Magazine article World Literature Today

Ler Devagar

Magazine article World Literature Today

Ler Devagar

Article excerpt

Lisbon is a city with no shortage of literary monuments. Look at downtown Chiado, where Livraria Bertrand continues its 285-year-old bookselling business uninterrupted, a meek world record. Along this same street, fanned out in a subtle triangle, Portugal's greatest poets are frozen midjest or midparagraph in larger-than-life bronzes-Fernando Pessoa's figure now permanently occupying his usual table outside Café A Brasileira, where the city's writers once congregated to smoke and write and take their coffee. It is almost (almost) as though time has not passed at all. But the writers no longer take their coffee there.

Standing out amid all these pieces of history is Ler Devagar, a nascent palace of book culture more interested in restoration than preservation. After a brief stint in Lisbon proper, the bookstore relocated to the city's fringe, opting to take up residence in the ex-industrial premises of Alcantara's rapidly revitalized LX Factory (pronounced "el sheesh"). Now a hub of precocious restaurants, boutiques, art, and design, the area seems a perfect fit for Ler Devagar's own ethos: not a site of Lisbon's literary history but a sign of its literary future.

"Read slowly" That's the literal translation of this three-story bibliophile's dream and the persistent invitation of the shop's open space. The optics are, in a word, stunning. Books line the aisles on the first floor and climb up every spare inch of wall on all three. To one side a massive outmoded printing press sits like a column, providing a tucked-away space for a coffee and wine bar (one of two in the store, with a cake shop to boot) and an anchor-point for the signature airborne sculptures strung across the shop: fanciful cyclist silhouettes lending an air of magic to the catwalks and stacked platforms. This is a place you can explore for hours on end even before you get to the books, an inexhaustible collection of new and secondhand titles with their own worlds to offer in a number of tongues. …

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