Thursday, April 28, 2016

Book Fair Buenos Aires: the Good, the Bad, the Ugly & the Offbeat

One of my favorite Buenos Aires events has always been the Feria del Libro, the region’s biggest book fair, comprising 45,000 square meters of space at the elegant Sociedad Rural fairgrounds. It started on Sunday, when I walked past the entrance after having lunch in Las Cañitas – it’s gratifying to see so many Argentine readers lined up to buy tickets – but I wasn’t able to go myself until Wednesday afternoon.
A showcase for Argentine book culture, though foreign participation appears less conspicuous than it used to be, the Feria consists of hundreds of stands that include bookstores, publishers, distributors, provincial governments and newspapers. They vary in quality of course – I quickly bypassed the Confederación Espiritista Argentina (Argentine Spiritualist Confederation, pictured above), nor do I have much patience with other self-help organizations (including Alcoholics Anonymous) and psychoanalysis.
One thing I did find encouraging was the presence of English-language bookstores and distributors, such as Kel Ediciones and Estari Libros. In a country regarded as the region’s most most proficient in English, the so-called “currency clamp” and import restrictions had limited the arrival of Anglo-friendly titles – the former trade secretary Guillermo Moreno even claimed that the ink in books printed outside Argentina contained “dangerous levels of lead.” In response to my question, one bookstore at the show confirmed that the situation has improved considerably.
The US Embassy stand, meanwhile, seemed more oriented toward travel and tourism, with information on visiting the States as Argentina advances toward inclusion in the Visa Waiver Program. I was surprised that the invited US “literary figures” included two cheesy romance novelists, but amused that a chalkboard let visitors scribble graffiti – some of it humorously critical.
My own favorite stand belonged to Aves Argentinas, which included a number of worthwhile natural history guides. Having spent a year-plus in the Falkland Islands, I also found the abundance of titles on the 1982 war and its aftermath to be startling, even though such “banal nationalism” (a phrase from Michael Billig via Klaus Dodds) is an obsession for many Argentines.
Ever since my boyhood – I’m a post WWII “baby boomer” – Argentina has had an unfortunate reputation as a haven for Nazi war criminals and, as Uki Goñi has chronicled in The Real Odessa, it’s a cliché that's not undeserved - even though some have been brought to justice. I was startled, though, to realize that there’s such a cottage industry of books claiming that Hitler himself took refuge here.
I was also surprised at the absence of books on travel and tourism, even though the Ministerio de Turismo does have a stand at the entrance to the main exhibit hall. As a guidebook author, though, I found it disturbing that the only book in my genre was one (at bottom of photo) that included Adolf’s and Eva Braun’s supposed haunts in Bariloche. Unfortunately, there always seem to be somebody who'll believe in the preposterous.

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