I do wonder whether if Mr Borges had lived a little longer and happened to come on holiday to the Algarve, and went for a little promenade along the front at Armação de Pêra - would he have thought he had found his heaven on earth? You see, not only is there a library there (next to the tourist office), but to top off his utopian dream - it’s right next to the beach.
To be fair, the library in question isn’t as big as the South American wordsmith might have envisaged. Practically it’s just a tiny little box, but I’m sure Mr Borges was wise enough to know that it’s contents have the potential to turn what on the surface could seem like just a pretty little compartment filled with old paper with squiggles on - into a portal to a wonderful array of other worlds. In any case, he would at least have to concede it’s not bad for a seaside stroll.
But the front at Armação de Pêra isn’t the only place these little ‘mini libraries’ have popped up. The first one I ever spotted was outside the town hall in Tunes. It was a beautifully painted box standing there in this unexpected place, just waiting for the curious among us to go and check it out. Written clearly on the front it said ‘Leve, Leia e Devolva’, which means ‘Take, Read and Return’. And nestled inside this cute cabin were a few carefully chosen books. Mostly fiction and fairy tales and, of course, mainly in Portuguese. But there were however a few English books to be found - I think I even spotted a Sherlock Holmes novel. I just thought this was such a lovely and surprising idea, and like the aforementioned detective, I decided to try and use my own powers of deduction to try and find out just who was behind these perplexing paperback portals.
I’m pleased to say it didn’t take too long as it was, in fact, written on the box: ‘Biblioteca Municipal de Silves’. The library didn’t take me long to find either. Walking along the front of the town from the east, I followed a wall of medieval knights going about their business and had them lead me to the door. On the ground floor they have a whole room dedicated to children’s books, and upstairs there’s the adults section where they have Portuguese books on every subject under the sun. But also, a fair amount of books in other languages as well. You have to be a member to take books away and there’s a deadline to bring them back.
But that’s not too much of a problem - membership is free. Like all libraries it’s a peaceful place students and anybody looking for a quiet place to study can come, sit and read.
They also have what they call a ‘book swap’ section, where you don’t even need to be a member. You simply bring in a book you don’t want anymore, and swap it with one you do. This is apparently a big hit with non-residents using the campsite nearby.
But I was here for a reason - to find out about those beautiful book boxes. Apparently Tunes and the Armação de Pêra aren’t the only places with these little literature landmarks, they can also be found next to the town halls in Alcantarilha and Pêra, as well as next to the EB1 school in Portela. I was told that they usually change the books every 15 days, and it’s part of Silves councils plan to make books accessible to everybody in the population. Which is great because, to quote another writer, poet and Doctor Seuss: “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”