Steal this book: Roberto Bolano’s essay


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The author Roberto Bolaño has been having a renaissance since the publication his omnibus novel ‘2666’ in 2008. While that book was released by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, much of Bolaño’s other work is in the hands of New Directions Publishing, which has a knack for publishing excellent avant-garde fiction and works in translation.

In May, New Directions will publish ‘Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles and Speeches (1998–2003)’ by Bolaño. The latest issue of the New York Review of Books has a preview: an excerpt of one of those essays, about stealing books, is online now:


The books that I remember best are the ones I stole in Mexico City, between the ages of sixteen and nineteen, and the ones I bought in Chile when I was twenty, during the first few months of the coup. In Mexico there was an incredible bookstore. It was called the Glass Bookstore and it was on the Alameda. Its walls, even the ceiling, were glass. Glass and iron beams. From the outside, it seemed an impossible place to steal from. And yet prudence was overcome by the temptation to try and after a while I made the attempt. The first book to fall into my hands was a small volume by [the nineteenth century erotic poet] Pierre Louÿs, with pages as thin as Bible paper, I can’t remember now whether it was Aphrodite or Songs of Bilitis. I know that I was sixteen and that for a while Louÿs became my guide. Then I stole books by Max Beerbohm (The Happy Hypocrite), Champfleury, Samuel Pepys, the Goncourt brothers, Alphonse Daudet, and Rulfo and Areola, Mexican writers who at the time were still more or less practicing, and whom I might therefore meet some morning on Avenida Niño Perdido, a teeming street that my maps of Mexico City hide from me today, as if Niño Perdido could only have existed in my imagination, or as if the street, with its underground stores and street performers had really been lost, just as I got lost at the age of sixteen.

Not many contemporary authors in translation have had as much success as Bolaño. The Chilean novelist, who lived in Mexico and Spain, didn’t get a chance to enjoy it: he died in 2003, not long before ‘2666’ was published in Spanish.

-- Carolyn Kellogg