The secret bookstores in Mexico City

The reason to keep these bookstores secret has to do with creating an intimate and special relationship between the reader and the book

The secret bookstores in Mexico City
Only literary connoisseurs know about these bookstores - Photo: Christian Palma/AP
English 30/11/2019 11:02 EFE Mexico City Actualizada 11:36
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First editions, novels, books written in different languages, and even manuscripts, are some of the treasures safeguarded in “The Cult Donkey” and “The Wise Mule,” two “secret” bookstores in Mexico City only known by some select readers who know the exact location.

They are the only ones that have access to a wealth of over 8,000 books of nearly 7,500 different authors.

In this collection, you can find first editions of relevant writers like Federico García Lorca – specifically with book Poet in New York – or Carlos Pellicer, among others.

But, in addition, there is the chance of finding titles of a wide variety of topics including Mexico’s history, the Spanish exile, art, philosophy, law, or photography.

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What all these books have in common is the good quality of their editions. “I don’t care if it’s a Russian play, a German book, or an English map. What I’m interested in is the way in which the paper was used,” asserts to EFE Maximino Ramos, owner of these bookstores.

But the collection of “The Cult Donkey” and “The Wise Mule” does not only include books. There are also Mexican codex and newspapers, among which there are several issues of “Regeneración,” a publication of the beginning of the 20th century directed by the Flores Magón brothers, precursors of the Mexican Revolution.

All this wealth is due to the acquisitions of the managers of these bookstores, which are very rigorous when purchasing the materials they will later sell.

In the end, books have become a patrimony of readers since “owning a first edition of García Lorca gives character to your house and, in addition, it is a possession that will keep its value,” says Ramos

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How to keep the secret?
However, the entrance to these bookstores is not free. You must be invited after visiting the “El hallazgo” or “Jorge Cuesta” bookstores, also owned by Ramos and located in Mexico City.

Usually, the chosen ones are clients who look for very specific editions.

“They are looking for rare things; those that are not easily available. Many of those who come to ‘The Cult Donkey’ and ‘The Wise Mule’ are careful collectors,” says to EFE Roberto Villagómez Aguilera, an employee of the first bookstore.

Salvador Gónzalez is a recurrent client in these places in which he enquires for those literary authors that are hardly found elsewhere but that he usually finds in these bookstores.

“I’m very zealous of the secret of ‘The Cult Donkey’ because it can tend to snobbery and this bookstore has to be like a secular temple,” says González.

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As a matter of fact, the reason to keep these bookstores secret has to do with keeping certain familiarity between the reader and the book so that there can be an intimate and special relationship between them.

Hence, “the door must be slightly closed but unlatched so that the person can come in without any problem,” explains Maximino Ramos.

But, at the same time, he also asserts that “some materials should be preserved.”That is why “The Cult Donkey” has other precious pieces, like first editions or a collection of pre-Colombian figurines.

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The latter, which are not for sale, were given to Ramos due to an agreement in which he gave the owners a library about several aspects of Mexican culture in exchange for the figurines.

Ramos insists that the secret of his two bookstores consists of the intimacy of the reader rather than security. He says that booksellers “must work in mutual trust” with the reader, otherwise “he would live with no sleep.”

And, as a fun fact, in the basement of “The Cult Donkey” there is a buried trunk with 50 representative works of Mexican literature from the 20th century, among which stand out works by Juan Rulfo, Carlos Fuentes, and Mariano Azuela.

The trunk was buried almost a decade ago when the bookstore was opened and the idea is for it to remain there indefinitely, even if the business closes.

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