Culture 24/04/2021

A splendorous and single-file Sant Jordi

Sales reach 15 million euros and exceed one million copies: the sector's expectations improve

5 min
Cua to enter one of the perimetral enclosures, the one of the Jardinets de Gràcia

BarcelonaQueues to enter bookshops. Queues to access the perimeter spaces. Queues, also, to get signatures. The euphoric response of the public has meant that this Sant Jordi - after the obligatory break of the previous year - has exceeded all expectations. The figure given by the Gremi de Llibreters and the Cambra del Llibre late in the afternoon confirmed it: with more than one million copies sold throughout the day, 75% of the sales of 2019 were reached, when the most optimistic forecast predicted 60%. If 22.16 million euros were invoiced during the 2019 festival, in 2021 it will reach 15 million euros.

The publishing sector, which a year ago faced an unprecedented crisis due to the closure of bookstores, which dragged on for more than two months, is breathing easier thanks to this Sant Jordi. "It is a turning point, this festival", acknowledged Patrici Tixis, president of the Cambra del Llibre. "We needed to walk calmly and securely. We wanted books and roses. People have taken to the streets, in an orderly fashion and respecting social distance, and the balance is much better than we could have imagined".

"This year's Diada is especially complicated for a chronicler", Sergi Pàmies warned me early in the afternoon at the Enciclopèdia Catalana authors' lunch. "You have to be very careful with metaphors, especially in headlines". He improvised a few: "Books and roses, the best vaccine against covid". "A radiant festival that everyone missed". "A hopeful Sant Jordi, but still with a face mask". The favourite was this one: "Sant Jordi slays the dragon of the pandemic".

The day had started with strength. From early in the morning, cloudless after a few days of overcast skies, queues abounded in bookstores and flower shops. Of the eleven spaces set up in various parts of the city, the one on Passeig de Gràcia filled up immediately, and the crowds were also notable on Passeig Lluís Companys and in the Jardinets de Gràcia. Later on, the success of the proposal would be confirmed, both by the flood of readers who strolled through the fenced spaces and by the queues to access bookshops such as Laie, La Central, Documenta and the new Ola, Byron and, especially, Finestres, which has become one of the sensations of this Sant Jordi thanks to the coup de force of having opened its doors just ten days ago.

Oxygen for mental health

In the early hours of the morning, Maria Barbal, Gerard Quintana and Francesc Serés -three of the day's prized authors- shared their impressions at La Farga Diagonal. "This festival is oxygen for collective mental health, and for individual mental health too", admitted Quintana, winner of the last Ramon Llull prize. Nearby, at the Gallery Hotel, a selection of Grupo Planeta authors took a group photo on the terrace, holding up their respective books and with a sign behind them that read Bienvenidos al cielo de Barcelona (Welcome to the sky of Barcelona). "I'm not very optimistic about life, but today I'm making an exception", said Najat el Hachmi. "The expectations are very good. Besides, if there are not as many people in the streets as in other years, we authors will be punctual for the first time in our lives to all our appointments". There have been more than Hachmi expected, and in the end some of the authors have had to make readers wait, and this lengthened the queues, which followed a rigorous single line.

An image of the group photo of the Planeta authors.

"It is a Sant Jordi of starting over", said Dolores Redondo. "Let's hope that next year it can be like it was before". "Hopefully people have realised how important books are during this year of pandemic", added Gemma Lienas. After the photo was taken, some of those present, such as Màrius Carol, Xavier Sardà and Javier Cercas quickly fled to the places where it was their turn to start the marathon of signatures. Luckily, Cercas was entertained by a television and let himself be accompanied by taxi to Passeig de Gràcia. The author of Independence showed "the seven and a half pages" that are dedicated to him today in the Corriere della Sera. "I've got Italians very fooled!" he exclaimed.

Concord and napalm

About the Diada, Cercas recalled that "it is a magnificent day of contact with the readers, far from polemics". The novelist could not have known that, minutes before, in the Palau de la Virreina, Pol Guasch -last winner of the Llibres Anagrama Prize- had disseminated a little verbal napalm in the institutional act of the City Council. "We have to stop addressing the political class to address ourselves firmly to the people who make words, who live words and make literature exist", he said in front of the mayoress, Ada Colau. And also: "The text that does what we have been able to do, among other places, in Urquinaona, has yet to reach the world". Irene Vallejo, herald of this Sant Jordi, tried to re-establish concord with kinder words, rhyming bookshop with "joy and utopia".

Irene Vallejo, at the Documenta bookshop stop

The author of El infinito en un junco has accumulated long queues throughout the day. Also Oriol Mitjà, who with the success of Un año a corazón abierto published by Columna, like Vallejo's essay, has confirmed the attraction of readers to read about the pandemic. In fiction, and with the absence of the signatures of Jaume Cabré and Eduardo Mendoza, both of whom were new in bookshops, María Dueñas, Javier Cercas, Maria Barbal and Xavier Bosch, who claimed to sign "an average of 50 copies every hour", stood out.

The agility that many bookshops gained with the prohibition of taking selfies with the authors was lost above all in the fenced spaces: some readers became impatient when they saw that they had dozens - or hundreds - of people in front of them in order to enter the premises. A middle-aged man, who wanted Albert Om to sign for him El dia que vaig marxar, complained bitterly. His partner immediately rebuked him: "Better this than a new wave of covid".

Image of the Rambla at midday

In Plaça Universitat, Martí Gironell was talking to Roger Torrent, who is making his debut as an author with a thriller, Pegasus (Ara Llibres). "It's not just a normal party", commented one of them. "It's not a tsunami, it's a fine rain", replied the other. The bookseller from Abacus tried to cheer them up: "Compared to last year it's glory". This has been one of the most repeated impressions throughout the day: after the virtual Sant Jordi of 23 April last year - and the attempt to recover the day three months later, in the middle of the heat of the year - the world of books could meet again in person with the readers. "The people in the streets are a symptom of joy", said Víctor García Tur, the last winner of the Sant Jordi prize. "After such a hard year, a Sant Jordi like this allows us to come back to life", explained Pilar Beltran, publisher of Edicions 62. "It's a day to get excited. I am, and very much so!" exclaimed Ester Pujol, from Enciclopèdia Catalana.

After a week marked by clouds, the splendorous sun of the whole day had a miraculous touch. "And even more so if we take into account that rain is forecast for Sunday", Llucia Ramis ventured. Late in the afternoon, the figures from the guild confirmed the spectacular nature of this Sant Jordi. "We are still missing the cash register on Saturday morning: we think it will be a very good day again", assured Patrici Tixis. "Next Tuesday we will take stock of the sales for the whole week".