The 2009 Guadalajara Book Fair (Feria Internacional del Libro)

Tom's Blog

The Guadalajara Book Fair always opens on the weekend that comes after Thanksgiving—the only sacrosanct four-day unit of off days in my work calendar of the last 12 years. This year was different, however. My family was in Japan, and the company I work for (Toppan Printing) was under great pressure to increase our number of book printing clients in the Mexican and South American markets. So, on the Saturday night after Thanksgiving (a non-Thanksgiving, on which neither stuffing nor turkey nor cranberry sauce passed my lips anyway,) I boarded a redeye flight to Guadalajara, in the Jalisco region of Mexico.

I arrived at 5:45 in the morning on a full flight, feeling as though I had been locked in the trunk of a very small car for 4 hours. My hotel (another Holiday Inn Express…but, if I may digress for a moment, you should see the Holiday Inn Express’s in Mexico, which are designed with about 200% more creativity and flair than they are in the United States) wouldn’t take me at 6 in he morning, so I dropped off my bag and walked the 15 minutes to the Guadalajara Convention Center in the stink of the Mexican dawn. Whenever I land in Mexico I find the sulfurous smell of the exhaust fumes to be overpowering, but by the second day I don’t notice. I dined at the Hilton buffet, which featured dozens of breakfast entrees and about seven different kinds of juices, including sweet lime juice, carrot juice, and something simply called “green juice,”  across the street from the massive Fair building.

By the time I was finished with breakfast, and already dead on my feet, the fair had opened. Costco-sized jugs of antibacterial goo were placed at every entrance and I dosed my hands liberally every time I went by. The Guadalajara Book Fair brings together publishers from all over the Spanish-speaking world, as well as a smattering of U.S. publishers, the Swiss, the French, the Italians and the Koreans. It is the second biggest book fair in the world (behind the eminent Frankfurt Book Fair). And what a celebration of the book it is. The greatest treat for me was to see Orhan Pamuk, the recent Nobel Prize-winner from Turkey interviewed about his latest book, The Museum of Innocence, in front of a standing room only crowd. he was charming, grey-haired, and eloquent–every inch the “Great Author.”

Whereas the Book Expo (BEA) in the United States is open only to members of the trade, the Guadalajara Book Fair, for the better part of a week, welcomes the general public as well. At the BEA there are no books for sale, only freebies and advance review copies, which attendees grab at a furious rate from stacks and tables and stuff their re-usable bags with. At the Guadalajara Book Fair, cash registers are standing by, with appealingly dressed checkout women and men ready to ring you up. The aisles are thronged with people. The childrens’ section that fills up with school groups herded into compact flocks.

There is a palpable energy at the Guadalajara Book Fair. I give a lot of the credit for that the Mexican populace. Firstly, though they have living standards generally below those of their neighbor to the north, they are clearly in love with books. As I have written in an earlier blog posting, some of the most beautifully produced books I have ever printed were for Mexican publishers. Secondly, and this is only my speculation (reinforced, I admit, by reading The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolano which is all about a band of poets called the “Visceral Realists”): I wonder if there is a revolutionary literary spirit in Mexico (and Spain, and Argentina, and Brazil) that we simply lack here? I passed stall after stall of poetry books and novels by Mexican, Spanish, and Argentine publishers. There were many beautiful volumes, handsomely designed, printed, and bound.

Perhaps my notion is only a notion. But I felt it was supported by the catalog of exhibitors at the show, which was helpfully, and sometimes humorously, translated into English on the show’s website. I have included a few of the descriptions below.

It has always seemed to me that there was a certain didactic quality to a great many Europeans and Spanish-speaking nations that is not present in Americans. We favor a cleaner, and more materialistic approach, whereas they seem to be a bit more heavyhanded in their justifications for existence. (That is also, I would submit, why they build more appealing Holiday Inn Express’s down there.) There is a way they sometimes phrase things that seems more philosophical. Their letters sometimes read like treatises. In a sense, I guess I am suggesting that they are more full of themselves, whereas we are decidedly more casual. But I am not taking sides. And I realize that some of our differences must be chalked up to losses in the translation.

In any case, without saying more, I’ll leave you with a few of the descriptions:


Colonia Chapultepec Morales

Mexico City

It’s characterized by the search of authors and works with the potential and force of becoming classics. Acclaimed writers like Virginia Woolf represent the catalog. It also publishes poetry, like Pablo Neruda and Federico Garciá Lorca, and its essay proposals are marked by a literary style.


Colonia Hipódromo Condesa

Mexico City

Dedicated to publishing poetry books in order to offer readers exquisite editions, with a sober design and a typographic taste that privileges the enjoyment and interpretation of texts.


Madrid, Spain

A publication dedicated to an increasingly important group: people concerned for the aesthetics of their surroundings and life. Contents seek a balanced symbiosis between the absolute novelty of the immediate and the confirmed charm of the immortal work of the masters.

La Bestia Equilátera

Buenos Aires, Argentina

The company takes its name from a novel of the same name that had begun being written 15 years ago. In the fall of 2006, a group of fans threatened the writer with the imperative: “First, publishing; then writing,” thus deciding to wait for the birth of the mysterious beast while publishing under its imprint to keep an old illusion alive.

Bonobos Editores

Colonia Francisco Murguía

Mexico City, Mexico

A publisher dedicated to publishing and promoting poetry whose artistic significance lies on values and parameters are far from conventional and trite, and stylistically oriented with originality.


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