By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – While Rio de Janeiro has a rich literary tradition, with figures such as Clarice Lispector, Nelson Rodrigues, and Carlos Drummond de Andrade immortalized in bronze throughout ‘Zona Sul’ (South Zone), there is a surprising paucity of bookstores and libraries which stock English titles among their collection.
However, with a little know-how, those searching for that perfect beach read can find themselves richly rewarded.
For those looking for a new book at a user-friendly bookstore complete with chic cafe, there is no better place than the Livraria da Travessa chain of bookstores dotted throughout Ipanema, Leblon, Botafogo and the city’s historic center.
While Livraria da Travessa’s English section may be somewhat limited, it is surprisingly well-curated. Customers can find contemporary fiction, titles about both Rio and Brazil, and a selection of Wordsworth Classics from as little as R$14. They also have a reasonable amount of English titles in stock that can be ordered in store for a small fee.
Saraiva, one of the largest bookstore chains in Brazil, rarely holds any English titles in its Rio shops, located in Copacabana and Botafogo; however, they too hold a surprising amount of English-language titles on their website, which are available for delivery in-store or to an address.
SBS Livraria is another chain of bookstores with locations in Copacabana, Tijuca and Centro. While again their physical locations may not hold many English titles in stock, they have a wealth of books available online that can also be ordered in to one of their locations or to an address.
Located in Barra da Tijuca, Jamer Books and Things specialize in importing books from both the UK and the US. Not only do they have thousands of titles in stock, they can also get hold of virtually any English-language book at a reasonable cost.
“It can be tough to find a particular book that you’re looking for in Rio, but my advice would be to always keep your eyes open when walking around pop-up book fairs and street markets, as you never know what you might see.” comments Talita Soares, library science student.
She continues, “Just recently I walked past a homeless guy who was selling a couple of books, including Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut. It was a book I’d been wanting to read for ages, and there it was, in good condition, for around R$5.”
For second-hand books in English, there are a few wonderful bookstores located around Rio. Livraria Berinjela, opposite the excellent but unfortunately Portuguese-only Livraria Leonardo da Vinci, stocks a small selection of second-hand book titles in English.
The staff are friendly and the experience of browsing the shelves in a basement hidden away from the busy streets of Rio’s city center is almost worth the experience alone.
Baratos da Ribeiro in Botafogo is a bookstore and record shop specializing in counter-cultural and alternative titles. They also have a small selection of books in English.
As with Livraria Berinjela, this is an offbeat experience coupled with an interesting selection that makes the trip alone worthwhile. Finally, there is Livraria da Fabrica, located in Santo Cristo’s factory-turned-art-complex Fábrica Bhering.
“Livraria da Fabrica is a good place to buy books in English.” comments Felipe Varella, owner of Livraria da Fabrica. “We have titles in fiction, theater, architecture, engineering, design, fashion, communication, anthropology, sociology, tarot and other esoteric fields of interest.”
For longer term residents, there is the option of joining the IBEU – ‘Instituto Brasil-Estados Unidos’ (Brazilian-American Institute) library. R$45 per semester gives access to one of the best and largest libraries of English materials in Rio de Janeiro.
They currently stock around 20,000 items, including books, audiobooks, dictionaries, DVDs, newspapers and magazines, with new titles arriving regularly, keeping the collection up to date.
“We do have a book exchange and people can come and borrow a book here, but they just have to leave a R$10 deposit that we refund once the book is returned. We get a lot of people donating books in both English and Portuguese so that people can practice both languages,” comments Bel Seixas from Caminhos Language Centre.