It is usually unwise to make broad generalisations about general conditions based on nothing more than what you can see in front of your nose. Were I to do so I would certainly conclude that the city in which I spent a good part of last month, Alicante, is the most cultured in Spain and possibly that the Spanish are the most cultured and cosmopolitan people in Europe. And all because just a few minutes’ walk from my front door there happened to be a small bookshop, Pynchon&Co, whose stock bore all the hallmarks of having been carefully selected by a remarkably well-informed connoisseur of books and ideas (perhaps more than one) rather than by an algorithm.
In fact, with a little scouting around the internet I was able to discover that Alicante is not exactly, or is no longer, a booklovers’ paradise but rather a city (it has a population of 350,000) which in recent years has lost a number of important outlets. Last October, however, Manuel Asín Galiana and Telma Bonet went against the trend by opening a beautifully designed small-to-medium premises on the corner of Calle Poeta Quintana (No 37) and Segura, not far from the central Luceros square. Pynchon&Co, named after the American cult novelist, a favourite of Asín’s, and with an obvious nod to Paris’s famous Shakespeare and Company, is what you might call “a good book bookshop”.
You won’t find there a great many novels designed to pass the time (a category to which I have no great objection), nor a manual to improve your putting and short game; what you will find is Plato, Aristotle, Herodotus, Cicero, Virgil, Aquinas, Montaigne, Diderot, Kant, Schopenhauer, Marx, Benjamin, Adorno, Arendt and many more. In literature, there are sections of Spanish, including Catalan, fiction, Hispanoamerican, French, Slavic, German and Italian. And of course we are there too ‑ Banville, John; Barry, Sebastian; Barry, Kevin – comfortably tucked into the Anglosajones section. It is curious what you will find in a foreign bookshop that you might have difficulty finding in an Irish or English one: Tobias Smollett’s La Expedición de Humphrey Clinker, for example. Perhaps it is the huge cultural presence of Cervantes and Don Quixote that encourages interest in broadly similar works from different cultures. You will also note in Pynchon&Co, as you will in most French bookshops, that authors like Melville, Poe and Robert Louis Stevenson seem to be more honoured in “Latin” literary culture than at home.
Pynchon&Co is also making its premises available for launches and other cultural purposes, particularly in the realm of cinema. It aims to mount three cultural events each week. On the afternoon I visited the good-sized mezzanine space where it is likely these functions are to be held was empty and unattended but there were some glasses and decent-looking bottles of wine on a shelf – “just sitting there”, as we say in Ireland. Galiana and Bonet have said that they wished, in the selection of their initial stock, to put down a marker as to what kind of bookshop they wished to be. After that, in a sense their customers would select the stock.
Going against the commercial grain, and in an economy that seems harder hit than Ireland’s, the shop is (dread words) “a brave venture”. I hope to find it there and thriving on my next visit to Alicante. If you are there before me drop in and buy something (as I did, even though I need the dictionary to help me read it). And if you have any Spanish-language book needs perhaps Pynchon&Co can help you by post or email.