Huge Bookstore, Tehran's Book Garden, Opens in Iran Despite Government Censorship

Bibliophiles in Iran, clear your weekend: The huge Book Garden center just opened in Tehran.

Officials unveiled the Book Garden, a giant academic complex on Wednesday. At roughly 65,000 square meters (about 700,000 square feet), the center has several movie theaters, science halls, classrooms, a restaurant, a prayer room and whole a lot of literature. On its roof is a green park area for reading.

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All in all, the center aims to encourage Iranian children to be "active and creative through modern methods and equipment," as the Mehr News Agency reported Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said earlier this week. "The opening of the Book Garden is a big cultural event in the country, so that our children can make better use of this cultural and academic opportunity," Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf added.

It was a long time coming. The idea for the Book Garden was first pitched in 2004 as a way to cater to fans of the city's annual International Book Fair year-round. Construction on the center wrapped up last spring, and organizers spent the past few months stocking it with books. More than 400,000 titles are available for kids alone. One part of the center even has shorter shelves so youth can reach books better.

Iran has censored its literature for years, making publishers submit their books to the government so it can check for inappropriate content before publication. As such, a number of works have been banned, among them Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, James Joyce's Ulysses and Tracy Chevalier's Girl With a Pearl Earring. In addition, authors have been asked to avoid using terms like kisswinedrunkdog and dance, according to The Guardian.

"Those responsible in the book industry should not let harmful books enter our book market on the basis that we let [readers] choose [what they want to read]," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in 2011. "Like poisonous, dangerous and addictive drugs which are not available for everyone without restrictions…as a publisher, librarian or an official in the book industry, we don't have the right to make [such books] available to those without knowledge."

There are some indications the policies have recently relaxed under President Hassan Rouhani, but some books are still on the blacklist, according to the Financial Times. Others are being sold underground.

The Book Garden may increase availability, but whether it was officially the largest bookshop wasn't immediately clear.

According to the Guinness World Records team, the biggest individual bookstore since 1999 has been the Barnes & Noble along Fifth Avenue in New York City. It's about 154,000 square feet and includes more than 12 miles of shelves.

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