Sometimes it is wise to sit in the observation deck and take a dim view of operations. The results are always astounding…new hope and ideas. Thus, I have invited Zammy Diaz who is versed in the area of literature to brief us on books from her perspective. _______________________________________________________
From Mainstream to Eternity: Reflections from the XXXVI Feria Internacional del Libro de Buenos Aires, Argentina
On a recent visit to Argentina I attended the XXXVI annual Feria Internacional del Libro de Buenos Aires. This year bears a special significance as the country celebrates it’s bicentennial. The theme, ‘’Celebrating with Books’’, holds sentimental and patriotic values while showering the general public with a remarkable cultural offering through books, education, and other cultural industries such as tourism. I could go on and on about all the logistics, intellectual exchanges, and business strategies that make up this fair but instead, I have chosen to address that which is undeniably the fair’s main allure and it’s visitors fetish; books. Let’s talk about books. Let’s talk about the so called ‘Bestsellers’ and reflect upon what we are devouring and what constitutes the mainstream in the book industry which I argue, could be refreshing to readers.
There is not one Barnes & Noble in Buenos Aires. Yes. No such thing exists in the ‘’Paris of Latin American’’. The good news is the city is home to over 100 bookstores. To this effect, at least one of these book stores, El Ateneo, ranks in number 2 within the top 10 in the world and happens to be the largest in South America. To add to this mystique book shops in Buenos Aires are locally owned, many have their own publishing/editorial houses and have slightly better prices than some bookstores abroad. At the fair, several of these stores held a booth with their merchandise and list of upcoming literary events: book signing, presentations, debate etc. It was exciting to see and to recognize titles and names of authors and I guess this got me into the hobby of reading the bestseller lists available and asking fellow readers, shop staff and editors about the names on the lists. It was not, however, too surprising to learn that the contents of the lists are very similar to those published by for instance, the New York Times, The Guardian, and even bookstores here in the US. Titles by: Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson, Haruki Murakami, Paul Auster and John Katzenbach, among others acclaimed writers are in vogue with readers in Buenos Aires. Though Spanish translations dominate the sales many of these can be found in English, Japanese, and even French. Therefore, no matter in what language the sensorial thrill and pleasure offered by literature, especially the bestselling, continues to be mainstream. This should not come as a complete surprise. After all, the book industry is possibly the largest sector within our globalized cultural industries.
On the other hand, since the early 20th century Argentina, specially Buenos Aires, has been at the forefront of the literary vanguard adds a refreshing touch by redefining this ‘manstrimness’ offering foreign visitors a glimpse to literature that they would normally not encounter on their bestselling list. I am talking about literary luminaries like: Argentineans Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortázar, Chileans Isabel Allende and Hernan Rivera Letelier, Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, Colombians Gabriel García Márquez and Fernando Vallejo and Spaniard Arturo Pérez-Reverte. The Latin American and Spanish variant of mainstream poses a duality in the idea of a single international literary universe . The duality being that even though all these authors are part of the pantheon of writers they are among the best sellers in the Spanish speaking world and though very well known in the Anglo-Saxon spectrum they scarcely continuously make it to ‘the list’. The word mainstream should not be seen in a negative light but rather in a positive one within the world of literature. There is nothing wrong with having access to good, readable literature and ideas that will expand our minds and enrich the way we think.
Regardless, of it being north or south, Spanish or English, we should always keep our minds and eyes open to new and ‘unknown’ possibilities. Bestseller lists will change with time and vary from place to place, new authors will be discovered and become an instant success, while others will be left to oblivion. In any case, those authors whose names keep coming up on the lists regardless of the epoch are certainly the ones we, the readers, should try to get to know well because chances are they have left and created something for literature, art, humanity, that transcends genres, time and languages. They have left feelings, ideas and emotions that although, can change and transform themselves through time, will remain with us for eternity.
Zammy Díaz, Copyright © 2010