This year, on April 23, authors, publishers and readers alike flooded the social networks with live readings, book recommendations and even virtual book signings.
Like so many other places around the globe, the Campo de Gibraltar has lived through an unusual Book Day this year; with us writers, publishers and readers having no choice but to mark the occasion in the privacy of our own homes.
However, the Covid-19 health crisis – which this spring, prevented us from going out to enjoy book fairs, book signings, lectures and other literary events – was not able to overpower one of the main tools which those of us in the literary world can always rely on: imagination.
On April 23, International Book Day (in honour of two of the great exponents of universal literature, William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes who were both born of that day in the same year) became an in doors event, with bookstores and libraries closed, and the exhibitions of new works postponed or cancelled. All in an unusual of solitude and social isolation and a sense of uncertainty about the future of the literary sector.
And yet… the media and, above all, the social networks were there to remind us of the occasion and offer us different “virtual” alternatives, aimed at connecting book lovers and allowing us to share, from the comfort of our own homes, our passion for literature.
Just one example is a video produced by the Culture Department of the Algeciras City Council in which a good number of writers and members of cultural associations shared their own or others’ readings. Juan José Téllez, Emy Luna, Ángel Gómez, Paloma Fernández Gomá or Rosa Romojaro were just some of the authors from the area who participated in the virtual event.
In addition to this and other public initiatives, such as those carried out these days by the José Riquelme Public Library in La Línea, or the Culture departments of other municipalities such as Los Barrios, videos of online readings have also been shown by entities and associations, such as the AlCultura association, through the Infusionate group, or the José Román Athenaeum.
Likewise, bookstores such as Bahía de Letras, which have traditionally been very active in book launches and other literary events, and Facebook groups such as “Mil historias de Historia” (“A Thousand Stories of History”), have encouraged readers to publicly share their recommendations during these days of lockdown. Well known authors from the area like Tito Muñoz, Juana Ríos, Yolanda Cruz or José Juan Yborra, among others, use their own social media profiles to promote their virtual presentations and “book signings”, as well as to simply keep in touch with their readers.
No Book Fairs for now, but online orders continue
Booksellers concur that even when the pandemic is finally ended, and regardless of when they can reopen their doors, the losses in this sector will be considerable, even despite the effort to maintain orders online. “Fortunately, we are selling through our website, and our regular customers continue to use us instead of ordering from the giant platforms, but even so, the situation is difficult and highly uncertain ”, says Luis Miguel Uceda, a partner of the ‘Bahía de Letras’ bookshop.
This bookshop chain, with two branches in the Campo de Gibraltar, was one of many that was intending to participate this spring in the three Book Fairs that were scheduled to be held in the region in La Línea, Algeciras and San Roque. For now they have all been postponed until at least the autumn, as have all the others which had been organised throughout Spain (including some as famous and massive as those of Madrid and Barcelona) … there is the possibility that they will not take place in 2020 at all, depending on how the pandemic evolves.
“Last year, the La Línea Book Fair, for example, was wonderful and it was noticeable in terms of sales, and this year, it seems we are going to have to give up this year for lost,” says Uceda, who hopes that, at least, the bookshops can be one of the first shops to be allowed to reopen, as has happened in Italy. Abiding, of course, by all hygiene and physical distancing measures, and leaving book presentations and other events for better times.
In the meantime, all initiatives that allow writers, booksellers and readers to continue to feel close to each other, even if at a distance, are welcome – nobody should allow their bookshelves, computers or tablets to go without a new book to read. As Michel Houellebecq wrote: “Not having anything around to read is dangerous: you must content yourself with life itself, and that can lead you to take risks.