From the book and its prices, from the authors and utopias in the pandemic from various personal experiences

By: Daniel Céspedes Góngora

“Books are no longer a priority,” a book seller told me this year of covid. However, I insisted on some authors, who were willing to pay for his works and not for the chicken or detergent from the corner store. He told me about the prices – high enough not to be a priority – five cuc each (at that time) and, in my doubt, proposed the alternative: “You buy me a pack of chicken of two hundred pesos and take the two volumes. Anyway, you’re going to save fifty.” I had no choice but to stick to his initiative and left with the two books, fifty pesos, but no chicken. Anyway, the bird contained in a nylon was not what I wanted to buy.

How could I buy two books when I could buy – if it reached in the annoying tail – two or three packets of detergent and one chicken? By the way, film director Carlos Letchuga, on Facebook, compares the costs between a book and a staple for these months. The equivalences of worth draw a lot of attention to what he calls “Prices on the Street”.

There are habits and tastes, especially tastes, that seem not to change even when the world goes downhill. I remember, in my college years, I was able to go hungry to get a hard-to-find book. It is true that I think about it more now, because my parents depend on how much I earn and I must ensure that the basics (food and toilet) reach for the whole month. But without being able to travel or have the hours of solaity that I would like in my country, getting books from others can not be a problem.

The problem can arise when you want to publish your work after several years appearing as soon as print and digital support exists here. I am a cultural critic with a clear vocation for rehearsal. Ever since I read Martí and Engineers, I knew: my thing would be rehearsal, even if I wrote commentary on film, books and plastic arts. I had the right to see myself published, with or without prizes. I’ve written a lot to order and also what I’ve wanted. Like other authors, I wanted my first book (Sit down and watch. Criticism, commentary and film essays, 2019) would be in Cuba. But, thanks to the Primal Publishing House, it would be in the United States. I didn’t do it out of despair. He knew of the scarcity of paper on the island, of the books accumulated in the polygraphs, of the kilometer wait that, in general, one has to pass to be accepted by a book, even if he has in advance the generalized or official approval. Anyway, I know what I’m talking about: I was head of Technician-Productive at the prestigious Art and Literature Publishing House.

2020 has been fateful to humanity, but it’s been a year to rethly yourself as a human being and reflect on how you can be resilient while still being creative. Faced with the possible depression and resemblance of the days, I came up with a plan of readings and writings to survive. While it is believed that one puts less rigor on those texts that tend to be made to order, in my case, as in that of others, there is the requirement of an ethical and professional commitment, which goes from what they expect of you to take advantage of the autonomy that being an author provides you. Unhappy with the circumstances, I did new readings and wrote several essays. My nonconformity in the face of the world situation experienced from my country motivated me to write with will: I prepared an anthology about María Zambrano (Maria Zambrano at the Universidad del Aire, 2020) which was published in Primigenios. I don’t have a copy yet, but I loved the cover I saw on Facebook. I wrote a new prologue for the Cuban edition of El tiempo dorado por el Nilo. Another reading by José Lezama Lima, by Roberto Méndez. By adventure, Alberto Garrandés summoned me to write him the words of cover of his recent volume Un owl perplexed (film essays). Both will come out under the seal of The Capiro Publishing House. Previously, I had won the Elisha Diego Award in the nonfiction category, which ensured that it was first published in Cuba. But already Alfredo Zaldívar was ahead of the news that Extended Pillars – my texts on José Martí – would go out with Ediciones Matanzas. It’s been a heyering year, but I’ve experienced being an author like never before since 2020.

By Facebook I have notified how recognized authors and others who are on a good path from Cuba have had to publish with foreign publishers.

I write this text in November 2020, when the picture is not very encouraging, although it is already known that the paper is beginning to arrive and the books will have to come out of the polygraphs. Dosage of hope should not be lacking. Although if we start from the text The Cuban publishing industry in the context of the economic update, by Jacqueline Laguardia Martínez, published in 2014, there are several criteria that deserve to be brought up, since variations to this date have been minimal and the pandemic has complicated everything in Cuba and the world. For the duration of the same, I highlight the following:

“Virtually all of the production of Cuban publishers is completed in the national graphic industry. However, in the past there was also the contracting of printing services outside Cuba despite the quality offered by the national graphic industry, recent proof was the publication, in 2010, of 100,000 copies of The Strategic Victory, plus another 100,000 of The Strategic Counter-Offensive. While this was due to various factors, such as the underestimation of the real possibilities of the Cuban chart, the truth is that the option of printing abroad is due to fears related to frequent non-compliance with the deliveries of finished productions by the Cuban industry and the poor quality of the raw material used in the manufacture of the books.

“The Cuban book goes unnoticed in relation to the rest of the national cultural goods and services, despite the variety of spaces used in its promotion – radio, television and flat press, above all. With the exception of the particular dynamics generated during February and March each year, on the occasion of the Book Fair, the visibility of the book is delegated to small spaces – mostly concentrated in provincial capitals – that have a small audience, which do not promote the commercialization of the book within its central purposes. The place par excellence for the promotion of the book – the bookstore – is insufficiently exploited.

“Unlike others, Cuban publishers care more about the generation of readers than about the increase in book buyers. The consumption promoted transcends the mere act of purchase to understand the social process that plays a fundamental role in the production of knowledge and in the exchanges of information and meanings. Cuban books often spread imaginaries alternative to hegemonic thinking, an important argument for paying special attention to the future and development of national publishing production: the greater success of economic management will also depend on the best contribution of Cuban literature to the construction of a better world.”1

What has changed from the above? Recently in a chat, Jesús Columbie, a book seller friend, who has his space in La Cabaña at every Havana International Book Fair, told me how terrible it has been for him to lose regulars, those who call him even to commission certain works. With regard to the current situation in Havana, he tells me:

“In bookstores, which are already open, regular customers buy, but there is still little interest in physical reading, they have had to lower prices. It has also influenced the digital age, but to tell you the truth young people are little interested in reading. They’re just looking for what they ask of him in schools, but nothing extra. You’re asking me about the Book Fair? If given, what news can they offer? Well, if paper comes in, the picture could be another. But I don’t think everything polygraphs should have accumulated from several years ago is printed. That’s a lot.”

How has a writer faced the pandemic? So it doesn’t sound like a complaint from me, I’ve consulted other writers. Rafael Acosta de Arriba, for example, wrote to me on October 31, 2020:

“The painful numbers of infected and killed around the world due to the pandemic of the new coronavirus have been the deadly one-year scenario that will be sadly remembered when time passes. These 7 months (so far) of the pandemic have been intense work for me, both on the creative level (production of dozens of articles and essays for magazines and books), as well as in the gestation of books and the two 2020 issues of the Magazine of the National Library José Martí, publication that I direct since January. I haven’t really had, and I haven’t taken a break.

Daniel Céspedes”I had the pleasure of coordinating editorially (and writing the main text, an extensive study on the work of Roberto Salas) the book Images of Memory. Photographs by Roberto Salas, which, under the editorial seal of the José Martí National Library, was made in the same months of the pandemic, was printed in Canada and will be presented on November 16 at the BN itself, that is, it is a volume that was published, from start to finish, during the pandemic period. It is an anthological selection of the photographic work of this relevant artist and its edition is of beautiful invoice. Also, in the same period, but under the editorial label Universidad de la Habana, I published a compilation entitled Critical Studies on Cuban Photography, which is already in the final stretch of its edition, and of which I am the compiler, prologuist and author of two of the essays. It must come to light in early 2021, if the existence of the role does not conspire against it. I am also in the final part, together with a professor at baylor University (Texas, USA), of the gestation of a book-compilation of essays on the work of Leonardo Padura. This volume should be published in Spain at the end of this year or rather in early 2021.

“The only disappointment in this area is that of the book Conversations on Art (2018), which under the editorial label Artecubano, of the National Council of Plastic Arts (CNAP), has been ready to print for more than two years, almost three years, but that the scarcity of paper and before that I do not know what other problems (I really do not know them) have prevented its publication. Despite talking several times with the publishers and the managers of the Cuban Book Institute and the CNAP, the book is still waiting for it to come out of the printing press. It has been a painful wait; the most recidivist answer is that there are another hundred and forty books in the same situation and that there is no paper in the country. So, on the one hand, I have felt very stimulated creating texts, magazines and books and, on the other hand, the cancellation of the printing of a ready-made book has long tarnished everything.

“Looking at this issue from a more general perspective, that is, from what it represents for the culture of the country, I think that the situation of the role is urgent that it be resolved in the shortest period of time. Policy tellers must understand that a country without magazines and poor book production is a country devoid of circulating thinking and not everyone in Cuba can read electronic publications on the Internet. I know that the managers of the Ministry of Culture are working this reality that they do not accept, and I am confident that the problem will be solved sooner rather than later, but the present situation is dramatic and this is not a matter of second or third importance in the face of the very many problems facing the country (economic, productive, food distribution, epidemiological and health in general, etc.). But the production of thought is of the first magnitude. However, let us be optimistic, once again.”

Let us be optimistic and expect the printing, distribution and sale of volumes, according to the claims of the plurality of readers that Cuba undoubtedly manifests beyond the book’s fairs. Ω


[1] Jacqueline Laguardia Martínez: The Cuban publishing industry in the context of the economic update, printed version ISSN online version ISSN 0252-8584, Econ. and Development vol. 151 no. 1, Havana, Jan.-jun. 2014. Retrieved 4 November 2020 enfile:///C:/Users/TRABAJO/Desktop/Cubacine/La%20industria%20editorial%20cubana%20en%20el%20contexto%20de%20la%20actualización%20económica.htm.


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