Prepare to meet
adorable  library
rabbit of Guadalajara
SOL invades the
Feria Internacional del Libro XVI    ▬    The 2002 Guadalajara Book Fair  
Nov 30 - Dec 8, 2002

Nine days that shook the book world and made a whole city shimmy to the sounds of son.  The second-largest book fair on earth was swept up this year by an ola cubana, a Cuban wave that charmed, fascinated, dazzled and enraged.  The visiting delegation of seven hundred writers, artists, and other compañeros involved in the rich culture of the island made it clear that this fair is about much more than just books, or just business.  Is the FIL a trade show?  Yeah, sure—and the Grand Canyon is just a big ditch.  The FIL, with its hundreds of astounding cultural events for all ages, at sites spanning a vast metropolitan area, is more like a World's Fair where everything happens simultaneously and in a hurry. 

So, what is the FIL?  It all depends on who you are.  To begin to get a feeling for the fair, wrap your mind around some raw data:

Some raw data:
Attendance: 420,280 (a new FIL record)
Guest of honor
Size of the Cuban delegation: More than 700 writers, critics, scholars, dancers, cigar rollers, chess players, librarians, merchants, and musicians: some world-famous, including some Buena Vista Social Clubbers
Number of free outdoor concerts: We lost count at 20, on big stages in front of the book fair building and in a downtown plaza
Participating publishers: 1305
Number of Mexican exhibitors
: 365 different publishers
Number of foreign exhibitors: 940 publishers
Cuban publishers represented: 60
Titles on offer at the fair
: Roughly 85,000
Literary discussion, book presentations, roundtables: More than 100
Countries represented: 35 (from Argentinian literary agents to a Zimbabwean bookseller)
Number of copies of José Martí's
La edad de oro in the pile at left
: 2,000, which were distributed free to young readers as the doors were closing on the final day of the fair
Kids who took part in special FIL programs and workshops: 71,114
Typical final-weekend book discounts: 30% to 50%
Next year's guest of honor: Francophone Canada. "We're the Latinos of the north," says Quebec's culture minister
Free cups of coffee consumed by Flaco in the 'professionals' lounge: 74
Cost of a bus ride from downtown to the FIL site: 35 cents
Che Guevara t-shirts sighted in in Guadalajara during the week: Thousands
Winner of this year's Juan Rulfo Award, the FIL's most important literary prize: Cintio Vitier, Cuban poet
Age of Vitier, who made several public appearances at the fair: 81
Attendance at Silvio Rodríguez's free concert: 10,000, by some estimates
Years since his previous concert performance: 3
Number of songs he sang at the FIL, after promising to do three: 8, and people begged for more
controversies that erupted: 2 big ones, and a few smaller ones

There are many, many FILsthat of the foreign librarian seeking materials in Spanish: a big kid in the best candy store ever, wishing there was more allowance money in her pocket.  The FIL of the readers, local people and travelers from around the world, who flock to Guadalajara seeking good buys and bracing discussion.  The FIL of the children, many discovering the magic of books and reading thanks to the fair's festive ambiance and appealing special programs.  The FIL makes room for intellectuals who want to debate and query famous authors, and for curious music fans who want to hear their favorites.  The FIL is  for students intrigued by literature and it's for the people who write the books; it's for merchants who hope to make a little money selling crafts outside the building, or to make a whole lot of money selling books and multimedia materials inside.  The FIL serves teachers and learners, buyers and sellers, readers and writers, the old and the young.

Is it overwhelming?  Of course it is.  It ought to be. If you stick to the Expo center and the ALA hotels, you’ll miss a lot of the FIL; if you prowl the University of Guadalajara, the downtown events, the alternative happenings, as we did—you’ll still miss a lot.. No matter what you do and see at the book fair, you're going to overlook a lot more. And that’s the beauty of the thing.

Though a bit more antiseptic, the FIL is like a gigantic, famous market in the center of Guadalajara.  It's so big, and so anarchic, it has two names: the Mercado Libertad, and the market of San Juan de Dios.  Three levels and almost 3,000 different stalls, packed together, as bustling busy as an anthill.  You could walk through the place fifty times and still not have a clue where everything is.  Most of the vendors are grouped according to their merchandise: along here, leather goods and belts. Down there, blankets.  A row of musical instruments...a dark constricted alleyway of pirated software, computer games, and videos...a plaza of eateries, distributed by genre with sections for ceviche, tortas ahogadas, juice drinks, Japanese food...the Great Wall of sides of beef and hog parts dangling in the open air...look, we know people have good reasons for flocking to shopping malls and Wal*Marts—Guadalajara has both—and it's no accident that one-size-fits-all ideas like that of a "core collection" have a similar, admittedly practical appeal.  We know that.  But the crowded, overloaded, overwhelming FIL, with all its commotion and its chaotic array of activities is a joyous celebration of humanity's surprising variety, a place where happy accidents and fortunate discoveries are on every bookshelf, just waiting for you to notice.

Flaco, caught in the ola cubana, merges happily, even
 surrealistically with Waldo Saavedra's fabric
 mural installation in the FIL's vast Cuban pavilion