June 3, 2017


Bogota's bibliophile trash collector who rescues books (Smriti Daniel, 6/03/17, Al Jazeera)

Finding Anna Karenina in the rubbish would change Jose Alberto Gutierrez's life.

It was 20 years ago, but Jose still remembers first glimpsing the Russian classic by Leo Tolstoy in the rubbish outside a home in Bogota's Bolivia neighbourhood. The rubbish collector loaded his truck with the rest of the waste, but took the book home. It was the start of a wonderful obsession.

Today, the 55-year-old lives on a steeply sloping road in the La Nueva Gloria barrio, in the southern reaches of Colombia's sprawling capital.

The outside of his modest two-storey house blends in with its neighbours, but inside, it couldn't be more different. This is the home of La Fuerza de las Palabras, Spanish for "The Strength of Words", a community library.

"In August, it will be 17 years since we created this library," Jose says.

Jose's family used to rent out the downstairs to tenants. They still live on the first floor, but books have invaded all three rooms on the ground floor. There, you cannot see the tiles, except for a narrow pathway that winds through the rooms. It is bordered with stacks of books which brush the ceiling - the last time Jose counted, there were some 25,000 - and it feels like every day more books find him. The library has begun to send tendrils into the upstairs family space as well. An entire wall and some new shelves in their dining area are covered in novels.

Posted by at June 3, 2017 6:52 AM