The most anticipated Madrid Book Fair of recent years has come to an end. Some will think that it was easy to improve the non-existent edition of 2020 and another half gas, where the controversies devoured the figures and the illusion to recover the great events after the pandemic. That is precisely why expectations were high and more towards a new direction that promised to bring fresh air after the abrupt departure of his predecessor, Manuel Gil. But this Sunday the notes have been distributed and some of them are outstanding.
Fresh air has literally been conspicuous by its absence. The Fair has had to face its last weekend a heat wave that has touched 40 degrees and a gale that almost forced to vacate the Retiro on Saturday night.
The first woman director of the festival, Eva Orúe was optimistic according to what the exhibitors were telling her. "The sensations are good. We knew that more people had come, especially on weekdays, and that sales had been somewhat better. The Fair has returned," she assured a few days ago. Last year sales reached 9.1 million euros, 10% less than in 2019. The economic blow caused by the pandemic for many families and the disproportionate rise in the CPI for 2022 could have frustrated the prospects for improvement, but neither has it been the case.
On the other hand, there was more to choose from. From the 320 booths that were there a few months ago, they have increased to 378. All the booksellers and publishers have squeezed – literally – to give a little space to the independent labels that in 2021 were relegated to a secluded island. But this has been a temporary patch. The reality is that "not everyone fits", as Orúe admitted to this newspaperand the distribution of booths looks to be the headache of the next edition.
The institutional presence has been constant: from Queen Letizia, who opened the event, to the Prime Minister of Finland or the head of the Economy portfolio, Nadia Calviño, and the head of Culture, Miquel Iceta, who ended the visit with a haiku in their nets: "I close my eyes, scent of magnolia. The air runs." There were also politicians on the other side of the paseo, like Mariano Rajoy, who entered one of the booths to sign his book Politics for Adults.
The lack of a public address system has not prevented queues from forming in front of some booths. One of the best decisions of the Fair has been to absorb from the organization the signing of the biggest best-sellers and sometimes with limited tickets, as has been the case of the 2018 Planeta Prize, Santiago Posteguillo, the three 2021 Planeta Prize, Carmen Mola, Ángel Martín, Elisabet Benavent, Santi Balmes, from Love of Lesbian, Miguel Bosé or tiktokers like Marina Rivera.
They have also distributed the juicy prizes among the bookstore booths "that are not in the center of Madrid or that are going through a bad time and need that signature that can save them," announced Eva Orúe. One way to alleviate enormous inequality of the last edition.
Another novelty is that there will no longer be paper plans, but instead they have been replaced by digital towers and a group of employees with orange vests. If there was a but in this edition, it would be this: how difficult it was to spot the orange among the tide of very young vests hired by the NGOs that approached the passer-by every meter and a half.
The Madrid Book Fair is essentially private, paid for with the contribution of the exhibitors who rent their booths (1,670 euros for booksellers and 2,434 for publishers), sponsorship from companies and institutions, and a slight public aid. As Pepa Arteaga pointed out, the oldest bookstore of the Fair, the Madrid City Council "puts out its chest" and "the only thing it does is give up the Retiro". Taking this into account, one of the most notable parts of this edition has been its activities, balanced between those that carried a corporate stamp and those that have taken the pulse of today.
Eva Orúe arrived in January with many ideas and little time to execute them. Two months after starting to organize it, the entire invited country backed down and a war broke out in Europe that changed the course of everything, including the Fair. And the activities could not ignore it: "While condemning the Russian invasion, the cycle Looking East: Ukraine-Russia aims to neutralize the growing Russophobic discourse." After a lot of work, they managed to bring together a Russian writer and another of Ukrainian origin under the same tent for an exciting talk, and they completed it with three monologues on A country that no longer exists. They also presented the first audiobook on Zelensky.
And from the audiobook we move on to the podcast, because no self-respecting event can despise the rising phenomenon of "listening". Relato de un náufrago: a journey from journalism to literature was presented and it hosted the live recording of Un tema al día, the elDiario.es podcast with Juanlu Sánchez in which the subject of journalists who write books was addressed.
On the other hand, the Fair has addressed one of the most immediate needs of our society: the recovery of readers. The promotion of reading among the little ones has been taken into account with workshops and storytelling. Also with some firms especially aimed at children and adolescents. "The influx of young people is exciting," Orúe acknowledged.
Unfortunately, they had to show their reflexes before the death of the Galician writer Domingo Villar, who died on May 18, to whom they paid tribute. But the most special was that of Almudena Grandes, who died last November. The act was opened with a few words by Eva Orúe, after which a recording of Almudena herself with the speech she gave at the 2015 Fair was played. Then her widower, Luis García Montero, and her editor spoke, and finally, her readers they read in fragments of five minutes some of his works.