Letter from the Rio de la Plata*

mvd2015photoFor most North American academic libraries Cuban books have taken a detour to Uruguay before arriving at our shelves. With changing relations between the United States and Cuba, there is already renewed scholarly interest in the Caribbean island. Hence a visit to the Montevideo bookshop where much of that research material is being sorted. Two days was barely sufficient to review missing titles from our collection. In the process, finding equally interesting research materials from other parts of Latin America.
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The ferry across the Rio de la Plata was to take only two-hours, in the state of the art Papa Francisco Buquebus, prompting my Montevideo friends to call it a viaje santo. It was much longer and I missed a visit to the San Telmo open air market in Buenos Aires, where every visitor to the Argentine capital appears to end up on a late Sunday morning. Several years ago I found a vintage photo of 1906 San Francisco Earthquake.

The hotel is a few blocks away from that book corridor on Avenida Corrientes, between the Obelisk and Callao street, proof of what some press reports have noted : Buenos Aires has the highest person to bookstore ratio in the world.
What better way to spend a late autumnal afternoon than book-browsing. Last year, one of the first ones I saw was a book written by a friend. I could not bring myself to tell him it was on sale!

Even some of the side streets house book shops. The one-block Paseo Rivarola probably goes unnoticed by most visitors to Buenos Aires. In one of those symmetrical 1920 buildings is the Librería de Mujeres. I ring the doorbell and an older lady unlocks the door, immediately asking: Qué busca? I tell her I want to see everything. Still not quite convinced that a middle-aged man would find something of interest, she points to a few sections and off I go in my incessant note-taking of interesting book titles, until I realize I could take photos of several book covers at once and not have to worry about deciphering my less and less understandable handwriting.
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The 41st Buenos Aires International Book Fair opens today and there is a sense of anticipation among the group of U.S. librarians attending this year. Prior to departing we received an avalanche of requests from publishers asking for a meeting. I opted to invite them to attend a session where we would explain the dynamics of book distribution and acquisition by public and academic libraries. They listened attentively to our presentation.

ba2015indipubsLarge media groups command the most visible of the various pabellones, typical of any such event. But independent publishing seems to be alive and thriving in the Southern Cone (Todo libro [no] es politico; Sólidos Platónicos and Siete logos). It appears to be the same in Spain.

At a time when print publications struggle to stay afloat, it’s almost anachronistic to have a new cultural magazine aimed at the inmesa minoría, as the Spanish philosopher Ortega y Gasset would note. The recently launched Review: Revista de Libros, a Spanish translation of the New York Review of Books with original content in Spanish. The publisher says the premier issue has a print run of 15,000 copies and is selling well, even outside of Buenos Aires. During my long overnight trip back to the Northern hemisphere, while crossing the Equator, I will read a Spanish-version of Alma Guillermo Prieto’s piece on the disappeared Mexican student-teachers.

Waiting for the last connection of my flight to California I find one of the newspaper articles I saved from Argentine dailies: poetry appears to have as many readers as militants. Viva la poesía. Viva la Lectura. Vivan los Libros!

Adán Griego-Curator for Latin American Collections, Stanford University.

*Trip partially funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Title VI and the Buenos Aires Book Fair.