Beyond the lure of its late-night boliches and trendsetting cafes, Buenos Aires is really at its heart, a city for intellectuals.
Buenos Aires houses more bookstores per capita than any city in the world, according to the World Cities Culture Forum 2014.
The city limits encapsulate 467 bookstores, or 25 bookshops for every 100,000 inhabitants. This places it ahead of showboating intelligence capitals like Hong Kong (22), Madrid (16) and Shanghai (15). On the other end of the spectrum, Singaporeans and Istambulites look shockingly untutored with a paltry three libraries per 100,000 inhabitants. The term “librería,” according to the study, includes any purveyor of books, big or small.
Before such news prompts us all to upturn our noses like the haughty aristocrats we’ve always wanted to be, the findings do suggest some cause for concern. Bookstores are unevenly scattered throughout the city, leaving the essentials of flowery prose and metaphors out of reach for some residents.
In an archetypal tale of two cities, throughout much of the north there are 1-10,000 inhabitants for every bookstore though many southern-most districts have no places to buy books at all. Culturally privileged Recoleta and Balvanera count 57 and 46 inhabitants per librería, respectively, whilst Villa Soldati and Barracas count zero.
Furthermore, perhaps “philistine” Singaporeans have the same number of books per capita but just store them in fewer, larger stores. Or maybe their tech savvy is impelling them to do all their reading digitally. So much ambiguity!!!
But why not just take this as good news? Literary culture is clearly flourishing in Argentina, and porteños are actively seeking the intimacy of coddling a paperback.
I think we’re all due for a congratulatory pat on the back! Even if this feels belittling to us literary types.