Spain book fair battles econ crisis and snobbery

Fri Jul 10, 2009 7:22am EDT
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By Martin Roberts

GIJON, Spain (Reuters Life!) - One of Europe's biggest book fairs this week will have to contend with the economic crisis in Spain as well as its traditional battle to knock down the walls between high- and low-brow literature.

Every summer since 1988 the "Semana Negra" (Noir Week) in Gijon has staged a balancing act between a world-class book fair and a street party.

"For 22 years we've been resisting the temptations of show-business, but without being scared of embracing it," said Mexican author and chief organizer Paco Ignacio Taibo II.

"We've been showing it's no sin to have a book in one hand and cakes in the other," added Taibo, who has made the New York Times books of the year list with his detective novels, but has also won awards in Mexico as a historian.

Spain is in the midst of its worst economic crisis in decades and has the highest level of unemployment in Europe, but Taibo said spaces set aside for 60 book stalls and 120 for handicrafts on the festival site were all sold out weeks ago.

This year organizers hope to further offset the impact of the crisis by moving the venue to a working-class district in the northern coastal town from a downtown resort area.

"The figures we have show that the book business hasn't fallen off but grown in recent months, and the books on offer at the Semana Negra are cheap, so we are hopeful," he said.

In keeping with its innovative side, this year's edition of the fair got under way on board a chartered train from Madrid to Gijon, with a concert and the launching of a comic book about the 2004 Madrid train bombings, which killed 191 people.   Continued...