LA PERLA BOOKS & RECORDS, GUADALAJARA
Here you'll find Latin America’s biggest collection of used books in English
By John Pint
I’ve had opportunity to go hiking with archaelogists, geologists, biologists and botanists and it’s always a special experience. Each sees the landscape with eyes very different from mine, discovering something new and surprising at every step and inevitably infecting me with his or her enthusiasm and passion. Today I experienced that same stimulation of excitement and wonder while wandering the shelves of La Perla Bookstore with its owner, Gerry Smith.
In one room he showed me his Culinary Arts section with some 300 books on cooking and food. In the next room I found literature. “Here are some great books by Willa Cather,” he said, “and over there I’ve got Upton Sinclair.” He handed me one of the volumes by Sinclair. “Albert Einstein said If you really want to understand the history of the first half of the 20th century, read the Lanny Budd series by Upton Sinclair. These are the books to read. I love them. I think I’ve read them five times.”
As you must have already guessed, the books in this shop did not land on its shelves by accident, but were picked with understanding, care and, I would say, with love. “This next section is Western Americana,” Smith went on. “Most of these come from my personal collection.”
La Perla Books and Records is located on Pedro Moreno near Chapultepec. The entrance is small and unassuming, but as you climb the stairs you are greeted by the faces of Bob Dylan, Crosby, Stills and Nash and other rock legends. These posters and album covers make it clear that La Perla is both a record and book store, reflecting the expertise and preferences of its two owners, Gerry Smith and Ernesto “Bola” Domene. While Smith fills his rooms with good books, Bola’s collections reflect his expertise in Rock Music. “Bola was the drummer for Mexico’s hottest rock band of the 1990’s, La Lupita,” Smith told me. He continues on today as a member of the rock-pop band “Rostros Ocultos.” La Perla has around 10,000 new and used disks for sale. Vinyl records are a specialty, but they also sell CDs and even a few 8-tracks.
I wandered out to the store’s balcony overlooking Guadalajara’s Zona Rosa and asked Gerry Smith to tell me a bit about himself.
“When I was in my twenties,” he said, “I turned into an avid reader. Books became my great love and I’ve spent the last thirty-some years reading. Wherever I lived, all the librarians knew me and whenever I traveled, I’d stop at every bookstore I could find and any junk shop I thought might have books. I’ve surely been in a thousand bookstores in the US. And I also started buying books in those days. So I ended up with a houseful of books and then I started filling my brother’s house with them. And now, after about six years in Mexico, I ended up with yet another house full of books. Inadvertently, I had become a book expert, so I finally decided to open my own bookstore.”
Smith met Bola Domene, set up a six-foot bookcase at La Roma Records (which later changed its name to La Perla) and for five years the shelves of books have been expanding, until, today, he estimates he has a minimum of 15,000 books. “I haven’t found a larger or better collection of English used books anywhere else in Latin America,” Smith was told by Clemente Orozco, a frequent book browser at La Perla and grandson of Mexico’s famed muralist, Josť Clemente Orozco.
If you happen to be interested in Music and records as well as English books, you will enjoy looking through Bola Domene’s collection. Besides Rock he has Colombian, Bossa Nova, classical and much more. “Bola really knows music,” says Smith. “He has a great collection that nobody else can match.” To put it in Bola Domene’s own words, “Yes, there are other places selling records in Guadalajara, but none of them have The Passion for Music.”
If you have used books, bring them to La Perla. “Buy, sell and trade,” says Smith, “that’s what we do. I pay cash on the barrelhead, but I’m picky. I don’t want to fill my bookstore with junk. For every book I put on my shelf, there are five or six that are not good enough. Those kind of books might end up downstairs at the entrance, where we have shelves filled with free books. In fact, I’ve given away thousands of them...or they get picked up by a local guy for recycling.”
How much do books cost at La Perla? “The vast majority of my books,” says Gerry Smith, “are between 70 and 200 pesos, but I also have a lot of collectible books, like first edition Hemingways and Thurbers.”
Whether you are looking for rare books or just a good read, I think you’ll discover that La Perla is truly a pearl without price. Currently the bookstore’s Facebook and Web sites "English Books Guadalajara" are undergoing major reconstruction. Send inquires to laperlabookstore @ gmail.com (remove the spaces). La Perla is located at Pedro Moreno 1530 on the second floor, Tel 33 1525 3015. It’s open Monday to Saturday from 11 AM to 9 PM and everyone there speaks English. On top of that, they actually have a couple parking spots in front!
Text and Photos © 2018 by John & Susy Pint