Everyone in Spain loves books, it seems. This was clear to me when in October last year, I visited the Feria del Libro in Madrid’s famous Retiro Park. Even with the pandemic still active, the park’s leafy footpaths were heaving with readers of all ages who were buying books from the countless stands, waiting in long lines to get those books signed, and attending the numerous talks held by publishers and authors. It was wonderful to see a shared love of literature bringing together all ages across ten days in the centre of the city. In everyday life too, this country’s love of reading is clear to see. More and more commuters on the metro are swapping the mobile phones in their hands for books, parks are scattered with people with heads buried in the pages of a novel, and on Saturdays the city’s independent bookshops are bursting with visitors.
According to a 2021 study by the Federación de Gremios de Editores de España (Federation of Spanish Publishers’ Guilds), Spain’s number of readers continues to grow; 32 percent of Spaniards say they read daily, which is an 8.2 percent increase on the same study held in 2010. The study also shows a slight increase in the percentage of those who buy books, and that Spanish readers continue to use and value libraries.
So, to what do we owe this increase in reading in Spain? Of course, the pandemic could be partly responsible, with more people finding free time to sit down with a book. But I also believe that Spain’s rich literary history has something to do with it. Not only is what is considered to be the first modern novel, Don Quixote, from Spain, but the country also has access to a fantastically rich treasure trove of literature from Latin America. To add to this, Sant Jordi Day, an incredibly important day of bookish festivities in Catalonia, is also celebrated nationwide. All this contributes to the fact that Spaniards place a huge value on reading, literature and buying books – and rightly so.
As a result of their love of books, the country’s capital is certainly not short of bookshops. Every barrio of Madrid has one or more; commercial, independent or antique, wherever you are in Madrid, you won’t be far from a bookshop. I’ve been living in this city for a while now, and there are several bookshops that I have come to know and love – much to the dismay of my bank balance! – which I’d like to share with you…
Desperate Literature can be found in the centre of Madrid, not far from the royal palace. This cosy nook of a bookshop is crammed with books primarily in Spanish, French and English (languages that the owners share). They stock a wide range of literary fiction, essays and children’s literature in a very small space and I love coming here to browse their books in a multitude of languages.
La Central (Callao)
La Central is located right in the heart of the city, just off Gran Vía, and this shop has it all. They sell all the best classics and stock every contemporary Spanish book under the sun, as well as translations, and also literature in its original language. This bookshop is also the place to go if you want to attend contemporary Spanish literature events. And, if you haven’t spent all your money on books, there’s always their amazing café. It is all too easy to while away half an afternoon in this place!
Traficantes de Sueños
This is my local bookshop, located just a few minutes’ walk from my apartment in La Latina. Traficantes de Sueños is also a publisher, and is dedicated to creating a meeting place for ecological, feminist and anti-globalistation collectives: a space for discussion and the exchange of ideas. What they publish and sell reflects this, so makes for an interesting and revolutionary browsing experience. A pretty cool place to have right on my doorstep!
Re-read is a great initiative that now has stores all over Spain. A second-hand bookshop, they sell you one book for 3 euros, two books for 5 euros or five books for 10 euros. I always love coming to Re-read, because, as is the norm with all second-hand bookshops, you simply never know what treasures you might find.
Tipos de Infames
Tipos de Infames is the place to go for contemporary Spanish literature with a focus on independent publishers. Located in the heart of Malasaña, perhaps one of the most creative and artistic barrios in the city, the shop is always a fun place to visit. Oh, and to make it even better, they also have a wine cellar! Wine and books… what more could you want?
By Alice Banks (aka ‘La Española’)
Alice Banks is a creative and literary translator from French and Spanish based in Madrid. After studying the MA in Literary Translation at the University of East Anglia, Alice began working with the European Literature Network as an Editorial Assistant. She also volunteers as a copy editor for Asymptote Journal and is a publishing assistant at Fum d’Estampa Press.
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