Last Sunday afternoon, I joined some new friends from my masters program on a trip to BA’s expectation-obliterating Feria del Libro. “Am I in the right place?” I asked myself as I made my way to the back of the more-than-two-block-long line snaking its way along Avenida Santa Fe. Would this many people really wait this long to see a bunch of books? In Buenos Aires, yes.
When I hear the phrase “book fair,” I think of Scholastic-sponsored elementary school fundraisers and used book sales at my local library, but in Buenos Aires, these words—like so many others—have a different meaning altogether. The two-and-a-half-week-long Feria del Libro is an event with some real production value, a whole world of literary culture, and a collection of more books for sale in one single place than I’d ever seen before. What we in the US do for car shows, porteños do for books.
Held in Buenos Aires’ best-known exhibition center, La Rural, the Feria del Libro filed nearly every inch of the gargantuan space with elaborate installations by publishers, bookstores, provinces, and even foreign countries. Some of these “stalls” were worlds unto themselves, featuring rare books on display, tables for author signings, and even stages for cultural performances. Tucuman’s installation, for instance, featured near-continuous performances of traditional northern dances. The US embassy sought to wow with technology, presenting its exhibit on “the Evolution of the Book” though a half-dozen of e-book readers. Buenos Aires Ciudad operated an entire “book city,” with a small auditorium, exhibits on the city’s rich literary past, and a studio from which Radio de la Ciudad was broadcasting live. These stall-based highlights were complimented by hundreds of Feria-sponsored readings, panel discussions, and performances.
AMIA (the Asociacion Mutual Israelita Argentina), Argentina’s version of the JCC on steroids, had a stand too, featuring books published by in-house Editorial Milá, along with other Argentine and international books on Jewish topics. As you can see in the picture above, it looked pretty nice. And it was right next to the Israeli stand, which itself was just across the way from the US embassy’s kiosk, forming a strange little axis that, I’d imagine, wouldn’t have escaped the notice of fair-goers.
While the spectacle of the Feria certainly impressed me, what I enjoyed most about the fair was what I had expected to all along: the chance it afforded me to lose myself for a few hours in a seemingly endless mass of books. And to see tons of other people excited enough to do the same thing that they’d suffer through a 200-meter line. Probably wouldn’t happen in Pittsburgh.