By Edward Nawotka
Fat from Thanksgiving, I’m attending Guadalajara Book Fair to spend a few days visiting booths and talking with publishers, which should surely take the pounds off (unless I gorge on the amazing Mexican food I hope to find down here -– any suggestions?).
The event kicked off on Friday, but due to holiday, I only arrived this afternoon, after a mercifully short two-hour flight in from my home in Texas (which used to be a part of Mexico, you know).
The FIL, or officially the Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara, is said to be the single biggest book event in the Spanish-speaking world -– the lodestone for publishers, authors and editors from across Mexico, Central and South America. Having never been to another Spanish-only fair, I can’t say, but does compare favorably in size with the fair I attended two years ago in Rio.
David Unger, the US representative for the Fair (and novelist and City College of New York professor and very nice guy) told me that the fair was actually larger than either London or BookExpo America. It’s not clear if this was meant in square-footage or in number of people in attendance. The fair here in Mexico lasts for nine days– attracting some 600,000 people (while the other two English-language fairs are just two…or is it three…so a direct comparison is probably impossible.)
One thing about Guadalajara, it feels busy. The event, which runs from November 27 through December 5, is open to the public. In fact, this is one of the more interesting things about the event: While the Fair stays open from 9 am – 9 pm daily, the Fair is closed to the public from 9 am – 5 pm this Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for professionals to have the opportunity to take their meetings and get work done. In fact, during my walk-around today, it was clear that several of the foreign publishers had hired human placeholders to sit in their booths until they arrive on Monday for work.
(To me, this public/professional, day on/day off system seems to work well. I maintain that BEA would be better off if it found a way to interact with the public. Why hasn’t it? My guess: There’s got to be some contractual issue with actually “selling” inside the Javits Center. Or maybe the unions -– you know, those guys who won’t let you carry in your own flats of bottled water –- want a cut of the takings.)
Today, Sunday, the half of the fair devoted to Mexican publishing was absolutely thronged. A ticket to the event is a mere 20 pesos –- about $1.60! I was told by David (Unger) that this was nothing compared to Thursday when the school children arrive.
Easily the biggest event of the day that I witnessed was the line that formed for filmmaker and novelist Guillermo Del Toro, who was born in Guadalajara and appears to be a local literary hero. He patiently signed copies of his new novel (Oscura – translated into English as The Fall) and posed for photos for several hundred people over the course of two hours. He seemed to be extremely generous with the time he took with each person. After watching him for ten minutes, I gave up…only to return sometime later and nearly get run by the Roman phalanx of black clad security that had locked arms around Del Torro and his entourage (yes, he had one, to be sure), who then ushered him into the most secure area on the show floor – the one place that had a narrow opening and a locked door that the public could not penetrate no matter how hard they tried – the Agents Center!
Del Torro and his people disappeared out a back door in the center while the public plastered themselves against the windows, pounding them lightly with closed fists, like a scene out of The Walking Dead (I happened to be standing inside the agents center at the time).
Del Toro was replaced at the book signing table by Nobel Prize winner J. M. G. Le Clézio, who drew another significant crowd (albeit, less rowdy and more orderly). I swear with his brush cut, could do a decent impression of Samuel Beckett.
Notably missing from the Fair: E-books. I saw just a single booth featuring digital publishing and saw not a single e-reader –- and just one iPad –- all day. There is one event that will feature a discussion of e-readers and e-reading, but as part as the exhibits are concerned, e-books are a non-factor.