Tag Archives: bookstores

Argentina capital is bookstore capital of the world

All across Argentina’s capital, lodged between the steakhouses, ice cream shops and pizzerias, is an abundance of something that is becoming scarce in many nations: bookstores.

From hole-in-the-wall joints with used copies of works by Jorge Luis Borges, Miguel de Cervantes and Gabriel Garcia Marquez to elegant buildings with the latest children’s books in several languages, Buenos Aires is filled with locales that pay homage to print.

The city of Buenos Aires has more bookstores per capita than any other major city in the world, according to a recent study by the World Cities Cultural Forum, an organization that works to promote culture. With a population of 2.8 million people within the city limits, there are 25 bookstores for every 100,000 people, putting Buenos Aires far above other world cities like London, Paris, Madrid, Moscow and New York. The closest is Hong Kong, which has 22 bookstores per 100,000 people.

“Books represent us like the tango,” said Juan Pablo Marciani, manager of El Ateneo Gran Splendid, an immense bookstore in the affluent Recoleta neighborhood where 7,000 people visit each week. “We have a culture very rooted in print.”

Behind the high number of bookstores, 734 by last count, is a combination of culture and economics.

Culture boomed along with the economy in the early part of the 20th century, and even if the economic path grew rocky, ordinary Argentines embraced and stuck to the habit of reading. To this day, many across the region call the Argentine capital the “Paris of Latin America” thanks to its architecture, wide streets and general interest in the arts, music and literature.

During the Spanish civil war in the 1930s, many top writers and editors fled to Argentina, further cementing the country as a literary capital and powerhouse for printing.

In 2014, there were 28,010 titles in circulation and 129 million books were printed in the country, according to the Argentine Book Chamber, making it one of the most prolific book printers in Latin America.

Many stores carry rare books that are hundreds of years old. At Libreria Alberto Casares, bookworms can gaze at a collection that includes a French translation of Spanish poet Garcilaso de la Vega from 1650 and Gregorian chants on papyrus dating back to 1722.

In buses and subways, in parks and cafes and even in malls, it’s common to see people flipping pages of whodunits, histories and poetry, or most recently, new books about the mysterious death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, a case that has rocked the country since he was found shot dead in his bathroom Jan. 18.

“I was born with paper books and I’ll die with paper books,” said Aida Cardozo, 65, who was recently reading “Las Huellas del Rencor,” or “Traces of Resentment,” philosopher Santiago Kovadloff’s work on changes in Argentine society over the last 13 years.

“Computers are for responding to emails and using Facebook, but not to read a novel,” she said.

Books also receive help when it comes to staving off the digital deluge. There are no sales taxes on books, notable in a country where most products get 21 percent slapped on top of the sticker price. And heavy import taxes on books, and electronics such as e-readers, help keep the local printing industry strong. While Argentines are increasingly glued to their mobile devices, customers who want to use foreign retailers like Amazon have to pay a 35 percent surcharge on their peso-denominated credit cards.

The use of e-readers like the Kindle is still relatively low. Less than 10 percent of the 1.2 million people who attended the city’s annual book fair last year said they used electronic devices to read books, according to a fair survey.

Ignacio Iraola, the Southern Cone editorial director for publishing house Grupo Planeta, said the economic factors make printed books an attractive business for bookstores and make books a popular gift in tight economic times.

“A book costs 200 pesos ($23) compared to 400 pesos $46 for a shirt,” said Iraola. “And the perceived value of a book is much higher.”

Boosting books: Obama buys 17 books at independent store

President Barack Obama tried to draw attention to independently owned businesses on the Saturday after the Thanksgiving holiday, a day that is increasingly being marketed as one for deal-hungry consumers to remember to patronize small businesses while doing their holiday shopping.

He bought several bags of books — 17 titles in all — during a stop at Politics and Prose, a popular Washington bookstore now owned by a former Washington Post reporter and his wife, also a former Post reporter who later worked for Hillary Rodham Clinton at the White House and State Department.

In recent years, the Saturday after Thanksgiving has been advertised as “Small Business Saturday.” It’s designed to drive foot traffic to independent, mom-and-pop-type stores in between the frenzy of Black Friday sales at mass retailers and the Cyber Monday deals available online.

Obama browsed the bookstore’s racks with his daughters, Malia and Sasha. He held one shopper’s baby and chatted with bestselling crime novelist David Baldacci. While paying at the cash register, another patron encouraged Obama to close the U.S. facility in Cuba where suspected terrorists are detained.

“Hope you can close Guantanamo,” the patron said.

“We’re working on it,” Obama replied, then jokingly added to the nearby crowd of shoppers: “Any other issues?”

Obama also joked, “Hope it works,” when he handed his credit card to the cashier. That appeared to be a reference to an incident where a restaurant declined his credit card while he dined out in New York City in late September.

Obama bought a mix of titles apparently chosen to satisfy readers young and old. The White House declined to reveal how much he paid.

Among the books in the president’s shopping bags for mature readers were:

• “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China” by New Yorker writer Evan Osnos.

• “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” by surgeon Atul Gawande.

• “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr.

For younger readers, Obama’s purchases included:

• Three titles in the “Redwall” series by Brian Jacques.

• Two titles in the Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park.

• “A Barnyard Collection: Click, Clack, Moo and More” by Doreen Cronin.

Obama and his daughters also shopped at Politics and Prose on the Saturday after Thanksgiving last year.