Ainara Mantellini: Reading is never the same because books are endless
Are people in Miami readers? Tell us about your experience with the Reading Group
In Miami, there are lots of readers, and based on my experience, I can say people read many books at the same time, and they do it in different languages. This is a profile in Miami that few can see but exists. I have seen it for myself.
How did you create the Reading Group?
I came to Miami 15 years ago, without relatives, it was just me, myself and I. With a degree in Literature, I had read my entire life. I had taken part in forums about books in Caracas with friends and colleagues. After reading my first book in this city, I wondered “What should I do do with this?” “How could I share it? Then, I found a reading club near where I lived. I joined it, but the experience was not entirely satisfactory. Then, I found an English poetry club, but it disappeared some time later. Finally, in the bookstore Books and Books, I joined in this Reading Group with Toni Prado as moderator. He had to leave at some point, but he encouraged us to keep reading and organize by ourselves, and as time went by, I volunteered to coordinate and moderate readings.
How long have you been coordinating this group?
It’s been eight years since then. With a group of 180 readers, we created a Facebook Page (Grupo de lectura en español Books & Books de Coral Gable) There, we share information to engage other readers interested in participating. The group also grew because we offer other useful courses and other alternatives. Four years ago, We began a course with Luis Islas, entitled “The job of a reader” that was a great success, with a high level of interest and participation. Since then, Luis visits us every year to enhance readers’ experience. The bookstore also has English and French reading groups. It is crowded those days.
I mean, it is not true that there are not readers in Miami, both Spanish and English readers. Here, people read a lot about philosophy, classics in English or Spanish. They read about 5 or 6 books in a month.
Do you think Miami is stigmatized, like a stereotype of an outer city where there is no place for reading or the inner world?
Cities grow in that way. When you think of Barcelona, you think of art and architecture. Sadly, Miami reinforced other superficial labels that don’t represent its reality. There is a great diversity; we have everything for everyone. The event you want in the area you want. All events are always crowded.
Can Miami be a sort of Macondo with air conditioning?
Hehehe, they have at least one thing in common, the rainy season lasts months. Miami has no limits, Broward, Aventura and the South are lies. People keep moving although it takes half an hour or more. You keep going from one limit to other, between counties and cities. The greatest example is Coral Gables, an autonomous city inside another city. There is permeability everywhere, and sometimes it is unmanageable. You find excellent events but far away from each other.
The city is big and hosts people with diverse languages and cultures, Jewish, Latin, French, Spanish, Brazilian, Argentine, Cuban, Haitian and then the culture of diversity. There is an enormous wealth in a city where the only limit is the sea.
In your experience with the Reading Group, have you ever worked with chronicles and essays or only novels?
We have worked a few chronicles, but mostly novels. We have also read poetry, although the group tends to prefer fiction in Spanish, Both Hispano-American or translations of the Universal classics or Portuguese and Brazilian texts. A lot of people come to read Latin American classic novels.
If we read “La Ciudad y Los Perros”, the bookstore is full despite it being an old book. We have about 20 to 22 readers at every meeting.
Do you think that need for reading novels is related to our lack of identity?
I think you are right. There is a need for the recognition of our history in this diversity of nationalities. If a book is about a moment of the Cuban Revolution, for sure, I will have a big number of Cuban readers, who not only want to remember their grief, but the others to listen to their story so that they can identify and comment. Maybe, this is not about seeking an identity, but about showing my own and who I am.
What writers have you read or worked with during these eight years?
There is a tendency that takes us to work with the biggest writers of our Latin American history: Borges, Vargas Llosa, Cortazar, among others. We also read “Doña Bárbara”, because the idea is not to lose the roots of our literature. Furthermore, on request of the group, we read a Universal classic every year. For example, the year Ray Bradbury passed, we read Fahrenheit. Of the rest, we discuss recently awarded writers, such as Alberto Barrera with “Patria o Muerte”. Although this is an entirely Venezuelan Story, by winning the Tusquets Novel Award, there is something to look at that goes beyond nationalities.
What about the availability of books written in Spanish in Miami?
It is limited. I think that publishers should step it up, because what people want to read is not distributed here. Publishers such as Planeta or Random House pay less attention to literature than to other best-seller books. Distribution has to be improved. We as readers try to find new ways, on demand, prepaying, bookstores give discounts up to 20%, but we need an increase in the distribution of great titles.
Might it be that the publishers don’t realize that people in Miami are readers?
They don’t know that people in Miami read, and read a lot.
Do people prefer reading on paper or on a digital format?
People read a lot of digital content, emails, book reviews, general information, news, magazines, articles, but when it comes to a book, they prefer to touch and to write on it. In the group, most readers prefer paper. I don’t think of it as a generational gap, but a sentimental reason. A lot of people say “I read it in a digital version; now I will buy it”. It’s a matter of treasuring.
What do you do when a book is really good, but there’s just a few pages are left?
Hehehe, I try to read it more slowly.
Does rereading a book allow you to meet your own self?
When you read a book for second o third time after many years, and read your notes once more, you can find that reader you used to be, but now you are different because that reader lived many experiences and read many other books. Reading is never the same because books are endless.
Reading Group at Books & Books in Coral Gables
Third Tuesday of the month
Tips for a reader in Miami
- This city has different connections for readers. The first thing to do is to visit the network of libraries in your county. In general, they are very comprehensive, with a wide catalogue of books in Spanish. There are groups that meet in the libraries to read and discuss about different topics. They usually are very kind to newcomers. They can find virtually any book, and even borrow them from other libraries to lend them to their readers. Also, they offer a delivery service for seniors.
- Furthermore, there are independent bookstores, not so many, but among them we have: Barnes & Nobles, Books & Books and now the Altamira Libros that have a wide catalogue of books in Spanish very well curated. Also you can find newspapers in Spanish such as: Diario Las Americas and El Nuevo Herald, that share information about literary events and activities in Miami.
- Subscribe to the Miami International Book Fair on its website. You will receive email information about events in Spanish. This fair is a must-visit every year. It has grown to the point that it is not only in November, but there are activities all over the year in different languages.