I’ve had opportunity to go hiking with archaeologists, 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. Recently, I experienced that same stimulation of excitement and wonder while wandering the shelves of Guadalajara’s La Perla Bookstore with owner Gerry Smith.
In one room he showed me his “Culinary Arts” section with some 300 books on cooking and food. In the next 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, 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, Domene’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. Vinyls 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 Smith to tell me a bit about himself.
“I turned into an avid reader in my twenties. Books became my great love and I’ve spent the last 30-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 U.S. 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 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 constantly expanding. He estimates he has at least 15,000 books at the moment.
“I haven’t found a larger or better collection of used books in English 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 José Clemente Orozco.
If you also happen to be interested in music and records, you will enjoy looking through Domene’s collection. Besides rock he has Colombian, Bossa Nova, classical and much more. “Bola really knows music,” said Smith. “He has a great collection that nobody else can match.”
If you have used books, bring them to La Perla.
“Buy, sell and trade, that’s what we do,” said Smith. “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 kinds 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 are between 70 and 200 pesos, but I also have a lot of collectibles, like first edition Hemingways and Thurbers.”
La Perla is located at Pedro Moreno 1530 on the second floor, (33) 1525-3015. It’s open Monday to Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and everyone there speaks English. On top of that, they actually have a couple of parking spots out front!
Whether you are looking for rare books or just a good read, La Perla is truly a pearl without price.