Buenos Aires is the birthplace of many a prominent writer, but it takes a visit to fully unveil the enduring love of reading in South America’s city of books.
Godfather of Argentine literature, Jorge Luis Borges famously said, “Let others pride themselves about how many pages they have written; I’d rather boast about the ones I’ve read.”
And read is what the Argentines do — on the bus, in the park, and in the myriad bookstores that are as plentiful as pharmacies and supermarkets in the capital city.
And literary sustenance for the soul in Buenos Aires is not limited to an insubstantial diet of romance novels and bestsellers — though those can certainly be found — but consists largely of dense literary and philosophical works of the likes of Foucault, Nietzsche, Arendt, Shakespeare, Joyce, as well as the Argentine heavy-weights — Borges, Cortázar, Sábato and Hernández.
It is impossible to meander through the city without noticing the abundance of bookworms.
“Just look around on the subway and count how many people have a book,” says Florencia Basile, of La Porteña Books in Belgrano. “From ages 20 to 60, people read a lot here — there is a culture of reading.”
Wrapped in plastic to discourage sneak previews and summer rains, tomes grace the shelves of street side dispensaries, subway station kiosks, and some of the grandest bookstores in the world, such as the opulent former theater, El Ateneo.
Nearby Corrientes Avenue, the main thoroughfare of Buenos Aires’ theatre district, is a also favored destination for late-night book browsing. Where else in the world can one peruse the shelves at 3:00 a.m.?
Latin American’s Literary City
Argentina leads Latin America in publishing, with over 20,000 titles released in the country per year. Buenos Aires is blessed with over 800 bookstores, the majority of them independently owned.
In 2011 UNESCO awarded Buenos Aires the title of ‘World Book Capital,’ in recognition of its many high quality projects and activities involving books and reading.
For those already so inclined, embrace and enjoy wandering the aisles of books and the streets of ready-made benches. For all others, let the Latin American bookworm bite and take a taste of the sumptuous, if old-fashioned, world of paper and print.
* For those who don’t read Spanish, or need a break from second language overload, a modest selection of imported foreign titles are found scattered in kiosks and bookstores, and a few all-English bookstores, such as Kel and Walrus Books. — Alana Fichman