European studies blog

26 June 2015

The people’s Book Fair: a personal view

There are two major book fairs in Spain annually. One (LIBER) takes place in the autumn, in Madrid or Barcelona alternately, and is aimed at professionals in the book trade world-wide.  The other caters for the general public and since 1933 has been held over in late May/early June and in recent years in the Buen Retiro park in Madrid.  This year it ran from May 29 to June 14. As many as 368 booths were hired by national publishers and bookshops and, as ever, there was great competition to secure those with most shade – and thus maximum possible sales – as the sun generally blazes down until early evening.  The books on display cover many genres and most subjects: comics, children’s books, maps and guides, literature, art books, expensive facsimiles, academic and even official publications. Unlike at LIBER, the books are readily on sale.

FeriaRetiro2Visitors browsing at the Retiro Book Fair (Photograph: Geoff West)

Arguably, the most notable feature of the Retiro Fair is the opportunity to have your book signed by one of your favourite writers. This year’s authors included the novelists Javier Cercas, Luis Goytisolo, Almudena Grandes and Arturo Pérez Reverte; the Swedish crime writer, Camila Läckberg; the polemical right-wing historian Pío Moa; and the lawyer and new Mayor of Madrid, Manuela Carmena. Other politicians were signing this year, particularly members of the various new parties.  A more familiar face to me was that of another novelist, Juan Pedro Aparicio, former Director of the Instituto Cervantes in London, who has just published an ironic and distinctly fantastical look at the English in a series of interlinked microfictions, London Calling.

There is also the opportunity to attend events similar to those at literary festivals.  This year, three ‘big names’, Elvira Lindo, Luis Landero and Javier Marías spoke about the three Ages of Reading (one’s first books; books for young people and books for adults).  There were homages paid to two famous authors who had recently died, Carmen Martín Gaite and Ana María Matute. There was space too for the less famous and for participation: opportunities for new writers; storytelling for children; a young poet who would write a poem for you to order; a wall where you could pin a microrelato (‘brief encounters’ seemed a popular theme) and compete for a prize.  

Feria-del-libro-2015      The official poster for the 2015 Feria by Fernando Vicente, expressing the love of books and reading

The Feria is a very important cultural event – opened this year as in other years by Queen Sofía – for booksellers who boost their sales, the public whose appetite for books and reading is hopefully renewed, and for children who find more than enough to entertain them. By books, I do mean those on paper – the e-book is still conspicuous by its absence from the Feria.  

So what then is in it for the librarian from overseas?  I for one have made useful discoveries: the highly imaginative graphic re-working of Don Quixote by the German artist Flix, works of up-and-coming Spanish writers, new editions of classic works that are new editions.  As an employee of a major research library some publishers have generously donated books with a view to their output being better known, or with a view to future sales!  I have also been made aware of just what a small proportion of Spain’s total published output would come within our scope even with the most generous budget, but also how selective we are forced to be when budgets are as hard-pressed as they are now. There is nothing like actually having  a book in your hand before making the decision whether to buy.  So long may the Feria continue.

Geoff West, Former Curator Hispanic Studies


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