Throughout the pandemic, technology has been saving our jobs and our sanity, but in Barcelona the blockades have led to the resurgence of one of humanity’s simplest and most enduring inventions: the book.
The city’s booksellers report a sales boom and, against all odds, new bookstores have opened.
The latest of the new crop of tents is the Byron bookstore, launched by the small academic publishing house Huygens, which opened in November in the Sant Antoni area of the city.
“We had been planning this for three years and were scheduled to open in April, but that obviously wasn’t possible,” said Mariana Sarrias, co-owner of the store. “After nine months of uncertainty and with all that, as a small business, we had invested, it was very worrying,” he said, adding that they chose the name Byron “because it was romantic and also quite transgressive.”
“The day we finally opened in November there was a queue of people waiting to get in. There was no room for everyone. It was really moving. Since then people come every day. I don’t know if it’s out of solidarity or because the bookstore is something neighborhood [suburb] was missing “.
“The pandemic has made people aware of the need to support the local bookstore,” said Maria Carme Ferrer, president of the Catalan booksellers’ association. “Bookstores are local cultural centers.”
Sarrias says that as publishers they had already noticed an increase in orders during the lockdown.
“Maybe people ran out of things to watch on Netflix,” she said, or maybe, forced to isolate themselves, people realized that books are good company.
And yet it was only recently that the book business seemed doomed. In 2013, the Catalan bookstore, a magnet for the city’s readers since 1924, was forced to close and was replaced by a McDonald’s.
That same year Canuda, the labyrinthine second-hand bookstore that inspired the “cemetery of forgotten books” in Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s bestseller The wind’s shadow, also went bankrupt. It is now a branch of the Mango fashion chain.
Perhaps this sudden resurgence is to be expected in a city that is the capital of the Spanish publishing trade and where the Catalans’ love for books is celebrated every year on April 23, the patron’s birthday, Sant Jordi (Saint George), and coincidentally Shakespeare’s birthday. On this day people exchange gifts of books and roses and the streets fill with makeshift book stalls.
The pandemic meant that Sant Jordi was effectively canceled this year and is likely to be a small-scale affair in 2021, according to Lluís Morral, manager of Laie, perhaps the most beloved bookstore in the city.
Morral says that sales have definitely increased during the lockdown, especially among classics rather than recent best sellers.
“Many people have returned to reading and are not looking for the latest publication, but they are catching up on the books that they thought to read a few years ago,” he said.
“Many people buy books about Sant Jordi but they don’t read them. Now they realize they have all these books at home and have started reading them. “
He agrees with Sarrias that isolation has led people to discover, or remember, that books are very friendly.
“I can’t speak for everyone, but among my acquaintances, many people reached the saturation point by watching television series,” said Morral.
Both Laie and Byron are bookstore-cafeterias with quiet spaces for reading, a much-needed refuge in what is officially Europe’s noisiest city.
Two other new points of sale, Ona, which sells books only in Catalan, and Finestres, which will open in spring, have also been set up as meeting, reading and book buying places.
Both have been funded by local philanthropists, and while he wishes them well, Morral knows that like all bookstores, these little fish relatives will have a battle on their hands to compete with Amazon.
“What [independent bookshops] you can offer is personal service and an understanding of what book you have bought and what you might also enjoy, rather than having an algorithm telling you what to read next, ”he said.
Digsmak is a news publisher with over 12 years of reporting experiance; and have published in many industry leading publications and news sites.