Miami Book Fair International

Books = Paradise

Raul Guerrero


The Miami Book Fair International turns 30. Not a small feat, not when many predict the imminent extinction of books, at the very least the danger of books becoming a luxury. “Thirty years,” said an organizer, ignoring the pessimism, “and growing.”  It opens November 17.


This year the Fair revolves around Spain, as it coincides with the 500 years since Ponce de Leon arrived in Florida and the influence Spain has exercised in the region. For starters, the name Florida. And Downtown Miami, the original City of Miami, was built on land the Spanish Crown granted to a Bahamian. When Florida became an American territory, the US Congress ratified the Grant, and some fifty years later Julia Tuttle bought it. But this is not a real estate story. The first autobiography set in South Florida was also penned by a Spaniard, by a shipwreck teenager who was captured by the Tequesta Indians and lived to tell the story.


The Writers

Spanish-language luminaries will abound: Jorge Edwards and Rosa Montero to name two. English-language participants include Dan Brown with his latest best-seller Inferno, and one of my favorite American writers, Paul Auster. (And that's why books are never going to die. It's impossible. It's the only time we really go into the mind of a stranger, and we find our common humanity doing this. So the book doesn't only belong to the writer, it belongs to the readers as well, and then together you make it what it is.) Junot Diaz is to grace the Fair again with his stage presence, and his f*** this and f*** that, and the razor-sharp prose that won him a Pulitzer. Speaking of which, let's take a moment to honor Oscar Hijuelos, the first Hispanic to win a Pulitzer prize for fiction. He authored the memorable The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. A heart attack killed him recently.


The Book Fair Opens November 17

For a week Downtown Miami becomes a paradise for book lovers, as Borges envisioned paradise: an infinite library. Books are to be found everywhere, novels, biographies, history, comics, cookbooks (with demonstrations at the Miami Culinary Institute), and books for children, poetry, philosophy, photography; new books, used and rare. For a week the magic of letters irradiates on the entire city, particularly over Downtown.


And historic Downtown, a city within the city, needs it. Hair-salons outnumber bookstores 20 to 1. To be exact, since Downtown Book Center closed we have not seen a real bookstore. But, a falta de pan buena es la tortilla. The History Museum has a gift shop with a collection of books on local history and architecture. Miami Dade College has a bookstore, mostly texts, and Books & Books, the venerable local chain, opened a newsstand in the Financial Plaza with a dozen titles decorating two walls. So, there the ratio: 60 registered hair salons for three establishments dispensing books. 

Downtown Miami and Books

A tourist stopped me on NE 3rd Ave., one block east from Miami Dade College, where the Fair takes place, and said with a smirk:

“Two hours I have been looking for a bookstore. It would seem people here care more for adorning what’s outside their heads.”

“Don’t let appearances fool you,” I replied somewhat offended. Though I moved only six years ago, Downtown is my home, like Joan Didion said, a place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it more obsessively, wrenches it from itself… “As a matter of fact, Miamians read more than most Americans and Europeans.”

The tourist, a Londoner, unleashed her skepticism, and I my statistics:

“The Wall Street Journal ranked Miami third among US cities when it comes to reading.”

Her jaw dropped:

“You shitting me?”

“I shit you not,” I said, and returned to my afternoon walk.

On NE 3rd Ave., a two blocks-strip, 12 new eateries have opened in the past year. One day, I don’t give up the hope, amid all the gentrifying, the hair-stylists in black and Panther Cafes, an entrepreneur, a moment of madness—the clinical nomenclature is momentarily deranged—will open a bookstore for Downtowners to enjoy a glass of champagne in the company of E.E. Cummings (since feeling is first / who pays any attention / to the syntax of things / will never wholly kiss you;) or flirt hiding behind a pile of first editions. After all, Downtowners are college educated, 47 percent have advanced degrees, and read, drink, fornicate and make more than the average American. More, for instance, than residents of Ashville, North Carolina, who, on the other hand, have four or five viable bookstores.


Meanwhile, come November 17, I shall be reporting from Paradise. My first dispatch will be on Inferno.



Journalist and historian, Raul Guerrrero is the author of numerous works, notably the novels INSOLENCE and La dudosa fuga de la cronista LIBERTINA. He lectures frequently in Florida and New York.  (Photo from a reading from his latest novella Murder and the Dog at CU-1 Gallery.)


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