COMNG soon is the Havana International Book Fair (February 9-19), one of the cultural events most anxiously awaited by Cubans. Organizers have announced the attendance of 36 international publishers, while recalling that the fair is dedicated this year to Dr. Armando Hart and Canada, as guest country of honor.

During a brief press conference in the Casa de las Americas Manuel Galich Hall, Juan Rodríguez, president of the Cuban Book Institute (ICL), and its vice president, Edel Morales, shared some details.

Rodríguez, also directing the Fair, announced that stands offering books during the Fair in Havana and around the country will have more than four million copies on hand, including "700 novelties," although he refrained from identifying authors or titles of new editions that will be available.

He reported that the fair will offer a special tribute to the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, one of the most important thinkers of the era who died this past November, and to be presented is the entire 90th Anniversary Collection of 30 books by the Comandante en Jefe from 15 Cuban publishing houses.

He noted that, in conjunction with the Council of State, a colloquium on Fidel's the political thought will be held February 10-11, with the participation of intellectuals, historians, and individuals who worked alongside him in the struggle.

Morales, for his part, commented that the fair will once again feature significant international participation, and provide an opportunity for dialogue contributing to cultural diversity in the contemporary world.

Raúl Castro: Un Hombre en Revolución, by Russian Nicolai Leonov, was the most read book in the country last year, according to a survey conducted by the Cuban Book Institute.

In this context, he spoke of the 300 individuals invited from 36 countries; the attendance of 162 authors from Ireland, Brazil, Australia, Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, Ecuador, Spain and France, among others; and 86 publishers from abroad, including Planeta, Random House, Mexico's Fondo de Cultura Económico; and "the principal leaders in book publishing in China, Russia, and the United States."

Morales emphasized, "The fair is essentially of Cuban publishers, authors, and readers." Thus, in addition to the 58 Cuban publishing houses, including 22 provincial ones, authors of all genres of fiction and non-fiction from the country will play the leading role in daily activities during the event.

As is customary, along with the book launches and sales, professional programs are being organized for editors, writers, academics, translators, and designers; plus a literary program, and ceremonies to present National Prizes for Literature, Criticism, Social Sciences, and Editing-Design, as well as the Alejo Carpentier, Nicolás Guillén, and Julio Cortázar distinctions.

Another novelty was that the country's most read books were announced. The number one being Raúl Castro: un Hombre en Revolución, by Russian Nicolai Leonov, released by the Capitán San Luis publishing house.

During the press conference, researcher Eloisa Carrera read a brief message from Armando Hart, who thanked organizers for the special invitation to the fair, where a seminar on his life and work will take place, and five publishers will launch a series of books featuring his work from 1959 to date, under the general title of Cuba, una cultura de la liberación.

Hart, who served as Minister of Education (1959-1965) and of Culture (1976-1997), is currently president of the Martí Program Office and the José Martí Cultural Society. He has published dozens of books, among them Cambiar las reglas del juego, 1985; Cultura en Revolución, 1990; and Cultura para el desarrollo, as well as El desafío del siglo XXI, in 2000.

For his part, Canadian ambassador in Cuba, Patrick Parisat, offered his thanks for the honor his country was granted of being the fair's guest of honor, which he emphasized will strengthen the 70-year cultural relationship shared by the two nations, while noting that here was no better time to begin celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canada's confederation.

The diplomat reported that Cuban publishers are printing thousands of copies of works by Canadian authors in Spanish, facilitating Cubans' access to current literature from his country.

He added that some 18 Canadian publishing houses will attend the fair, as well as 30 authors, among them Margaret Atwood, no doubt currently the country's most prominent writer.

Atwood, the grand dame of Canadian letters, came to Cuba for the first time in 1984, to present the anthology Desde el invierno, with a forward by poet Graeme Gibson who selected the texts, and will return on this occasion. She attended in 2010 to launch her book El quetzal resplandeciente y otros relatos, published in Cuba by the Arte y Literatura house.

At that time, discussing El quetzal, she noted that it was a collection prepared specifically for Cuba, which she likened to a box of chocolates, containing a variety of genres from science fiction to short stories, poetry to monologues, from 1977 through 2006.

Havana's International Book Hair will again have as its principal venue, the San Carlos de la Cabaña Fortress, the splendid 18th century edification which has hosted the event since 2000, and is included within the central Havana area designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The traditional literary celebration in Havana will surely bring dialogue and discussion of books and their future in a digital age based on new technologies.

But Umberto Eco was right: technology is not responsible for the notable disenchantment with reading, since text is the predominate element on any webpage. He wrote, "We should not worry since Internet obliged us to return to the alphabet's era, just when we believed we had definitively entered the civilization of the image. Screens have again taken us to the galaxy of Gutenberg."

Previously, Jorge Luis Borges had reflected on books in relation to the technologies of his time, "Among the diverse tools of humans, the most amazing is, no doubt whatsoever, the book. The others are extensions of the body. The microscope, the telescope, are extensions of sight; the telephone is an extension of the voice; then we had the plow and the sword, extensions of the arm. But the book is something else: the book is an extension of memory."