“ATENEO ATENEO!”
March 28, 2011 12:00 PM   Subscribe

The Ateneo Grand Splendid Bookstore. "Argentinians are a famously literary people. In coffee shops, parks, on the bus and even while walking down city streets, their heads are often buried in a book. So it’s only fitting that Buenos Aires can lay claim to one of the world’s most incredible book stores: The Ateneo Grand Splendid."
posted by Fizz (29 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Exhibit A in the "Why Kindle Ultimately Sucks" case.
posted by ReeMonster at 12:06 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Books. People never really stop loving books. Fifty-first century? By now you've got holovids, direct-to-brain downloads, fiction mist. But you need the smell.
posted by saturday_morning at 12:10 PM on March 28, 2011


Nice post! The Ateneo is about 5 blocks from where I live and I'll always pop in when I happen to walk past. People who are here for a holiday might have heard of it but will rarely seek it out, so I also enjoy taking visitors in there without telling them what's inside - the outside is very ordinary-looking. What the blog (which I've been following for a while - it's one of the best Buenos Aires as tourist blogs I've come across) doesn't mention is that the stage area has been converted into a cafe and still has all the old fittings (fuse boxes, curtains etc).

There is a big sign hanging up claiming "12,000,000 visitors" since the bookstore opened in 2000. In my mind I always add "and a couple of them actually bought a book!". It must be said that books here (Buenos Aires in general) are eye-wateringly expensive. A good steak meal can be had for 60 pesos and a run-of-the-mill paperback in the Ateneo will cost you upwards of 80 (USD20).
posted by jontyjago at 12:11 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Exhibit A in the "Why Kindle Ultimately Sucks" case.

Bookstore of the Future
posted by Fizz at 12:13 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just reread the post - it does mention the cafe, whoops.
posted by jontyjago at 12:13 PM on March 28, 2011


Under the "duh" heading: Someone worked really, really F'in hard on the architecting and conversion. Seamless.
posted by jscott at 12:16 PM on March 28, 2011


We visited Buenos Aires last November and the Ateneo Grand Splendid was one of the 'must-visit' places on our trip. It's the sort of place that rewards an attention to detail. If you just want 'big, huge wow', you'll find the Ateneo Grand Splendid is actually not much bigger than your average huge strip mall American Barnes and Noble or Canadian Chapters store ... so, if you're just there to look at the books, you'll find it a bit underwhelming. But, look away from the books for a moment and look up at the ceiling frescoes, or run your hands against the old balcony railing, and you can enjoy the fact that it's not just a bookstore.

also, any Spanish speaking book lover , should spend an afternoon ambling through Avenida Corrientes.
posted by bl1nk at 12:23 PM on March 28, 2011


Exhibit A in the "Why Kindle Ultimately Sucks" case.

Exhibit A in the "Why Kindle Ultimately Rocks" is that there is a single bookstore like that, and for most people reading this, it would require in excess of a thousand dollars for travel to go buy books there.

But you need the smell.

This fetishism fascinates me. Will we still need the smell? Is the smell worth an hour drive and a 40% price increase?

Fascinating place though.
posted by zabuni at 12:23 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Thanne longen folk to goon pilgrimages..." These photos inspire old-geek wanderlust.

I'd also book a trip in a second just for this, the 100-year-old Lallo Bookstore in Porto, Portugal:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/magic_fly/323197309/in/faves-msjanehudson/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/magic_fly/323197308/in/faves-msjanehudson/

http://www.flickr.com/photos/magic_fly/90181089/in/set-72157594168660075/

Still at home? Look at these temptations:


http://www.miragebookmark.ch/most-interesting-bookstores.htm
posted by AudreyGray at 12:23 PM on March 28, 2011


I've visited the Ateneo Grand Splendid as a tourist and can attest to its grandeur. The linked blog post is right in that the selection is not overwhelming -- it's comparable in size, I think, to a modest suburban Barnes and Noble. I see it instead as a symbol for the love and pride that I imagine porteños have for their literary culture, though this could just be me projecting my preferences on a city that I've romanticized but can hardly claim to know. Meanwhile, Buenos Aires has plenty of the narrow, cramped, and overflowing book shops that really do make readers delirious.
posted by cobra libre at 12:24 PM on March 28, 2011


Up in the U.S., we take grand old movie palaces, gut them, raze them, and turn them into stores.

Down in Argentina, they take grand old movie palaces, leave them mostly intact, and turn them into stores.

I like the Argentine way better.
posted by ardgedee at 12:38 PM on March 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


Not nearly as grand, and no longer open, the art-deco Alabama Theater in Houston lived for a time as a Bookstop. It's closed now, sadly.
posted by adamrice at 12:39 PM on March 28, 2011


The Lello bookstore in Porto gives the Ateneo some competition.
posted by dhruva at 12:40 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


When I am ridiculously rich, my home library will look like this.
posted by L'Estrange Fruit at 12:43 PM on March 28, 2011


This fetishism fascinates me. Will we still need the smell? Is the smell worth an hour drive and a 40% price increase?
Yes.

Oh, if you're pragmatic about it you don't even need different typography or a cover design, you can get your book in .txt, but if you want to elevate books to something other than a simple commodity a corporeal appearance really helps.

Also, yeah, it's kinda nice to go out and visit a bookstore, wander around and find something interesting you weren't looking for. Not all of us want to be incorporeal digital shut-ins, ordering everything online.
posted by Omon Ra at 12:46 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Argentinians are a famously literary people. In coffee shops, parks, on the bus and even while walking down city streets, their heads are often buried in a book."
Yeah, not so much. I lived in Argentina for three and a half years and I never saw that once. It's a characteristic of all latin america that people just don't read that much, compared with europe or even with Spain. But El Ateneo is a lovely space.
posted by conifer at 12:58 PM on March 28, 2011


Don't forget Boekhandel Selexyz Dominicanen in Maastricht. Previously ... More here
posted by MrMerlot at 1:10 PM on March 28, 2011


It's how I've always imagined heaven...
posted by chatongriffes at 1:29 PM on March 28, 2011


>> Argentinians are a famously literary people. In coffee shops, parks, on the bus and even while walking down city streets, their heads are often buried in a book.

> Yeah, not so much. I lived in Argentina for three and a half years and I never saw that once. It's a characteristic of all latin america that people just don't read that much, compared with europe or even with Spain.


Pfft, come on, the original quote is a bit heavy on the hyperbole, but i rode the subway every day and in every cart there were at least 2 or 3 people reading books, a lot more in the morning rush hours (not so much in the afternoon rush; tiredness, i guess).

It's common to see people reading in parks and cafés too, so maybe you need to hang out with different people or spend less time in the shittier neighbourhoods...

Also, pretty much all of my friend's families had huge bookshelves (most of my family too). </anecdotic-evidence>

They're slowly killing the middle class, so i wouldn't be surprised to learn people are reading less and less, though...
posted by palbo at 1:36 PM on March 28, 2011


My last library director, a huge techie, actually hated books. I got into an unnecessarily heated argument with him one night (proved later on to be my undoing...) about how I loved books more than computers.

It started off being just an offhand comment I made but he picked up on it and wouldn't let it go. That's when it got to be quite awkward as I could see other staffers ears started perking up ("library fight! library fight!)

As usual in such cases, I restated my point of view numerous times regarding the feel and smell of books, the fun of browsing the shelves, opening a new book and all but he kept coming back to the the point that books were irrelevant to the future. I could feel my Irish temper getting hot and I did need the job so in the end I just commented that we would "have to agree to disagree" but at least I didn't give in.

That was the beginning of the end of my job there. A few months later he started harassing me to death with memo's to the administration about small, picky things about my work he didn't like, etc. so I quit as I was getting sick to my stomach going in every day. I still love books and hate that little creep.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 1:37 PM on March 28, 2011 [3 favorites]


ardgedee, this is a very unusual case, sorry to ruin your mood. Most of the old theaters, movie palaces and similar buildings that haven't been turned into cookie cutter movie theaters (I've even found the same upholstery that I've seen in Sydney and Sweden, I kid you not) have been turned into bingo/casinos, or evangelic "temples".

And to add to the "typical color" debunking, these days things are more in the vein described up there by conifer. It's quite generational, too, most of the people you can find reading on the bus, cafes or even in a park tend to be the older adults. It's very rare to find under-30's that read for pleasure anymore, and even with people of my age bracket it's far from common. And yes, as palbo remarks and I agree with, there's a strong class component at work too. Not only the middle classes are getting slowly squished, but it's actually quite a point of pride for many in the humbler classes to NOT read books (disregard that their price, as already mentioned above too, makes books an impossible luxury for any of those families), this is again more noticeable among younger people.
posted by Iosephus at 1:42 PM on March 28, 2011


I have a Kindle, which I love. Sometimes I buy books for Kindle, sometimes I buy books for my bookshelf. Sometimes I loan books from the library. I love going to libraries and bookstores. I love how Borges (to me the quintessential Argentine) describes libraries and books. I wanto to go to Buenos Aires for this very reason.

But there's no need to turn this into an argument for or against e-books. Let's just enjoy the gratuitous splendor (and let's be honest, it is gratuitous; doesn't make it any less fun).

The Kindle for me is not an either/or proposition. It's just another vehicle to deliver words to my brain. I love words! I'm not too picky about how they come, just as long as I can get at them. Occasionally I will love some words so much that I want them housed, if you will, in a discreet and crafted state, because I will use those words over and over again. I will study them, recite them, dog-ear their pages and write in their margins in an uneven, hasty hand.

Sometimes, I even have a kindle and "real world" version of the same book, just because I love that book so much and want to have access to it anytime. eReaders are not for people who hate real books, they are for people who love words. Those people may also love real books, and they may even love magnificent book palaces like The Ateneo.
posted by jnrussell at 1:44 PM on March 28, 2011 [6 favorites]


Am I the only one that feels sad that this beautiful theatre is not a theatre any more?
posted by Steakfrites at 2:23 PM on March 28, 2011


Am I the only one that feels sad that this beautiful theatre is not a theatre any more?

Wait a minute. People still GO to the movie theatre, you mean PHYSICALLY! You don't download it or stream it or watch it cut up into 12 parts on youtube? Wow.
posted by Fizz at 2:31 PM on March 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


Beautiful.
posted by tumid dahlia at 2:51 PM on March 28, 2011


Damn, and I thought the whole city block full of Powell's was awesome.
posted by egypturnash at 4:00 PM on March 28, 2011


Great, due to this and AudreyGray's link I'm overexcited now. I may see sexy-bookstore dreams tonight.
posted by ersatz at 4:41 PM on March 28, 2011


Amazon is my bookstore now. I don't go to my local stores much anymore. There is one unexpected perk to online purchasing, though: The delicious, tingling feeling of knowing there are books in the mail somewhere. I'm enjoying that feeling right now, actually.
posted by Harald74 at 12:32 AM on March 29, 2011


Because of this post, my friend is going to pay homage while he's in Buenos Aires. Thanks for letting us know about it!
posted by chatongriffes at 3:30 PM on March 31, 2011


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