While I should be writing

Tarrafa Literaria, or Catching readers with a net

I am in Santos for the bookfair Tarrafa Literaria, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year. The organizer is The Bookseller, as I think of him, or Zé, as he is called. He has exactly the required madness for running a bookshop and a book festival.

We were talking during lunch about how beautiful it is to see your book in print for the first time, and someone inevitably used the simile that it was like having a baby. “Better than a baby”, I said. “Books don’t cry all night.” This led the Bookseller to share the story about the time when he got Ian Sansom to visit the festival.

Ian Sansom is perhaps best known for Israel Armstrong, the bookloving vegetarian who moves to northern Ireland to take up position as a librarian. But he also wrote The Truth About Babies, a diary about the challenges involved trying to write Your Great Novel while taking care of a baby. The Bookseller loved this book, and immediately got in touch with Ian Sansoms Brazilian publisher and told them he wanted to invite him over. “Are you sure?” asked his publisher, and the Bookseller of course said he was. So in due time Ian Sansom arrived in Santos, jetlaged and tired. The Bookseller illustrated this Brittish (and, I suspect, Swedish) way of being jetlaged: empty face, dead eyes, arms close to the body, slightly hunched posture. He had barely landed before he was thrown into a discussion on stage with a Brazilian author that the Bookseller desribed as “a little bit crazy”. I’ve been here long enough to know that “a little bit crazy” by Brazilian standards is more like batshit crazy for a poor jetlaged Brittish author. The Bookseller illustrate the poor, bewildered visiting author and mentioned as a sidenote that he didn’t seem to enjoy the sightseeing either. By moped. The Brazilian author loved it of course. “Yes, I made a mistake there, pairing those two together”, the Bookseller admitted philosophically. “Ian Sansom even wrote an article in the Guardian about us.”

I have tried to find this article thinking it must be one of the greatest book festival pieces ever written, but so far without success.

One of the things the Bookseller is most proud of is that he has managed to keep the festival going through years of crisis. I think he was talking about the economical crisis, but then agian, they are also heading straight for a political one. “I think the book festival is needed more than ever in times of crisis”, I said, and he agreed: “The enemy always hates book”, he said.

“Tarrafa”, for those of you that are wondering, is the word for an old type of fishing net, used by the fishermen in the harbour. “The festival is the net that catches the readers”, the Bookseller said, which is definitely true in my case. I already know I will buy books here, and I can’t even understand Portuguese. But the Brazilian books are so beautiful! The designs are great! I will take photos today so that you can see for yourselves how impossible it is to resist them.

My own talk is on Sunday, on the theme “Tudo pode ser escrito, Suècia e Brasil”, which I am told means “Everything can be written”. I think that’s a lovely title. I am going to talk together with Giovana Madalosso, who I’ve heard is great, and who has written a book with the equally brilliant title “Everything can be stolen.”