We were a couple of months into the pandemic before I finally broke my reading dry spell and decided I needed – yes, needed – to buy some new books. That’s where Casa Tomada came in; conveniently close to where I live, a champion of indie editorials, and super easy to order from (plus they have international delivery, should you need it). And so, an obsession began.
Founded in 2017 by Josemaría Camacho and Dora Navarrete, Casa Tomada is a champion of independent literature in the heart of Mexico City’s Condesa neighbourhood. Alongside offering workshops, talks, and courses from some of Mexico’s top contemporary writers (recent examples have been led by Valeria Mata, Cristina Rivera Garza, and María Negroni) Casa Tomada is committed to only selling books from indie editorials.
In fact, putting indie editorials first was the centre’s founding premise, although the presses selected by Navarrete – the brains behind Casa Tomada’s robust but well-curated catalogue of titles – must also “be in line with our values.” Which are? To have at least a 50/50 split between men and women and to publish books about “current and important” topics, preferably by living writers.
That 50/50 gender split – setting aside the fact that gender is far from a binary – extends to their workshops and customers too. “Talking to colleagues…we’ve realised that women are the people reading the most right now…the people who buy the most books in Casa Tomada are women and the people who most often join in the workshops are women.”
And as for the topics: gentrification, abuse of power, governmental questions, social movements, feminisms, the body and Marxist theory were just a few cited by Navarrete, with Camacho adding that Casa Tomada is also dedicated to offering more than just novels: “I think we have a good balance between poetry, essay, political essay, academic essay, literary essay and short story.”
(For what it’s worth, their recommendations abound – Silvia Federici, Casas vacías by Brenda Navarro, Laura Sofía Rivero, Yolanda Segura, Pucha Potens by Diana J. Torres, Verónica Gerber Bicecci, Quiltras by Arelis Uribe, Pascal Quignard, Andrea Chapela, Tarantela by Abril Castillo, Noveno piso by Mario Levrero.)
However, their top seller is poetry. “Poetry is no longer the realm of old men talking about nothing, totally abstract, right?” Navarrete told me. “It’s not something that’s hard to access or tough to read.” Their go-to recommendations include Antígona González by Sara Uribe and Una ballena no es un país by Isabel Zapata, alongside everything from Mangos de Hacha.
So why is a Mexican cultural centre which started life championing small Mexican editorials named after a short story by Argentine writer Julio Cortazár? When I post the question to Camacho and Navarrete, I get the feeling it’s not the first time they’ve been asked. “I think we liked the spirit behind the name,” says Camacho, referring to Cortazár’s “rebellious approach to literary form” and huge influence over contemporary Latin American writers. “We also needed the name to be catchy too.”
Selling books isn’t the only objective at Casa Tomada, which also offers a range of (usually) in-person talks, workshops and courses. In fact, it was Zoomifying and drastically dropping the prices of their talks and workshops which got Casa Tomada through the first few months of lockdown.
But they haven’t yet escaped the pandemic unscathed. They had to let two staff members go and, as Camacho adds, “people started to get tired of taking online courses. It’s as if there was a honeymoon period…and then it tapered off quite a bit.” Not to mention they abruptly lost the interactive, in-person appeal which was previously “the heart” of Casa Tomada. “Beyond our passion for books – which we do have – I think the idea of generating dialogue about books with the people that write them [at Casa Tomada] offers readers a unique opportunity.”
After all, while there are other spaces in Mexico City which focus on indie editorials – among them Cafeleería, Marabunta, and Freims – Casa Tomada is perhaps the only cultural centre which unites both bookstore and workshops in one cohesive space. Fingers crossed that will continue.
This post is based on an interview translated from the original Spanish. Some of the answers have been altered for clarity and length.