San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Here's why you shouldn't miss Costa Rica's International Book Fair

Authors are always griping about how ebooks and video games threaten to destroy the publishing industry, but this week, San José will be absolutely flooded with genuine paper-and-ink books. Starting Aug. 22, the 15th Costa Rican International Book Fair will attract hundreds of authors, publishers, experts and vendors to the Antigua Aduana in Barrio Aranjuez for more than a week of bibliophilia. Co-organized by the Culture Ministry, the Chamber of Books and the College of Costa Rica (the Culture Ministry’s literary-arts program), the fair draws aficionados and fans from all over the world.

The fair has a long and storied history, beginning with the first National Book Fair in 1954. The event is not annual, so book lovers should take advantage while they can. The 10-day event includes approximately 100 tables and 300 individual events, from readings and lectures to concerts and screenings of Costa Rican films. The last fair drew a total of 65,000 guests, and organizers expect to break that record this year.

The fair will appeal most to Spanish-speakers, as most of the books on display are written in Costa Rica’s official language. But this edition is a little different: The fair’s “special guest” is the United States – as in, the entire country. So if you hail from the U.S., you’ll not only get free admission to the fair, but you will also find a variety of Gringo-friendly books, readings and activities.

You can view a full schedule on the official Feria del Libro website, but here is a smattering of events that might appeal to English-speakers and remedial hispanophones.

August 22

Music: 424

Costa Rican jam band plays on the main stage, 8 p.m.

August 23

Theater: Little Theater Group

Costa Rica’s most distinguished English-language theatrical troupe presents a one-act in the Antigua Aduana Theater, 11 a.m. (also performing Aug. 24).

Dance: Square Dancing

The Square Dance Group shows off the Midwest’s favorite social dance. Main stage, 2 p.m.

Music: Passiflora

Beloved Costa Rican gypsy band plays on the main stage, 8 p.m.

August 24

Film Screening: “Puerto Padre”

The heavy ensemble drama by Gustavo Fallas screens at the Antigua Aduana Theater, 5 p.m.

Music: Café Surá

Progressive Costa Rican jazz band plays on the main stage, 8 p.m.

August 25

Reading: “Love & Lust: American Men in Costa Rica”

Jacobo Schifter Sikora’s book explores sex tourism in Costa Rica through an historic and psychological lens. U.S. Embassy stand, 6 p.m.

August 26

Reading: “Gender, Shame, and Sexual Violence”

No theme could be more topical than Sara Sharratt’s book about testimonies at war crimes tribunals. Sharratt reads in the test room (Sala de Ensayo), 3 p.m.

Documentary Screening: “Kilometer Zero”

Poet David Shook traveled to Equatorial Guinea to covertly film the poetic recitations of its people. His short documentary screens at the Antigua Aduana Theater, 4 p.m.

August 27

Film Screening: “Padre”

Catch a special screening of Alejo Crisóstomo’s film, “Padre,” about a solitary older man in the Costa Rican countryside. Antigua Aduana Theater, 3 p.m.

Reading: “Costa Rica: Folk Culture, Traditions, and Cuisine”

Author Jack Donnelly reads from his book about the popular traditions of Costa Rica at the U.S. Embassy stand, 4 p.m.

Music: República Fortuna

This Tico ensemble brings its big-band sound to the main stage, 8 p.m.

August 28

Mark Twain Discussion: Learn about the Mississippi sage Samuel Clemens with Carolina Ureña at the U.S. Embassy stand, 10 a.m.

“Stolen World”: Jennie Smith reads from her environmentally themed book in the Casa del Cuño (the glass building adjacent to Antigua Aduana), 10 a.m.

“Lawless Elements”: Greg Bascom presents his thriller at the U.S. Embassy stand, 12 p.m.

Contact Robert Isenberg at

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Ken Morris

I for one will skip the so-called “international book fair.”

Four years ago, shortly after my biography of Daniel Ortega was published, I went to that year’s book fair only to decide against entering when I was informed that I would have to pay an admission fee. I was frankly already feeling a little prickly to have my book excluded from the book fair, despite the facts that I’m a legal permanent resident of Costa Rica and wrote about a subject of some concern to the country, so paying an admission fee to watch others hawk their books was too much for me to tolerate.

Neither did I change my mind when a 20-something wannabe poet I know, who was there hawking his first book, offered to get me in free on his pass. He is a nice kid, and for all I know may one day mature into a serious poet, but getting in free on his purported bona fides was too much of an indignity for me. Come on, I published my first book before he was born.

This year, I have just had another book published (on the US idea of freedom) and see that the US is the book fair’s featured country, yet I’m still not invited.

Suspecting an oversight, I emailed the outfit, “Hey, what’s it take for a US author who is a resident of Costa Rica to be included in a Costa Rica book fair featuring US authors?”

No response.

Meanwhile, I see that at least one of the presenters listed in this article (and I only checked one because I know the so-called “work”) is presenting a self-published book.

Hello? True, self-publishing has really taken off these last few years and a few serious authors are using it, but the emphasis must be on “a few.” For the vast majority, self-publishing is still vanity publishing: Authors no publisher will risk publishing because they’re so bad fork over their own money to publish their own so-called books.

And this is the case with the presenter I checked. The work is amateurish. Yet this self-published nonsense is featured?

I have no idea how the organizers of these so-called book fairs select the participants, and wouldn’t be surprised if it’s along the lines of how the NFL proposes to select its halftime entertainment for the Superbowl: You pay to be displayed, just like you pay to enter as a customer. Heck, book retailing has long operated this way. Those books in the front of the store aren’t there by accident. Like the candy bars in the grocery store checkout line, somebody is paying for the retail display space.

Or, maybe there are cliques operating such that whoever knows the people in charge get invited. Perhaps if you wash the balls of the minister of culture or went to school with someone’s cousin you get the nod.

But I assure you, the book fair does not represent the work of authors in Costa Rica, nor does it seem to try. The organizers feature 20-something wannabe poets and self-published talentless narcissists, but don’t even respond to emails from real authors.

I won’t be attending.

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