RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Some of the busiest streets in Buenos Aires, Argentina were recently closed to traffic, but for a party. The city hosts the biggest book fair in the Spanish-speaking world every April, and when summer comes to the Southern Hemisphere, as it does in December, Buenos Aires blocks off some of its biggest thoroughfares for a special evening devoted to the city's many book lovers. Brian Byrnes has this story from a big bash in honor of books.
BRIAN BYRNES: At almost any hour, on any given day, this is what it sounds like on Corrientes Avenue, the bustling thoroughfare known as the Broadway of Buenos Aires.
(Soundbite of traffic)
BYRNES: But once a year, in mid-December, all that changes - for six glorious hours, at least - when seven blocks of the avenue are closed to traffic and adults and kids alike are encouraged to sit, stroll and most importantly, read.
(Soundbite of crowd chatter)
BYRNES: This is the Noche de Librerias, Bookstore Night, a chance for Buenos Aires' many bibliophiles to peruse the millions of titles in stock at the dozens of bookstores that sit under the neon glow on raucous Corrientes Avenue.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. PAULEY BALASTRINI(ph) (Actress): (Spanish spoken)
BYRNES: Normally, sofas are set up on the asphalt and open air readings take place. Rain put a damper on that this year, but that didn't stop actress Pauley Balastrini from reciting poetry under an awning.
(Soundbite of music)
Ms. BALASTRINI: (Through Translator) Often, people don't speak, simply because they don't have the vocabulary. But if we read poems to people, their lives become enriched by it.
BYRNES: Buenos Aires is the undisputed literary capital of South America, home to legends like Jorge Luis Borges and Julio Cortazar. The city has 350 bookstores. That's one for every 6,000 residents. In October, Argentina will be the country of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair, the world's largest. City Culture Minister Hernan Lombardi stresses the importance literature has had here since military rule ended.
Mr. HERNAN LOMBARDI (City Culture Minister, Buenos Aires): From 1993, that is the beginning of the new age of democracy in Argentina, we are looking in order to have more culture, more education, more education to the people for enhanced democracy.
BYRNES: There was a political element to Saturday's gathering. The newly appointed Buenos Aires Education Minister Abel Posse recently made comments that many interpreted as a defense of the past dictatorship. Workers from several bookstores were handing out pamphlets calling for Posse's removal.
Mr. MATEO GOYMAN(ph) (Manager, Gandhi Bookstore): (Spanish spoken)
BYRNES: Mateo Goyman is manager of the Gandhi Bookstore on Corrientes. He says that Posse's comments go against culture, education and democracy.
Mr. GOYMAN: (Spanish spoken)
BYRNES: Upstairs at the Gandhi, Octavio Coolez(ph) was giving a talk called "The Future of Books is Now." The 33-year-old runs an e-book company in Buenos Aires.
Mr. OCTAVIO COOLEZ (E-book Company Owner): My colleagues in the publishing industry here think this is just another crisis. But it's not another crisis. It is probably the last crisis because books, traditional books will have to share their place with new digital content.
BYRNES: Twenty-year-old Arianna Duarte Mel(ph) isn't convinced. She devours paperbacks by British author Terry Pratchett.
Do you know what a Kindle is, an Amazon Kindle?
Ms. ARIANNA DUARTE MEL: What? I couldn't understand you.
BYRNES: An Amazon Kindle?
Ms. MEL: No, I don't know.
BYRNES: It's the new machine that you can read a book on. It's like a little computer in your hand.
Ms. MEL: No, I've never seen one. I don't think we like it, because I love to reading sheets and the light of the computer's so hard on your eyes. So I'm not very sure it is a very good idea.
BYRNES: For now it seems that books, thick or thin, on musty pulp or glossy sheets, high-brow literature or low-brow comics, are all appreciated on the streets of the Argentine capital.
For NPR News, I'm Brian Byrnes in Buenos Aires.
(Soundbite of music)
MONTAGNE: This is NPR News.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.