Friday, August 19, 2005
I have a confession to make. I am addicted to second-hand bookshops. In fact, apart from textbooks, I have bought a grand total of three books at full-price. Apart from the limits of my pocket-money, the main reason for this is that you get more interesting books there, and if you get a dud, you don’t regret it that much.
My experience with second-hand bookshops has mostly been very good, and over 60% of my books are good books, which is a very good percentage, considering how many of them I’ve bought. Two of my favourite books, The Essential Calvin & Hobbes and Travels with Charley (which is in fact my very favourite book), were bought for Rs. 5 each. And I certainly wouldn’t have bought books such as The Queen of Air and Darkness, Cassandra: Princess of Troy or Banquets of the Black Widowers had I encountered them in a normal bookshop.
Some might say that the smell of new books is quite something else, and I quite agree, but if you can’t bloody afford it, I don’t think you should bother with spending half your pocket money just for that smell. I can accept old books, however old and grimy they might be, as long as they don’t actively crumble in my hands.
The advantage of buying books second-hand is that you don’t mind taking a risk. The very worst book I ever bought was The Insurrection of Hippolytus Brandenburg, but it was bought for Rs. 20, so, instead of crying over it, I keep it right in front, so that I can be reminded just how bad it is possible for a writer to be. When I’m feeling especially disappointed with my own writing, I look at that book and take heart.
My experience with second-hand bookshops has been long and varied. Currently I frequent two different bookshops, one for the variety that I get there, and the other one for the price, which never exceeds Rs. 40, even for very popular books.
The shop where I bought Travels with Charley had both variety and good prices, but it was torn down a few years ago. And anyway, my frequency of going there had already reduced. This shop was owned by a couple. When I started going there, the husband would be sitting there, chewing tobacco and sitting on a crate with his legs apart. I had to haggle a lot with him, but the final price was always worth it.
Then one day, I went there and his wife was there instead of him. I was browsing for a bit, when she said, “Do you want any magazines?”
I shook my head.
“I have some good women’s magazines here.”
“I don’t read magazines.”
“You’ll like these.”
And she handed me four or five magazines which had women in them, but which were certainly not women’s magazines.
I cut my visit short and beat a hasty retreat, and thenceforth, avoided the shop whenever the woman was there, which, to my distress, was increasingly often.
I love haggling. I only haggle over books, but I do it not with a sense of inevitability, but with a sense of eager expectancy. I know I’m going to have fun. Every time a bookseller quotes a much-too-expensive yet slightly-in-my-range price, you can almost see my face lighting up (not quite, though – it doesn’t really show up on my skin). Then we go through the rather wonderful ritual of quoting ridiculous prices at each other until we reach a compromise we always knew we’d reach. It never happens any other way. In fact, I have decided that the next time a bookseller quotes an over-the-top price, I’m going to agree to it, just to see the look on his face. I won’t buy the book, of course. I’m not stupid.
In one very special respect, reading books is just like watching movies. You have to go through a thousand bad ones to be able to identify a good one. I’m still at the very beginning of my book-reading career, so I still like to buy bad novels. I then either give them away or sell them to the raddiwallah.
I recently decided to sell all the useless books I had. Before I embarked on that mission, I started by donating all the Jeffrey Archers, Robin Cooks and related pulp novels to friends who still read them. Then, I put the rest of them in a bag, and asked my dad to take a look through them to see if he wanted to keep any of them. He took about half of them back out. He wanted them, he said. I was at a loss of words. I utterly failed to see why my father would want to read books such as Mission to the Stars, The Memory of Eva Ryker, UFO Abductions in Gulf Breeze (yup, you read that right) and The Power of Positive Thinking or authors like Peter Ustinov and Pearl S. Buck. I now plan to spirit them away slowly without his knowledge. After all, a dollar earned is a dollar saved. Or something of the sort.