Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES — The 24th International Book Fair has started in Cuba. Havana’s La Cabaña fortress is again full of people, food and books.

Many are surprised by the large number of people who attend the fair. Most of the readers who go there to buy books are put off by the hefty crowds. “You can tell they don’t read just by looking at them,” some say. “They only come to loiter and mingle.”

It is true that the large crowds can be stifling, but I believe it is important that regular readers, writers and those who never open a book should coincide in a given space. For those who don’t make a habit of reading, being there, looking at the different books, seeing that writers are human beings with defects and virtues, that they are people who are able to laugh, whom we need not idealize or ridicule, is a way of coming into contact with the world of literature.

Many of us also consider it a shortcoming that there should be so many food stands at the fair. Some even feel that most people attend the fair to eat and not to buy books. When you think about it, La Cabaña is a place that is quite far from the city and all of its permanent establishments only offer hard-currency options. The stands and snack, ice-cream and other vendors who sell products in Cuban pesos during the fair are therefore a kind of blessing for those who are forced to stand in line at the mercy of the elements.

 

There is no shortage of merriment and music inside. This year, however, books, journals and posters predominate – paper, it seems, has retaken the old fortress.

As we walk around, we see that publishing houses that launch thought-provoking books mingle with others who sell only “literary eye-candy.”

For instance, the Felix Valera Center stand is next to one offering children’s stories and puzzles, posters of famous soccer players, colorful cases, puzzles with pictures of modern super heroes aimed at children and young people.

One finds the same situation elsewhere: the Casa de las Americas stand has no visitors while the boisterous crowd standing before the neighboring stand doesn’t let you hear the price of the Minnie Baby poster. The first thing that comes to mind is: this must be a sales strategy. After walking around the fair some, however, we realize that the “eye-candy” is what sells most at the fair (more than new Cuban publications and used books), so we cannot help ask ourselves what the point of this arrangement is.

It’s clear the market exists because there are consumers who buy these things. It is good that these stands should exist and it would be even better if people could buy these products elsewhere without having to wait for the fair every year. What seems incredible is that a country that boasts of being cultured and makes huge sacrifices to organize this “book fest” (an expensive undertaking for all) should prioritize these types of consumers instead of those who anxiously await the month of February every year to satisfy their thirst for good literature.

Could it be in order to get more and more people to attend the fair?

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