By Edward Nawotka
International book fairs — from Beijing to Buenos Aires (taking place now) to author-centric events like the PEN World Voices Festival — aim in part to help bolster the reputation of their host countries, cities and regions. LéaLA, a new Spanish-language book fair in Los Angeles aims to do this for Mexican culture. Sometimes, as with Frankfurt, the names even become synonymous with the events. But to what extent can books serving as cultural ambassadors change international perceptions of a place?
Cultural exports are often described in geopolitical terms as an exercise in “soft power.” Books, in particular, carry intellectual weight in this arena, as ideas — if not always books — can traverse borders easily. Book fairs serve as a forum for such ideas and provide face-to-face interaction that can often change minds and create lasting relationships that are the foundations of change.
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