The Four-Story El Alteneo Bookstore in Buenos Aires

Over the course of two and a half weeks, I visited three cities in Argentina and one in Brazil.  The common thread?  Bookstores.

People Reading at El Alteneo

While I’ve been quietly lamenting the disappearance of my local bookstores (i.e. Duttons in Brentwood–after 25 years–and Borders in Westwood, just to name a few) the people of South America have apparently been flocking to theirs.  Not only were people waiting in long lines to purchase books, many were browsing, sitting and reading, and even a few were having discussions and sharing book recommendations.

Argnumento Bookstore in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil

As a novelist, you can imagine how my heart fluttered at the sight of people embracing books in this way.  In fact, while I was there, Buenos Aires was even having its annual Bookstore Night, with over 70 free activities in 50 bookstores that remained open during until 2:00 am.

A Bookstore in El Calefate, Argentina (Patagonia)

The demise of our bookstores isn’t just about losing a place to purchase books.  It’s about losing a community center, a place to learn about new things, study, have a cup of coffee, or even meet like-minded people.  While we’re sitting at home isolating ourselves and clicking around on, our pallid skin thirsting for some vitamin D, the people of South America are going out, getting tan, interacting with each other and reading!  I know we’re all worried about being taken over by China, but I say an equal threat is coming from down south.  They are more fit, more carefree, eat more delicious meals and embrace reading and books in a way that puts us to shame (for example, UNESCO  even named Buenos Aires “Book Capital of the World 2011”).

So here’s my plea:  visit your local bookstore.  Engage in it.  Relish it.   In other words, save it.  We may not ever be able to beat them in steak consumption (since despite my best efforts, more than two steaks a week is just beyond my personal capacity), but at least we can try to go toe-to-toe with the South Americans when it comes to literary consumption.

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