Porteños must love reading as much as they love coffee — book stores here are almost as common as cafés. Some seem to specialize in old and used books, while others have a more modern selection. But I must say, I do love walking down the street and glancing in all the cutesie book stores, most of which are filled with a decent number of patrons. I did buy one book from such a store — “El Aleph” by Jorge Luis Borges, a famous Argentine author.
Now imagine, if you will, a classy, three-story theater filled not with people and seats but rather with books. That would be El Ateneo — an old theater in Buenos Aires that was turned into a bookstore, and, according to the British newspaper the Guardian, is the second nicest bookstore in the world (apparently there’s a better place in the Netherlands). I did visit El Ateneo a few weeks ago, and it certainly is quite impressive: shelves of books cover the main floor, two balcony floors above, as well as a basement, the stage is now home to a café, and the original design of the theater seems to be intact.
Forever a lover of books, I had been skeptical of the e-reader craze, and hesitant to make the switch from printed words to electronic ones. However, before coming to Buenos Aires I did relent and buy a Kindle — though really only out of practical considerations; I figured it would be easier to pack and allow for more flexibility in terms of reading material, as you can download books from anywhere with a wifi connection (such as my apartment here). Part of my initial reluctance was due to my first unpleasant endeavour last year into the land of ebooks via my iPhone. While such a small device was clearly not meant to, and certainly did not, offer a comfortable reading experience, the Kindle was — and does. While about the same width and height as a book, the Kindle is much lighter, is easy to hold, and only requires the push of a button (on either side) to turn the page; this last feature comes in especially handy when trying to read while lying down. The only drawback is the lack of a backlight — obviously an advantage when it’s bright out, but not so much in the dark (say, in an airplane, when you don’t want to illuminate the ten seats around you by turning on the overhead light during an overnight flight). However, perhaps Amazon (which makes the Kindle) did this on purpose, thereby forcing customers to buy a $60 leather cover with a light. Who knows.