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On the occasion of the Book Fair

Feria del LibroIt kicked off at La Cabaña and continues its path across all the country’s provinces. Cuba’s Book Fair, like many others that take place around the world, offers the opportunity for interaction among specialists from different regions, a propitious occasion for the publishing industry to do business.

In Cuba, the fair is, above all, a popular celebration. The fortress located at the entrance to Havana Bay acquires the appearance of a camp out, providing some family fun, and a chance for teenagers to get together, a break from the routine of everyday life. Once a year, books become the center of events. They occupy a privileged space in the media. Later they come to rest in bookstore warehouses and libraries.

Nonetheless, the establishment of broad, effective cultural policies, with the participation of all players involved in the dynamics of everyday life, is imperative, to win the battle to conquer new readers, active, well informed citizens, motivated by curiosity and hunger for knowledge, endowed with a critical spirit, capable of escaping media manipulation and the seductive attraction of banality.

The means used are of little importance, although printing on paper is far from disappearing.Reading must become a habit early on, to resist mental laziness, becoming accustomed to simplistic summaries, and the fraudulent use of cut and paste. Reading encourages the search for truth, develops the ability to concentrate, and inspires creative imagination. A society of knowledge, and an adequate response to the demands of scientific innovation, cannot be conceived without those qualities.

Art and literature, undervalued by many, encourage the capacity to dream, and dreams precede the search for technical solutions. Well ahead of his time, Leonardo da Vinci designed machines that would become realities centuries later. In the 19th century, Jules Verne told adventure stories of submarines and trips to the moon that came true much later. Félix Varela warned in his Miscelánea filosófica that tastes do not develop spontaneously; they are formed in accordance with the era and through the instilling of models.

Our cultural policies must be oriented toward the revitalization of a creative climate. In this case, the productive chain has as its starting point editorial plans developed in consultation with advisory councils, and executed by true editors, in charge of revising texts and elaborating guidelines for graphic design, given the characteristics of the potential reader.I remember the wonderful Cocuyo, a series by Ambrosio Fornet, with an unmistakable, austere, design by Raúl Martínez.

In small format, they brought together the most advanced works of world literature, with forgotten pages from Cuban authors, awakening the collector’s temptation in readers.

The implementation of an editorial policy with the purpose of recovering the habit of reading requires giving due priority to bookstores, and both public and schoollibraries, to go – as a well known toothpaste ad says – where the brush doesn’t reach. Booksellers and librarians must acquire the cultural level and professional training that the performance of their duties requires. In truth, they are the promoters who work in the field, in direct contact with readers.

They must have the ability to suggest, advise, and excite.

The seller must have information about new books and knowledge of titles in the warehouse, where many times fundamental works of our culture, from days gone by and today, succumb to the dust.

To the extent we are able, without investing excessive resources, bookstores and libraries must become welcoming, well-lit places, with a place to sit and calmly leaf through the volumes at our fingertips. Let’s banish the corners where, due to lack of personnel, the books remain on shelves.

Let’s analyze ways to encourage the study of library sciences and fill vacancies in public and school libraries.Let us recall that, in schools, a good librarian assumes the role of a teacher, advising students searching for data to complete assignments, to prevent parents from doing these tasks for their children, and thus limiting the development of essential learning and thinking skills, of special importance given the continual updating of information within a society in constant transformation.I worked for ten years in a library.

And I was extraordinarily happy.

I shared the passion of initiating many in the enjoyment of reading, the visual arts, and music ,with poets Eliseo Diego, Fina García Marruz, and Cintio Vitier; researchers Juan Pérez de la Riva and Zoila Lapique; the composer Argeliers León; and art historian María Elena Jubrías. I remember with emotion Sara Fidelzeit, Pérez de la Riva’s companion, who stood duty behind the counter at the School of Letters library.

Students gathered around her in polemical study groups, their critical spirits nurtured.Welcome the Book Fair! But, once the annual celebration is over, the party must not go silent.

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