Fair) thus remains alive and well in Argentina, as we should see over the next fortnight with the forum for numerous debates provided in Palermo.
Pluralistic on the home front and also open to the world — no multiplicity of currency and import curbs matters if the book-reading public can look beyond national borders to a wider world (and at the same time deep within themselves). The international presence this year — which has as a common denominator the return of the 2003 Nobel Prize for Literature winner John Maxwell Coetzee, in keeping with today’s 20th anniversary of the first fully democratic elections in his native South Africa — will be even greater this year with over 40 countries participating and perhaps also more balanced this year without the huge Dutch “books as bridges” effort made in 2013 to accompany Argentine-born Máxima’s enthronement as Queen Consort of the Netherlands.
Modern technology (Amazon, Kindle, online, etc.) are supposedly rendering books obsolete yet it is precisely in this period of technological revolution that Book Fair attendance has topped the million mark with sales to match — for the last 14 years, strangely enough. Perhaps the secret of such huge crowds is that at any given moment this event is all about the unique relationship between one person and one book.