On November 30, the Guadalajara International Book Fair (FIL) in Mexico, the largest Spanish-language book fair in the world (and the second largest general book fair, after Frankfurt), opened with its most distinguished political guest to date—Shimon Peres, President of Israel and Nobel Peace Prize laureate. In observance of Shabbat, President Peres was not able to participate in the opening ceremony, but the presence of Israel was felt throughout with the participation of Israel’s ambassador, Rodica Radian Gordon, as well as Ada Yonath, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
After several academic and political dignitaries spoke at the opening ceremony Saturday morning, the spotlight shifted to French poet Yves Bonnefoy, who was awarded FIL’s 2013 Literary Prize in Romance Languages. In his native French, the 90-year-old said that “poetry is widely recognized, loved, and practiced in Mexico and the rest of Latin America.” Bonnefoy went on to say that one of his greatest regrets in life was not learning Spanish.
Still, the evening belonged to Peres. With an unprecedented level of security, and after an hour delay, Peres sat with the ex-president of Spain, Felipe González, for what started as a conversation between two old friends and progressed into an intense discussion on politics, terrorism, occupied territories, science, and God. While some complained that a book fair is not the place to discuss politics, the overwhelming majority of attendees saw the opening as an exchange of ideas that contributed to the overall mission of the fair.
Over 900 publishers are attending FIL, along with 600 writers and 20,000 book professionals; the nine-day literary event expects to welcome over 702,000 attendees in total. The rights center alone is hosting participants from 44 different countries. The other attendees are of the smaller variety; the fair expects to attract over 150,000 children this year.
Additionally, for the first time, the fair has a dedicated space on the show floor for e-books. Over 20 exhibitors are in the space, and they have created an exhibit that offers hands-on access to e-reading devices.