Four Cosy Bookshops in Bogotá
By Camilo and Valentina Ucrós
Bogotá is a center for cultural and intellectual discourse, and in the 19th century was dubbed the Athens of South America. Nevertheless, the parallels between the cities are far-fetched. Bogotá is unlike anywhere else: it’s a hectic city of high-speed traffic in all senses. With so many ideas whizzing about, there are a few sanctuaries hidden in between the skyscrapers where one can take refuge in a cup of coffee and a book, where the sounds of the city become echoes of a parallel world.
With the traditional brick façade typical of Bogotá’s architecture, Casa Tomada blends into its surroundings in a quiet residential neighborhood in the midst of the thriving Chapinero area. Once through the doors, a mural and a patio with chairs surrounded by high walls gives the bookshop a private and peaceful vibe, a feeling that grows once inside the house. Not only does it have a large and interesting selection of books, it attracts a very diverse crowd. The bookstore takes its name from a short story by Julio Cortázar, about a house that is a memory-filled vessel while its inhabitants go about their daily routine. While the spirits of ancestors inhabit Cortázar’s Casa Tomada, Bogotá's Casa Tomada has been taken over by the spirits of authors, books and readers engaged in a discussion of the present with the past.
Its fame overshadows its size with this little bookshop located in the commercial district Zona T. Its name is inspired by Alice in Wonderland, the story by Lewis Carroll that begins with Alice falling down a rabbit hole on a journey that takes her to unimagined places and characters. This particular burrow in Bogotá is overflowing with books, and chances are that you will find, if not the exact book, an array of manuscripts on the topic of your choice. At La Madriguera all information is stored in the mind of its bookseller who is the medium between books and readers, providing an intimate atmosphere in which one can unhurriedly browse and choose the next ideal read.
Valija de Fuego breaks with the stereotype of a traditional bookshop as a haven of introspective silence required for reflection. On the contrary, in Valija de Fuego the bookseller is punk as is his music. Instead of traditional catalogues, the books that are promoted seem like an amalgam of personal choices, with Marx sharing a shelf with Darth Vader. An example of this syncretism is the mural that reads “Books not Dead” depicting Poe, Burroughs, Bukowski and Rimbaud clad in leather jackets, standing in a challenging stance. Valija de Fuego also publishes books on subjects as wide-ranging as the selection in the shop, from the civil conflict in Colombia to children’s books.
When you first enter this tiny second-hand bookstore, the smell of paper and ink, of dust and leather, is overwhelming. The shop appears to be entirely made up of books, and the bookseller sits buried among them. Despite the seeming disorder, the bookseller has his mental map and knows where every book is hidden, waiting to be found or recommended. Older texts allow for a dialogue with the past: open a book and you might find a heartfelt dedication on the first page, go further and discover annotations in the margins, folded pages, or an old bookmark in the shape of a calendar from a forgotten year. These books have a life of their own, and so does San Librario.