Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A City of Readers

a culture of reading

I've mentioned, ad nauseam, how inexpensive books are here in Buenos Aires. The picture above depicts one of the factors contributing to this phenomenon. Beginning on Saturday, readers of "La Nación", one of the two main papers here in Buenos Aires (the other is "El Clarín"), will have the option of picking up one of Isabel Allende's novels with their paper, at a special price of only 16.90 pesos, or about 5.50 US dollars. If past experience with similar promotions is any guide, by Christmas time one will be able to pick up Allende's books in any of the many bookstores on the Avenida Corrientes for only 10 pesos apiece.

It's promotions like this one that have enabled me to pick up the works of Borges for 10 pesos a book, classical CD recordings for 6 pesos apiece. This type of promotion was also very common in Madrid, though the prices were a bit higher. It generally supports the notion that the newspaper readers of Buenos Aires are a fairly cultured bunch. Certainly more so than their counterparts in San Francisco, or almost any other U.S. city one might care to mention - I could never imagine this happening in the United States. Time-Life books, and certain Reader's Digest classical music collections come to mind, but from a bygone age, and I doubt any newspaper could pull it off in their local city.

Further anecdotal evidence of a more deeply entrenched local reading habit is provided by Rafael, the waiter (mozo) at my favorite local restaurant, who gives me regular recommendations on what I should be reading. (As well as a remarkable impromptu discussion of the relative merits of Borges and Cortázar, the two giants of 20th century Argentine literature, which came completely out of the blue on Friday evening; remarkable both for the cogency of the points he made, as well as the passion with which he made them). Nestor, doorman of the building in which the school is located (i.e. just a regular midtown office building), has also come through with some excellent recommendations.

Maybe I've just been lucky. Maybe I'm unconsciously filtering my experiences to fit some preconceived notion of a highly literate local population. But I don't think so - the dozens of books stores within eight or ten blocks of my home also suggest otherwise.

A booklover's paradise. Which is to say, an enormous occasion of sin* for yours truly. One that extends for miles in every direction.

*: a technical Catholic term, meaning a source of great temptation from which a good Catholic should immediately extract himself. (Not a chance)

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