When it comes to books in general and literature in specific, Buenos Aires certainly stands out. I am sure that everyone, even those that don’t like reading so much, know or have heard of Borges. Borges definitely plays an important role in Argentine history and literature. I am sure that every tourist came across him. In this place Borges had his coffee, there he used to have lunch. In this place he came to discuss with his friends. A bit like Hemmingway I suppose. Borges is considered as an example to the Argentine writers, the man who wrote only to write good things and not to become rich. It is said that a lot of Argentine writers of today admire that so much about Borges that they do the same. They want to write something perfect rather then earn a lot of money. They are so exigent towards themselves that they generally write a lot better then many other writers from other countries.
Of course it is not just Borges that makes Buenos Aires so special when it comes to books, there are many other good or even better writers. Besides that the city is full of bookstores. About 200 to be specific. Around 70 libraries, and not to be overlooked, on every corner of the street there is a kiosk that sells books. There are probably more books per capita sold here in Buenos Aires then in any other place in the world. Not just literature, but also philosophy, psychology and political books are written, translated, sold and read by many Argentines.
I was amazed when I went to the ‘Feria Internacional del Libro’ last week. I am a big book fan and have only missed the big book fare in Antwerp twice in my whole life: the last 2 years that I was living here in Buenos Aires. My love for books does have limits. The fare in Belgium must be on my “top 10 of things I miss”. But this Feria in BA was as big, as good, maybe even a bit better (more space and less people). It is a paradise for every book lover that can read Spanish. So many books that you don’t see in the shop. I walked through it as if in a dream; I could have spent days there, and tons of money.
This book fare is really important, it lasts 3 weeks and attracts more then a million visitors, it represents 25% of the book sales a year.
Argentina is also present in book fares in other countries. Last year it was the Guest of Honor on the book fair in Frankfurt, which resulted in more, then 200 Argentine being translated into German. You see Argentine books appear in all languages all over the world. In the Paris book fare they had 5000 books showed in 100m2 in both Spanish and French.
At the same time as the inauguration of the book fare, Buenos Aires became the World Book Capital (from April 2011 till April 2012). Not only does this get Buenos Aires on the map of booklovers from all over the world, the Argentine writers will also become more internationally known as well.
In 1996, in order to promote books and reading, UNESCO launched the “World Book and Copyright day”. Because of to the huge success they decided to organise a “Year of the Book” as well, each year in another city, starting with Madrid in 2001.
To be elected the country must show that it has been promoting books and reading in the period between 2 World Book Days, and several criteria are handled to prove and check this. Three international organizations (International Publishers Association, International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions, and the International Booksellers Federation) then chose the right candidate.
The candidates that have been selected have come from all parts of the world, like Madrid and Antwerp, Alexandria, New Delhi, Montreal, Bogota, Beirut… and now Buenos Aires.
Through the year Buenos Aires will have a whole program of art and shows in relations to books. In general the “word” will be celebrated all year long.
The first piece of art on the program is the Tower of Babel (Torre de Babel), by the Argentine artist Marta Minujín. It is made out of 30,000 books. All types of books are included in this piece of art. From dictionaries and old software books to classic literature, and many other. They were donated by embassies from all over the world as well as by civil organizations and of course by lots of Argentine citizens. This mountain of books is 28 meter high and has 6 floors. It symbolizes the unification of all races throughout the world.
Today the 11th of May it will be inaugurated, and on the 28th, everyone can go to ‘demolish’ it and take a book home. So let’s all go there!