Buenos Aires alone has more bookstores per person than any other city in the world – just enough for inquisitive Argentinians to indulge their literary cravings
The country’s capital Buenos Aires has more bookshops per inhabitant than any other city in the world, according to a recent study by the World Cities Culture Forum.
With a population of around 2.8 million, Buenos Aires has at least 734 bookstores – roughly 25 bookshops for every 100,000 inhabitants. Worldwide, only Hong Kong comes close, with 22 bookshops per 100,000, followed by Madrid in a distant third with just 16 and compared to a mere 10 bookshops for every 100,000 for London.
A century ago, Buenos Aires was the shining capital of one of the wealthiest countries of the world. European immigrants poured into Buenos Aires, creating a multicultural environment in which culture and the arts thrived.
Amazon does not have an Argentinian site and import restrictions make it a bureaucratic nightmare to purchase books from international internet sellers.
That is perhaps unsurprising, considering the grandeur of the shop’s setting: opened as a theatre in 1919 and converted into a giant bookstore 15 years ago, the Grand Splendid still boasts the beautiful ceiling frescoes painted by an Italian artist almost a century ago. Around 1 million customers visit it each year to browse through its gargantuan 21,000 square feet showroom, or withdraw into one of the old theatre boxes perched for a leisurely read.
Argentina is one of the most prolific book publishers in Latin America, and the number of titles published has grown steadily each year, from 16,092 in 2004 to 28,010 last year. The total number of books printed in 2014 was 123m.
Publishing experts have also linked the country’s love for reading to its obsession with psychoanalysis: Argentina has more psychologists per inhabitant than any other country in the world, and according to Virginia Ungar, a member of the Buenos Aires Psychoanalytical Association, the habitual introspection of therapy makes Argentinians ideal readers.
“Psychoanalysis, reading and the arts in general are all linked because they are all an inquiry into the depths of personality. Both literature and psychoanalysis work with the word,” said Ungar, who is president-elect of the International Psychoanalytical Association founded by Sigmund Freud in 1910.
It is not only the market for new books which is thriving: Buenos Aires also has a total of 102 rare and secondhand bookshops, far outranking London with only 68 or Berlin, with only six, and only third in terms of secondhand bookshops per inhabitant after Johannesburg and Tokyo, most of them congregated along Avenida Corrientes.
The city’s unusual hours – people often meet for dinner at 11pm, and shops stay open until after midnight – also play a role, said Ignacio Iraola, general manager of the Argentinian branch of the Spanish publishing behemoth Planeta.
“Buenos Aires is a city that wakes up late and the day stretches out into the early hours,” he said. “Avenida Corrientes is like a long, open bookshop that never sleeps.”