As the creator of Subway Book Review (@subwaybookreview on Instagram), Uli Beutter Cohen uses literature to interpret the world around her. Her literary guide to Mexico City allows you to do the same.
Books are part of our identity. Asking a stranger, “What are you reading?” has become my way of gaining a new perspective on life. For the past four years, I’ve talked to hundreds of strangers on the subway in New York City about their books and lives. In doing Subway Book Review, I’ve realized how important it is to know what people around the world are reading. Taking a look at the storylines we share gives us a better understanding of who we are and how much we have in common. That’s why I packed my bags and headed to Mexico City. What I found was a vibrant literary scene that makes the city all the more magical: a library that looks like a spaceship. An old avenida lined with secondhand bookstores full of treasures. Cafés nestled in parks that are just made for reading breaks. Mexico City is the perfect place to let your mind wander—and those who wander with a book are never lost.
Read Before You Go
The Body Where I Was Born by Guadalupe Nettel
Few writers capture the country’s fascination with the dark side of humanity like award- winning Mexican writer Guadalupe Nettel. Her autobiographical novel will draw you into her unusual childhood, filled with travel, doubt, and self-discovery.
(Photo by @museofridakhalo.)
What to See
Paseo de Condesa Book Market
This daily outdoor book market offers bestsellers, special collections, and curiosities, like handmade papier-mâché book covers. It’s near the Casa de los Azulejos, a palace covered in tile work that makes you feel like you’ve stepped straight into a tale from Arabian Nights.
The author Roberto Bolaño used to write in this park, which is the oldest public park in Mexico City and next to the famous cultural center Palacio de Bellas Artes. Benches shaded by trees and the view of fountains and sculptures make Alameda Park an ideal reading spot.
Avenida Hidalgo S/N, Cuauhtémoc, Centro
The former residence of Frida Kahlo, Casa Azul (the Blue House), is an amazingly intimate and well-preserved view of the artist’s life, work, and books. While you’re there, don’t miss the opportunity to walk through Coyoacán, one of the oldest and most beautiful districts in Mexico City. End your day at the San Ángel Inn with margaritas in a 17th-century hacienda.
Calle Londres 247, Del Carmen, Coyoacán
Known for specialty, antique, and secondhand bookstores, Donceles Street is lined with treasures that are just waiting to be discovered. Get lost in a labyrinth of books in the back of El Laberinto or simply wander from bookstore to bookstore to see what finds you.
Puente de Alvarado 17, Colonia Buenavista
Read Like a Local
2666 by Roberto Bolaño
Adrian: “This is the most complex novel by Roberto Bolaño. The story is about a man looking for a writer who has disappeared. He travels through Mexico and arrives in a ctional city named Santa Teresa. That city is based on Juárez, where women were kidnapped and disappeared. There is a special kind of terror in Bolaño’s work. He scares you without ever showing you the monster.”
Where to Read
If you have dinner plans in Polanco, an upscale part of the city, stop by El Péndulo for a quick or leisurely reading break. It’s a large yet cozy “cafébreria”—a bookstore-meets-coffee shop, with plenty of space. The indoor trees will make you feel like you’re in a forest instead of the city.
Alejandro Dumas 81, Polanco
The ultimate reading destination in Mexico City is the Biblioteca Vasconcelos. Once you step into this public library that looks like a spaceship, time and gravity seem to slowly disappear. The architecture, private gardens, and events organized by the public make this a spot that’s full of unexpected surprises.
Eje 1 Norte Mosqueta S/N, Buenavista, Cuauhtémoc
Coyoacán, a historic barrio that still feels like a village, has so many quiet little cafés that you can’t go wrong. El Olvidado is one of my favorites and an excellent place to get lost in a book. Take Avenida Francisco Sosa, one of the oldest streets in Mexico City, and see the historic yellow church, Santa Catarina, on your way there.
267 Calle Presidente Venustiano Carranza, Santa Catarina
Poet and Nobel Prize winner Octavio Paz spent his last days at the Alvarado House. Now, Casa Alvarado is the home of the Fonoteca Nacional, the National Sound and Music Library. Listen to everything from an obscure recording of street sounds to songs by local musicians. It’s close to the Frida Kahlo museum, so you can see both the same day.
Avenida Francisco Sosa 383, Santa Catarina