Olga Vila and Ernest Riera have always worked for the benefit of culture. Since December 20, 2013, they have run the second-hand book establishment, Sweet Books, in the heart of Girona’s Old Town. They combine the work of booksellers with other occupations, Olga at the University of Girona and Ernest as a renowned translator with more than 120 titles by authors such as John Irving, Harold Pinter, Tom Wolfe, Don DeLillo, Bruce Chatwin, Zadie Smith or Corto Maltés comics.
How did the bookshop come about?
OV: We’ve always worked in the cultural world, and in the world of books especially. I was unemployed at the time and wanted something to do. The initial idea was to circulate culture, to protect books, that at a difficult time for many people everyone would have access. We started with a stall at second-hand markets in Girona and finally took the plunge with 20 square metre premises, which very soon became small and so we expanded.
What’s the oldest book you have?
ER: We’ve had books from the 17th century, but right now the oldest ones we have are from the 19th century, although this is not our focus. We focus on giving new life to books from the fifties or sixties to today.
What stock do you have?
ER: Of the catalogued books, now about 10,000. We’ve had between 30,000 and 40,000 since we opened. At the same time, there can be 10,000 entries in the bookstore and 30,000 still to catalogue.
Who is the typical customer?
OV: We get all kinds of ages, classes and cultural levels. It’s very satisfying. And to see 16- or 17-year-olds looking for philosophy titles or Catalan classics is exciting.
OV: Yes. That wasn’t the initial idea but it’s something we see. We have had books with dedications by Espriu, Carner…
Dedications from times when there were no mass signings like now, which means they must have another value.
OV: Exactly. They weren’t authors who signed books every Sant Jordi’s Day. We also look for specific editions of out-of-print books.
ER: Yes, for people looking for a book that they read when they were young and they would like to have it again. We try to find him. We’ve been adapting to serve all interests, and the more books we have that are hard to find the better.
How do you get them? From people emptying their parents’ or grandparents’ library, people who’ve already read them and have no room...?
OV: There ’s a bit of everything. Sometimes we’re lucky we go to see a certain personal library, because rummaging around we find worthwhile things. ER: In bookshops that have gone out of business, we’ve found books signed by Espriu, Sagarra, Carner, Pla...
Have you said to someone: “Listen, do you know what you’re getting rid of?”
ER: Yes. And some people say: “It doesn’t matter, I don’t care, I want to get rid of it.” OV: The opposite has also happened to us. People who call you and say: “I have some great books,” and then you see they haven’t!