23 comments on “Reading between the lines

  1. Ah, I missed it – I love a heated debate on Twitter! 😉

    My wife (Brazilian) and I (English) have discussed this phenomenon before. British people have a tradition of reading books at the beach and on public transport; I very rarely see Brazilians reading in either those places and I’m sure relative educational standards and literacy explain a large part of that.

    BUT, at least where public transport is concerned, I think this also reflects an antisocial strain common in many British people. Reading a book is a great avoidance activity which allows us to avoid making eye contact or (god forbid) having a conversation with a stranger! The ‘have a friendly chat with a stranger’ activity I regularly see here in Rio would be judged as borderline insanity back in Britain.

    • I often see people reading on the beach in Barra but it is an affluent area of Rio I suppose.

    • Tom, I think you and Andy have summed it up pretty well.

      Another symptom of the differences between the two countries is the availability of libraries. The positive aspect for Brazil is that bricks and mortar libraries are mostly a remnant of the past and it should be easier and cheaper for Brazil to “catch up” with a digital equivalent.

    • I’m not sure this is unique to Brits in particular. Paulistanos are a fairly friendly bunch but public transport is one of the few quiet places in the city. I remember tweeting a while ago that if you want a quiet place to reflect upon the finer things in life then you should seek out an early morning train in Sampa because although it’s busy it’s lifeless! Perhaps it’s just a big city thing?

      • Ah yes, I’m sure you’re right. I’ve just been spending too much time on the buses of Rio with chatty cariocas! 🙂 In fact I thought Paulistanos had a lot more ‘big city traits’ than Cariocas. So the difference is just that Paulistanos will happily glare at each other in silence while Londoners need a book to hide behind? 😉

      • To be fair, it’s often so rammed in rush hour that you’re more likely to be staring into someone’s armpit….or vice versa, depending upon your height. Otherwise it’s the usual mix of people staring into their smartphones or gazing out the window whilst listening to MP3s. I’m very much just as guilty as yet I hate it. Bloody technology.

  2. Excellent article, I noticed that Niteroi and Rio bookshop’s are much busier, than when we arrived in 2007, the choice in fiction has vastly improved even the ingles pocket books. Have noticed on longer journeys more people reading and I’ve seen fifty shades out and about, I agree with your take, better reading something, I started with Jackie Collins so who am I to judge, lol.

    • I remember when Harry Potter became amongst adults in the UK. It was the same argument – “At least people are reading.” Which is true I guess although because people used to say I looked like him I instantaneously became vehemently anti-Potter!

  3. Up until now, I have not noticed the apparently low level of reading for pleasure (or the prevalence of public bible-readers!) here in Brazil. I will be looking out for it now that you have brought it to my attention!

    I probably haven’t noticed before because I very rarely read for pleasure myself! And that’s coming from an Englishman who, happily, has had more than his fair share of education. I guess there are exceptions in England as well as Brazil!

  4. “Presumably, people buy and read them as otherwise it would make no commercial sense to stock them.”

    Arguably, newstands in Brazil make money by selling newspapers and magazines, not so much books.

    I’m a Brazilian living in Japan. The sheer quantity of bookstores here is amazing. Almost as ubiquitious as churches in Brazil…

  5. When comparisons are made between Brazil and other countries, if it is to Brazil’s advantage, than it is “primeiro mundo!” (first world). If on the contrary, you point out some defect, I have noticed that the Brazilians’ reply is always: “hey, it is Brazil, you can’t compare it with a first world country”…The matter is that there are countries which currently have a poorer economical situation than Brazil, but where people read more or have more cultural activities.

    I cannot understand the price of the books here (higher than in most of the European countries I know) and the crappy selection they have in most of the libraries (except the SEBOs (second-hand bookstores) or some elitist bookshops). Maybe the influence of the dictature is still too close and the government did not yet totally understand the interest of an access of the population to books and information and favors malls and football for everyone, instead…

    • Yes, books are ridiculously expensive but so is everything right? I’m going back to London next week and I’ve ordered everything there so I can bring it back. Probably saved about 50% on various items!

  6. UK spends 5,3% os its GDP on education, and the money it’s always put to the right places and goals; Brazil spends poorly 4% NOW, but this percentage was way lower years ago. Teachers were royalty in the pre-Military Dictatorship era, as stated by my parents and people who lived that time; after that they became criminals, and are treated by the state and society as such ever since. And that’s true to private schools to. Our shameful positions in educational rankings by countries are the very result of this broken system. But i want to point that i don’t remotely agree with the notion that people enjoy read in a place like the USA. I think the commentators that stated that went to another America, because in the one i traveled i see only bibles being read to (i’m talking about the so-called Middle America; New York, like São Paulo, it’s another context).

  7. I’ve seen the same myself here in Recife. Proud bible reading, 50 shades or study manuals on the buses and that’s it. The reading classes, at least in Recife, would never take the bus and mix with the great unwashed. It’s only students, poor religious folks and women who have through some quirk of fate, found themselves on the metro or bus.

  8. I remember this one time I was reading the Portuguese version of Crime and Punishment in the backseat of a cab in SP. At the end of the ride, an embarrassed driver asked me if I was reading the bible. So, it might be that the very few Brazilians that read in public are folks like me who read books that might look similar to the bible, but are quite something else. Overall, I agree that people in Brazil barely read in comparison to other countries -at least the other countries I do know. I live in Washington DC right now and I often catch myself thinking about it when I’m riding buses – pretty much every single day. Anyways, I’m just loving this debate here. I think people should receive stimulus to read in Brazil, but also agree that Anglo Saxons might use books to avoid social interaction. And one more time I find myself dreaming of putting Brazil and the US/UK in a blender, shaking it up and then getting the perfect mix.

  9. Hi! I’m a paulistano, and unfortunately reading is not a habit for most Brazilians. As a avid reader, I usually find myself feeling out of my element while trying to read in buses or coffee shops. Some years ago, when I spent some time in Toronto, I used to love how Starbucks coffee shops were a great place to have some quiet time with my book. Now that we have a lot of Starbucks shops here in São Paulo, I felt a little disapointed of how Brazilian versions of Starbucks became a place of loud chatter usually filled with idle teenagers.

  10. I think your observations about the bancas de journal reflects the two worlds that exist in Brazil. I’m an Australian that is living in Sao Paulo after following my wife here. The difference between affluent Brazil (and Brazilians) and the rest is mind blowing. As you would already know av. Paulista and Fairs Lima are part of this affluent other world and so perhaps not really useful when talking about Brazil generally. I’ve never seen an Orwell book for sale at metro Tatuape for example.

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