This month gives us reason to rejoice: it's the premiere of Mind the Book, a provocative three-day lit festival that will take place in Antwerp and Ghent on alternative years, creating a cultural union between the cities' most dynamic cultural centres, the former's deSingel and the latter's Vooruit.
This year it's in Antwerp, and, true to Het Andere's legacy, it features a wealth of intellectual debate and political topics, announcing itself with an impressive line-up of international talent, including Afghan politician, activist and writer Fawzia Koofi, British journalist and middle eastern correspondent Robert Fisk and the Italian Umberto Eco, one of the best-known authors and thinkers of our time.
But Mind the Book also adds fiction and children's books, poetry and graphic novels, which opens it up to a wider and younger crowd. Subsidised by the Cities of Antwerp and Ghent - a first - as well as the Flemish Literature Fund, Mind the Book wants to promote openness and collaboration, aspects that are essential to the art and literature scene.
Flemish journalist Jef Lambrecht had to step down from his role as curator for health reasons, and the festival had to be taken on by others less than eight months ago. Still, you can find a clear influence of Lambrecht's main focus - the east - from the middle east to the far east.
Mind the Book is split into two main parts - a book fair and literary programme. Talks, interviews and debates are split into themes, ranging from the East, philosophy, contemporary Belgian issues and literary debuts. Many of the biggest names in Flemish literature are on the bill, including Kristien Hemmerechts, Peter Verhelst and Erwin Mortier.
The festival kicks off with power on Friday, when local journalist Krist of Clerix interviews French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, who was famously rescued in 2008 after spending more than six years as a hostage of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. On Saturday, Fawzi Koofi and Robert Fisk will talk about current situations in the Middle East.
The 79-year-old Eco, probably best known for his novel The Name of the Rose, takes the stage on Sunday with a programme curiously dubbed "Confessions of a Young Novelist".
Mind the Book also incorporates a film programme at Antwerp's Cinema Zuid and related exhibitions at M HKA. The book fair highlights work of the 80 some authors attending but also reaches beyond, with a selection of current fiction and non-fiction, accompanied by a more specialised fair for collector's items.
And finally, don't miss a visit to the Espresso Book Machine. Long-time American publisher Jason Epstein already made history once when he created the trade paperback - the larger size paperbacks that bridged a gap between pocket books and hardcovers. Now, this 83-year-old pioneer is back with a device that looks set to revolutionise the world of publishing.
It looks like a big photocopier but transforms digital files into a book in a matter of minutes, something he will personally prove at Mind the Book. The Espresso Book Machine also has a database of over three million books that are no longer in print. Looking towards the future, Esptein tries to answer that vital question: when all print has gone digital, how can we easily get our hands on a good old-fashioned book?