With a population of 2.8 million, Buenos Aires has 734 bookstores, an average of 25 for every 100,000 inhabitants. This is a staggering number – if compared with London, for example – with just 10 bookstores for every 100,000 people, as The Guardian reports. In the linked article, Uki Goñi argues that the exemption of books from standard sales tax in Argentina is partly responsible for the industry boom.
The Argentinian book market has experienced a steady increase in published titles over recent decades, from 16,092 titles published in 2004 to 28,010 in 2014. The holdings of Argentinian imprints at Cambridge University Library reflects this upwards tendency, with a steady increase of titles purchased in the last three decades. The Library holds 641 titles published between 1984 and 1994; 1,141 titles published from 1995 to 2004; and 1,767 titles for the period of 2005-2014.
By contrast, there is little market for electronic books in the country, import restrictions being one of the contributing factors. According to the 2014 report of the Cámara Argentina del Libro, only 18% of the annual book production is in electronic format, as opposed to 81% in print and 1% in parts, a tendency that is expected to continue for the time being. The Library provides access to a modest 600 Argentinian e-books through its Digitalia platform.
Goni’s article mentions how rare and second-hand bookshops are also prospering in Buenos Aires. There are 102 such shops in the city, compared to 68 in London. The Library has a rich collection of Argentinian rare books.
For a librarian, buying printed books from Argentina can be a real treat, as the range of publications available is often quite thrilling in its quality and variety. It is also hard work sometimes, selecting appropriate books in the knowledge that many of those not purchased would equally deserve to be on Cambridge shelves. We work together with a vendor from Buenos Aires, García Cambeiro, who often helps us get hold of rare and new publications with very short print runs. Below, we will talk briefly about some books we have selected, to give an idea of the extent and diversity of subject coverage amongst the Library’s Argentinian acquisitions during the last 10 years.
The book Arte de contradicciones: Pop, realismos y política. Brasil-Argentina 1960 (2014.10.1535) is an exhibition catalogue which brings together 150 works by 59 artists from a time of deep social, political and cultural change in both countries. It shows how artists reacted to and engaged in these changes, making artistic production a means of social criticism.
If books are clearly a passion in Argentina, film is too – and of course, tango another. Tango y cine nacional: una fusión de origen (2008.7.2014) brings the three together. This a very interesting small book with essays on the communion between film and tango throughout the history of Argentine cinema, written by historians, researchers and film critics. Also, it is published by Ciudad Gótica, an independent small publisher from Rosario, showing that we do manage to acquire books from outside the main Buenos Aires-centred publishing market.
Another remarkable book by an independent publisher (Eloisa Cartonera) is El ciclista serial (S950.c.201.484) by Marcelo Guerrieri, winner of the “Nuevo Sudaca Border” award. Cartoneros books are made with hand-painted cardboard covers and are a very interesting Latin American publishing phenomenon. If you wish to know more about it, please see our blogpost on them.
But going back to Argentine passions, let us not forget football. Sporting literature is becoming increasingly relevant and much is written about soccer. The Library holds several nonfiction books featuring football in the foreground. A good example is Fútbol y sociedad: prácticas locales e imaginarios globales (C208.c.4419) which discusses the wide range of social implications football has within Argentine, Mexican and Brazilian life.
The Library also holds 11 volumes of the monumental work Historia crítica de la literatura argentina (743:14.c.95.286-296), a project directed by the celebrated literary critic Noé Jitrik. It includes works by two hundred critics and academics, led by Jitrik’s particular conceptual framework: the content had to be distinctively stylistic and poetic. The last and 12th volume of this work is currently on order.
The bicentenary of Argentina’s first step towards independence from Spain (la Revolución de Mayo, in 1810) inspired tens, if not hundreds, of publications. Congreso “Hacia el Bicentenario 2010-2016: memoria, identidad y reconciliación” (676:2.b.201.2) presents papers of a conference held in Buenos Aires in 2009 that gives a multidisciplinary look at the country’s past, present and future.
In the political arena, the “Kirchner couple” (Nestor Kirchner and, subsequently, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner) ruled over a 12-year era that has now come to an end (see our blogpost on the Latin American elections). While they were in power, there were many achievements, as well as conflicts and controversies, often strongly polarising Argentine society and providing much material to write about. Here are two titles with opposing views on the matter, both issued by the same large mainstream publisher, Sudamericana: Los Kirchner: la política de la desmesura (2003-2008) (676:2.c.200.359) by Joaquín Morales Sola, a journalist opposing the Kirchners from the right of the political spectrum; and La anomalía argentina: aventuras y desventuras del tiempo kirchnerista (C208.c.2227) by Ricardo Forster, a philosopher and advocate of the Kirchners’ policies.
Indios y ganado en la frontera (C209.c.5736) deals with the belief that 18th and 19th century Patagonian natives would violently steal cattle from the wealthy rural estates to sell them in neighbouring Chile. Highly documented, this book studies the true inter-ethnic relations of the time and the configuration of the border territories.
Another book dealing with Patagonia is Terra Australis: historia de la cartografía de Tierra del Fuego, Patagonia y Antártida (S696.b.201.90), a beautiful bilingual book on the history of cartography of the region with a great deal of colour plates depicting maps of Colonial times.
And finally, a book dealing with the economic, social and health risks of genetically modified soya farming in the region: Los señores de la soja: la agricultura transgénica en América Latina (221.c.201.157), published by the Latin American Council of Social Sciences.