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Havana residents have a true literary voracity.
Havana residents have a true literary voracity. Evidence of this is the fact that from February 6th just last Tuesday 258 books were sold, among new titles and reissues, even as the International Book Fair had not yet begun.

The initiative yielded some amazing results: more than 250,000 books were sold, glanced through, or read, according to statistics provided by Cuba's Book Institute.

In several areas, the street was closed to traffic and the books went out searching for readers -an experience that began last summer, when the printed letter competed, using no weapons other than its own charms.

Along with books there were film showings, fine arts, musical shows and poetry readings. Later, we had the Lecturas en el Prado (Readings along Prado) --a very popular avenue bordering the old part of the city.

Havana is once again the capital of reading. In the main venue, the Morro-Cabaña complex, the fair takes place with its already traditional excellence. The former military fortress has been turned into a cultural stronghold.

Cuban writer Antón Arrufat is one of the guests of honor at this year's fair, together with Graziella Pogolotti. A renowned essayist, Arrufat compared the splendor of the annual book fairs in today's Cuba with the lackluster book fairs of the 1950s.

"It consisted of barely four or five wooden book stores, painted green, and in the middle some chairs forming a circle," he said, "where the municipal orchestra played at noon."

Nobody gave a conference or spoke about any author. There were no parallel activities, neither painting exhibits nor film showings. "Selling books was the sole purpose of such a lackluster event."

"Sometimes," he recalled, "an amateur group performed a fragment of a play by Lope de Rueda or Cervantes."

The 2008 fair is in full swing and Cuban readers will follow it, as always, island wide until it is officially over on March 9th. The fair's treasures, books, will even climb the mountainous regions of the 2nd and 3rd Fronts in eastern Cuba.


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