British Columbia Library Association

A celebration of books: The Guadalajara International Book Fair

By Jorge Cardenas

When was the last time you heard that the physical book is dead? If you’re afraid this might be true, you need to visit the International Book Fair that takes place every year at the end of November in Guadalajara, Mexico. It’s the largest celebration of writing, publishing, and reading in the Spanish speaking world and it turned 30 years old in 2016. How large is the fair? Let’s look at the numbers: 800,821 people visited in 2016.

La FIL, 2016.

La FIL, 2016.

The 2016 edition lasted nine days and brought together 2000 publishers from more than 40 countries with hundreds of thousands of new and back catalogue titles. Twenty-thousand professionals conducted business and organized 600 book launch parties. Seven-hundred-fifty writers read and discussed their work and some big names – think George R. R. Martin and Mario Vargas Llosa – were received by roaring crowds, while protected by security details. More importantly, 800,000 visitors paid about $1.50 Canadian to browse, read, and buy physical books while getting the chance to see and talk to their favourite authors. Those overwhelmed by the books and crowds decided to go instead to the more than 100 (mostly free) concerts, plays and other events.

Beyond the numbers, La FIL, as it’s known by its Spanish name, is brought to life by its unique blend of business, culture, and popular support, which sets it apart from most book fairs in the world. Authors love it as much as the public, and publishers are as happy as the accountants at the end of the week. They also host the FIL Literary Award in Romance Languages, important not only for its cash value but for the impressive list of winners. I would call the book fair a miracle if it wasn’t for the fact that it’s the result of the hard work of a local institution, the University of Guadalajara, with the support of every level of government and several sponsors.

La FIL is, obviously, a good fit for library professionals, and that’s why the organizers give us special deals like the ALA – FIL FREE PASS Program, which includes free hotel and registration, and professional days when you can browse the shelves without fighting for space with several thousands of kids. If your library has a Spanish collection or hosts Spanish programs, there’s no better place to buy books, discover trends in culture, writing and publishing, find small publishers and titles you wouldn’t anywhere else, and talk to editors, authors, designers, and illustrators. Children librarians would appreciate the creativity of the independent publishers and the FIL Niños event.

Scenes from La Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara, 2016.

Scenes from La Feria Internacional del Libro de Guadalajara, 2016.

The Vancouver Public Library attended the last two FILs to buy books for our Spanish collection for adults and children, and every time we brought back more than 200 titles that you can now borrow. Some of our finds include jewels like La tacopedia, Frida y Diego en el país de las calaveras, Gabo (García Márquez graphic bio), Son tantas cosas / So Many Things, and the Condorito series. You can use the FIL as a big bookstore, grabbing titles off the shelves and paying for them, but what we enjoyed most was learning from publishers: how they select and design their books, why adult graphic novels and bios are such a hit recently, how Spain is still the capital of the Spanish publishing world, and who they think the next big novelist will be (nobody really knows). While selecting titles, we also learned from the public: you know you have to buy Carlos Slim’s bio and Pequeño cerdo capitalista if people are lining up to get a copy, and you better watch what booktubers have to say if you want to understand how young people see and treat books and reading now.

Every edition of FIL has a Guest of Honor, an opportunity to showcase authors, culture, books, and traditions of a particular country, city or region. Last year, being the 30th anniversary, it was Latin America and it’s the turn for Madrid in 2017. They’ll bring more new books and publishers and hopefully Javier Marias will be there to talk about his work. We’ll try to attend and you should too.


Jorge Cardenas is a librarian at the Vancouver Public Library. You can find him at the Fraserview Branch and at jorge.cardenas@vpl.ca.

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