The Paraty Literary Festival gets going today and is expected to bring tens of thousands of visitors from all over Brazil to the tiny colonial port town halfway between Rio and São Paulo.

In the eight short years since it began, Flip, as it is universally known, has established itself as one of the best book festivals in the world, as I reported here in the Christian Science Monitor in 2004.

I went to Flip for the first four years because it was a place where literate and like-minded people could get together and take a break from the more hedonistic and shallow culture of Rio de Janeiro, where I lived.

I had some great times, interviewing Salman Rushdie, Chico Buarque and Margaret Atwood, and attending the open discussions with literary heavyweights like Ian McEwan and Gay Talese.

Flip back then was so small and intimate that the authors felt at ease out on the streets. I remember bumping into Christopher Hitchens in a cyber café and chatting to Hanif Kureshi, who was seated next to me at a bar.

It’s all changed now. Flip has, for me at least, become a victim of its own so success.

The phenomenal ability of organizer Liz Calder to attract big names during those first few years, when Flip was a veritable Who’s Who of contemporary writers, has inevitably meant that the quality of attendees today is not as high.

Pousadas triple their prices and the streets are filled with tourists out for a weekend away (and hopefully get their picture taken with someone famous) rather than people who are truly interested in books.

As I pointed out in my Monitor piece:

“(Brazil) is a country in which almost half of (all) adults own fewer than 10 books, according to the Brazilian Chamber of Books. Outside the private parties and book launches, literate environments are hard to come by in a country where soccer stars and musicians are much more revered than wordsmiths. Although Brazil boasts the world’s eighth-largest publishing industry, the market is limited because 38 percent of Brazilians are functionally illiterate and many of those who can read cannot afford to spend on a book what it costs to feed a family for week.”

I wish Flip continued success and a great time for anyone heading down to the coast this weekend.

Among those starring in this year’s festival are James Ellroy, David Byrne, and Péter Esterházy.

More details here at the official Flip web site.