“A bookstore,” said Jerry Seinfeld, “is one of the many pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.” Picking up this logic and running with it, porteños must constitute one of the most thoughtful citizenries on the planet. Buenos Aires is bursting with bookstores. Readers persist in visiting independent librerías, where they insist on buying books made from—of all things—paper. Someone from Manhattan needs to come down here and pass on the news that print is dead.
In the meantime, enjoy the land that Amazon forgot. Avenida Corrientes on either side of the Obelisk is great for a secondhand book crawl. Porteños have extremely catholic tastes, so expect to run up against too much Sidney Sheldon but also too much Nietzsche. Most places stock some English-language books, new or used. For some reason, there’s always something by Paul Auster. Several excellent rare and antiquarian bookstores can be found on Arroyo street in Retiro. For used book markets, try Plaza Italia or Parque Centenario.
The best kind of used bookstore, which is to say a big pile of books behind which walls, doors, and other furnishings can be dimly if only occasionally perceived. Uniquely for Buenos Aires, all books are English-language and the selection is superb. Check out the excellent schedule of literary workshops, run by well-known expat writers like Stephen Phelan.
Most of the bookstores flanking the downtown stretch of Avenida Corrientes look like they could fall over at any moment. Zivals is the exception that proves the rule; a handsome, well-organized space stocking an eclectic, if fairly highbrow, range of books. Most tourists make a beeline for the CD shelves, stacked with the city’s best tango selection.
El Ateneo Grand Splendid
Regularly named among the world’s most beautiful bookstores, this century-old former theater is worth a visit even if you haven’t picked up a book since high school. Much of the splendid grandeur of the Grand Splendid has been preserved, from the ornate gilded tiers to the painted cupola to the thick velvet curtains now draped above the café.
Dain Usina Cultural
Is this relatively new place in Palermo Viejo a bookstore with a bar attached or vice versa? It doesn’t really matter. Browse the shelves stacked with handsome hardbacks, gatecrash a book launch, or climb up to the lovely rooftop terrace for a cocktail or snack. As if that weren’t enough, there’s a good live music program too.
Libros del Pasaje
It is unclear whether any books actually get sold in this hip Palermo hangout. Most people haul them to the café, read them over a cortado or two, and then return them to the shelves. (It’s probably a good business model.) Be sure to scout around the tables near the entrance, which are stacked with travel and restaurant guides from the quirky end of the spectrum.