New and Used Book Stores in Antigua Guatemala

Yolkobsens recently completed a survey of bookstores with gringo-appeal in Antigua Guatemala. The following provides a list of bookstores, their locations, some info on their shelf stock, general personality and like-ability.

With some exception, “las librerías” we scouted out carried used books, mostly paperback and mostly English versions.  Almost all of them have an over-representation of chick lit tomes (from Jennifer Weiner to Sophia Kinsella to Mary Higgins Clark and Kristin Hamel).  It seems that young traveling women trade these in with monotonous consistency and with an unquenchable thirst for more.  And pretty well all of the shops visited had a large selection of paperback crime novels, whose authors ranged from Elmore Leonard to John Grisham to James Ellroy.

The used paperbacks, which dominated the shelves in almost all of these outlets, had an average price of 40Q (about 50 cents US).

Here’s the Yolkobsens’ Antigua Guatemala Used Bookstore List and Review.

DYSLEXIA – 1a Avenida Sur #11

Dyslexia is hands down the best gringo bookstore in Antigua Guatemala.  Sure, it has a small section of chick lit oaters and good crime novel time-wasters. Also, there’s a smattering of books in German, Dutch and Spanish. But it’s centre table is the store star.   Here you will find books that the owner has bought in lots from reader/traders who have a broad range of interests.  No Shopaholic or murder and mayhem titles on this wonderful table.  Instead, there are Margaret Atwood, Richard Ford, John Updike, Norman Mailer and Michael Ondaatje nestled, among James Joyce, Herman Hesse, Emily Bronte and Jane Austin and Henry James.  As well, you will find larger hard cover books on history, sociology and an anthropology of Maya culture.   Best of all the owner truly loves books and if you are interested, will walk you through what’s on the literary table, running his hands over each volume, and telling you he wishes he had time to read them all.  As he totes up your bill, he handles each book like he’s letting a delicate bird out of a cage.  You can also return the books when you’re finished reading and then trade them in for half price.

NIM PO’ T – 5a Avenida Norte #29

Way at the back of this massive monster-size emporium of Guate chachkas, nick-nacks, curios and fabrics, sits a fairly substantial collection of used books for sale.  Along with the old-ish paperback bestsellers, chick lit (of course), crime and thriller novels, you will find a few classic offerings peppered in between. Mrs. Y couldn’t resist buying “Sister Carrie” by Theodore Dreiser for 32 Q (40 cents US) since I’ve been meaning to read it for years.  Also, for the non-fiction fans, there are modest selections re religion, self-help, travel guides, poetry and history.

RAINBOW CAFE AND BOOKSHOP – 7a Avenida Sur #8

The front of this cafe-bookstore combo is very appealing because it looks like an old fashioned bookshop with dozing-gently clerk at the counter.  All is quiet here and it’s a great atmosphere for browsing.  I’d say 80 percent of their stock is in the chick lit, murder, thriller, historical fiction niche.  There are a few books in Spanish and some new guidebooks along with what looks like some self-published work by various Spanish children’s writers and zine creators.  The Rainbow also has a regular lecture series, mainly about social issues facing Central America in general and Guatemala in particular.  If you spend 30 Q on books, they give you a free coffee or tea.  Cozy cafe to read in as well.

EL COFRE – 6a Calle Poniente #26

The El Cofre is a small restaurant specializing in crepe cuisine. It has about 200 books for sale.  Surprisingly, there is a relatively large selection of French, German, Danish, Norwegian and Dutch titles represented in the south wall book shelf.  The English books are the usual potboilers (as mentioned in the above reviews of other stores).  What’s odd about this place is some of the books have prices marked and others don’t.  When I asked the young woman who functions as book clerk/cook/waitress why this was so she explained that all the books are $3 US, but I inferred that you could negotiate the price down.  So if you have a real yen to re-read “The Mayor of Casterbridge,” for example, (and, of course, who doesn’t) it might take you a while to negotiate the price down to the competitive 50 cents that it would fetch just about everywhere else in the used book underworld of Antigua Guatemala.

LIBRRERIA METAFORA – 5a Avendida Norte #34

This is primarily a Spanish book shop with a two small shelves of used English crime, thriller and chick lit books.

LA CASA DEL CONDE – 5a Avenida Norte #4

Located on the west side of Parque Central, this bookstore has only new merchandise and they keep a pretty pricey inventory.  Their stock consists of mainly new English and Spanish fiction and non-fiction books, many of which are coffee table photo books of Guatemala.  It’s also one of the only places in town that has a reasonable selection of Spanish-English dictionaries, verb primers and general grammar books.  These kinds of language books are not to be found very often in the second hand books shops around town, alas.

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