I have an addiction. I arrive in a new city and plan to see the sights, but when I stumble across a bookshop en route, I can’t help but pop in “for five minutes”. Several hours later, I leave with my purse much lighter and my backpack significantly heavier. Yet, despite my lack of Spanish, this has not stopped me in Mexico – “Tiene novelas en Ingles?” And through my illness, I have discovered the best Mexico City bookstores (for books in English, that is!)…
El Pendulo, multiple branches in Mexico City
Cafebreria El Pendulo is literally what I imagine heaven to be like: a bookshop/café, with occasional live music, titles available in English, excellent coffee and strong WiFi. My favourite branch is in Condesa, though the one in Polanco is also amazing.
From bestsellers, to biographies, to poetry, to science fiction, basically El Pendulo is one of the most popular Mexico City bookstores and one of the best cafes too for a reason. It’s paradise!
Under the Volcano, Condesa
If you’re like me and you like your bookstores a little less mainstream, then Under the Volcano is your Mecca. Brimming with used and secondhand tombs by alternative as well as bestselling authors, this libreria takes its name from the novel of the same name by English writer Malcolm Lowry, set in a small Mexican town on the Day of the Dead.
Under the Volcano (the bookstore) is small, but quality won out over quantity here, as I wanted to buy just about everything in this little shop.
In fact, I reserved a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (I ironically lost my copy on the road in California) and was eyeing up their selection of Joan Didion titles too. I planned to return the next day with cash, as they don’t take card, but unfortunately a pesky earthquake got in the way.
Under the Volcano is back up and running now though, and can be found in the Condesa area, here. They’re also looking for book donations. That is, if you’re the antithesis of me and can bear to let go of a good book.
Libreria Rosario Castellanos, Condesa
I was skeptical about Libreria Rosario Castellanos. Yeah, there are books, but it’s like it’s trying to be too many things: art exhibition space, crèche, bookstore, video store, café… and the feeling inside is definitely more HMV than “curl up with a good book and steaming coffee in a comfy chair”.
However, as much as I resent anywhere that sells a Nicholas Cage DVD boxset in the same place as the sacred pages of an actual libro worth reading, I was pleasantly surprised by their collection of English reads. They definitely cater more to the pop-fiction and young adult crowd, but there were a few interesting poetry anthologies, a wide selection of classics and tempting novels by authors such as Kurt Vonnegut, which I was loathe to put back on the shelf.
You can find the address here. It’s a big white building with a fancy curved entrance. You can’t miss it.
American Bookstore, Centro
I hate this place. American Bookstore is everything wrong with the world today, but I can’t deny that this is one of the few Mexico City bookstores that does indeed have English titles on its (poorly stocked) shelves. Lonely Planet once again deceived me when it said that this was one of the best Mexico City bookstores, simply because it stocks Lonely Planet guides.
Shame on you, LP. Shame.
1) The books are wrapped in cling film so you can’t open them. 2) There is literally nothing American about this place. It mostly specialises in English-Spanish dictionaries. The staff don’t even speak English. I don’t get it. 3) Your choice is limited to pop-drivel like 50 Shades, Twilight and that Fault in our Stars shite that seems to be everywhere at the moment.
If you’re lucky, you might even find a copy of the Da Vinci Code.
If you read that last paragraph and thought, “What is Amy talking about? I love those books!” then this is the Mexico City bookstore for you, the address is here and also, we’re not friends any more.
La Calle de Donceles (Book Street), Centro
However, just as I was sighing and giving up hope of finding English books in Mexico City’s Centro Historico after the disaster that was the American Bookstore, I happened upon La Calle de Donceles, also known (at least by me) as Book Street.
Note: similar to how shopping works in Hong Kong and other places in Asia, all shops that sell the same thing seem to be on the same street. This is kind of pointless for staff in these stores, considering the competition, but also incredibly convenient for those doing the purchasing.
I popped my nose into one particular bookish hole in the wall and tentatively asked, “Tiene novelas en Ingles?” expecting the answer to be “No!”, but it was “Si!” and I ended up walking out with a copy of Brave New World, which has been on my to-read list for years!
Believing this to be an utter fluke (the store was playing and singing along badly to the best hits of The Beatles, so I thought perhaps they were just anglophiles), I tried the next store. Si! And the next. Si! And the next. Si!
Despite appearances, all these backstreet Mexico City bookstores had English titles, with a lot of diversity in choice and super-cheap prices. Plus, most of these bookshops are incredibly satisfying to walk around (see pictures), though I’ve no idea how anyone knows where anything is.
Be aware that these establishments will ask you to leave your backpack at the desk while you browse. Also, either by happy coincidence or perhaps employed as sentinels, all these book stores have cats.
The best Mexico City bookstores for English titles… or have I missed one out?
Am I the only one who gets sucked in by that crumply paper smell and the promise of a good story? Do you have a good book recommendation (especially one about Mexico or written by a Mexican author)? Have I missed any excellent Mexico City bookstores that you believe should have a place on this list?
Then leave a comment below and also pin this for later because you never know when you might need to know the best Mexico City bookstores for English books…