Friday, June 30, 2006

Second hand love

To Mummy,

Hope you enjoy it!

Love Andrew, Anne, Olivier


I have a friend who only buys first hand books. He loves that fresh, new smell and the feel of crisp pages between his fingers. My friend’s obsession extends to newspapers as well, so much so two sets of papers are bought in his home – one for him and one for the rest of the family to crease, bend and scribble phone numbers on.

My own book buying habit began rather late in life. My family preferred library memberships. My father and I used to visit Easwari Lending Library in Royapettah and later on to Eloor in T- Nagar every Sunday afternoon. After a good hours browsing we would head to Woodlands Drive In or Gangotri and study our selection in detail over hot coffee and bondas. I somehow never felt the need to buy books.

All this of course changed once I got married and moved to Bombay. In Madras poky, ramshackle rooms that masqueraded as libraries could be found on every street corner. Alas, Bombay was bereft of a motley crew of Shakti/Murugan/Swami lending libraries. So after my husband and I had exhausted the contents of each other’s meagre collection, we proceeded to buy books. At first it was once every few weeks, when we went to town and were driving by Oxford. On moving to south Bombay, Crossword opened up down the road it was impossible not to pop in every other week and have a nose about.

By the time we moved to England our collection had grown modestly. We had 3 small cartons of books that thankfully fit in the oak bookshelf our landlord had provided us with.

In London, I once again found myself with a library membership. Our local council library was free and had a rather good collection. What’s more, books can be quite exorbitant here and picking up even 3 can set you back quite a bit.

Until I discovered charity shops. While Madras has Azhwar on Luz Corner and Bombay has the pavement shops near VT, in London the charity shop rules. Not to be confused with city’s excellent second hand bookshops that dot Charing Cross and the city’s many markets, charity shops are a different breed altogether. From Oxfam to St. Isobel’s Hospice, charities great and small in England have stores that allow patrons to contribute everything from their grandmother’s doily collection to 1930’s rocking horses. These are then resold at bargain prices, the proceeds going to fund the charity’s noble cause.

Though I’ve picked up my fair share of Victorian beer bottles, cast iron Spanish horses and other tat, my favourite charity shop buys are always books. Starting from as little as 50p and going up to hundreds and sometimes even thousands if the book in question is a collectors item, charity shops stock an amazing variety of titles. From Penny Jordan to Proust and William Shakespeare to old editions of Women’s Own they’re a great place to buy books. And perish any thought of old books in tatters and with pages missing. Nothing could be further from the truth. A few months ago I bought a hardback copy of Vikram Seth’s Two Lives that looked brand new for £2.At that price it seemed stupid not to buy it!

That’s the thing with charity shop books, the price alone can convince you to reach for your wallet. Books that you wouldn’t really want to pay full price for (Sex and the City) suddenly seem appealing at 49p. You can take risks at charity shops. Paying £12.99 for a book you’re not sure about is hard. But when the same book costs £1.99 it makes life so much easier. I’ve made some good, indifferent and excellent purchases at charity shops. While Joanna Harris was a little too sweet for me, Penguin’s Anthology of Women’s Short Stories introduced me to Angela Carter and Banana Yoshimoto.

Sometimes I buy books for silly reasons. The ‘To mummy…’ at the beginning of this piece was in a book called Slow Boats to China by Gavin Young. When I saw the spine of the book today, I realised it was the name of a blog I read. Intrigued to see what had inspired the name, I picked up the book and saw the inscription inside. It somehow made me want to read the book.

I like the idea that a book I’m holding has been read, loved or hated by someone before me. I like to think that fingers over the grainy pages and tucked old bills or pressed flowers as bookmarks. I like to think that someone else was amazed by the writer’s lyrical prose, incensed by a character’s actions or horrified at the sudden turn of events on page 234.

I don’t know if ‘Mummy’ enjoyed the book. I hope she did.

27 comments:

Filmiholic said...

Oh Shoefi, books are a dreadful price in London, not much better in Dublin.

My two saving graces here are Strand Bookstore and Amazon Used and New.

Your post brings to mind a question: how do you feel about disposing of books you own and have read? Do you do it? Is it difficult?

I currently own more books than I'll probably be able to read in this lifetime, yet even the paperbacks I've read - like "Bangkok 8" or a Donna Leon mystery - I have a hard time thinking of disposing of, on the teeniest, tiniest, offhand chance that I might actually pick it up to read again....

Filmiholic said...

Lovely post, btw.

DesiGirl said...

ahhhh! ur post brought back memories - of luz corner, eloor, et al. i got some great books courtesy of the charity shops too. but i am a compulsive book buyer, so any shop that sells books, be it WHSmith or the second hand shop is my fave!
great post tho. stirred a whole pot of memories.

Falstaff said...

"old editions of Women's Own"?!!

Envy you the charity shops. As filmiholic says, for me it's all about Amazon Used and New. Oh, and the pavement sellers in Manhattan.

me-unplugged said...

Nostalgia drips... Eswari and Eloor remain the same and so do Gangotri and W-Drive-in!! In fact, you'll find the same waiters, a bit aged probably if you come back today...and needless to say, the bondas remain unparalleled to this day!! Thanks for bringing back some wonderful memories... I think it is high time I did it again...and of course will remember you...

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Luvverly.
Wonder what happened to those stacks of Reader's Digests ...

J.A.P.

Jasmine said...

I find it rather sad that 'Mummy' gave the book away. Wonder what made her do it.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Filmiholic - The last time I did a major overhaul on my collection was when I was about 10 or 12. My sister and I were asked to sort through our (meagre) collection and dispose of the books we had read and were unlikely to re-read. So out went the Archers and Sheldons. I've been putting off the inevitable 'I need to give away some books' for some time now though if I want to buy some new books I will need to give away some old ones (or throw the sherpa out and use the space he'll make free). Though there are some books I won't mind giving away (SATC) I can't really think of any others I want to. :( It will not be easy.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Desigirl - Thanks! I try and stick to the library and charity shops as much as possible - but I know what you mean about not being able to help yourself around bookshops. Have you been to Foyles in Charing Cross?

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Falstaff - :) Shall I send over some old editions of women's own? Amazon is the devil in disguise.

me-unplugged sigh, the bondas. i didn't make a single visit to woodlands on my last trip home.

Jap - Thanks. I'm always tempted by the huge stack of old National Geographics, but I would really need to throw the better half out if I bought them.

Jasmine - I always have happy scenarios in my head. No sad thoughts :D

Bidi-K said...

Shoefiend, what a lovely post.. somehow a book bought from a used book store or a thrift shop or a public library sale always makes me so much happier than a spanking new book, i am glad to know i am not the only one :) i miss NY so much in this regard.

Falstaff, have you tried the thrift stores in Brooklyn, in particular the Housing Works Dept. they have an enormous collection, continuously changing and dirt cheap.

tilotamma said...

shoefi -are there no libraries in London?

Sowmya Rao said...

Was an avid patron of Easwaris....and I know what you mean about Woodlands.

Now of course, on a student budget, all I buy is second hand books off 'Koti' the best place I've seen for second hand books here...I know what you mean about picking up arbit titles because they're priced at ridiculously little...and always always I try to imagine the life of whosever name is scribbled on the front..
I sound like I'm gushing but you seem like a kindred soul..

TomCruiseChellum said...

TomCruiseChellum was associated with a famous bookshop in Kochi that used to deal in legal tomes. I remember one lawyer late MahalingaIyer (lived upto a 100 years) used to open a new book, rifle the pages and inhale that crisp papery smell of the new book. He would look at the contents only later.
I am told that he was a very successful lawyer.

Falstaff said...

Shoe-fiend: No thanks. As for Amazon being the devil in disguise - you couldn't have mentioned this earlier? Ah well, I was going to Hell anyway.

bidi-k: Thanks for the tip. No, I've never been there. To be honest, my trips to Brooklyn have been restricted to crossing the bridge to listen to music on the barge. But with the lure of books to tempt me will try making it the next time I'm in NYC.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

tILO - There are 5 libraries in my borough. all free. i just can't help myself is all. (the doctors tell me it's curable, but the affliction is so wonderful!)

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

bidi-K, sowmya :D I'm glad I have such good company!

TCC - I'll try that and see if I have any success in my career!

Falstaff - Hell? Oh no! There's a special place for people who think stories about the end of the world/cheating spouses/ dying alone are 'comic'. :P

smallfontkuttebaspam said...

Shoefie, TCC
The short biographical sketch of Mahalinga Iyer (late) leads me to 2 conclusions
1. You will live for a 100 years plus
2. Your career will be successful.
provided.................

S said...

hi shoefie
have you heard of a treasure trove called "car boot sales" in britain?
they have an olde worlde charm abt them and boy what bargains you can pick...
btw wonderfully written post, as always...
s

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

sfk - provided???

s - I've been wanting to a car boot sale and a typical auction for ages! I just haven't gotten round to it yet. Must do it one of these days.

Swathi said...

luv the feel of old books as compared to the new ones and of course the words written , i remember picking a hard bound of Poe's works with the following words :
"In memory of our friendship
Which blossomed at dawn
Only to wither at dusk "

while on that, u can check my rant on old books " here

Syed Asif said...

Great post, I have to blog this now. I have my own experiences with second-handed books. In Hyderbad, I used to pick up books from this Foregin Book Shop - FRANKFURT. They had a huge collection. It's closed now.

I once picked a book "IS IDAHO IOWA? - IS IOWA IDAHO?". It was signed, it seemed, by the author himself. Another book, "Fight Club" was owned by someone named Ashleigh, a 22-year-old girl from Alabama.

Funny yet surreal.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

swathi - what a sad but lovely quote. really enjoyed ur post too.

syed - Is Idaho Iowa? :)

Syed Asif said...

Stacking up my book racks yesterday, I came upon the ominous IDAHO book. It turns out the title I had written earlier was wrong. Apologies! Apologies! The correct title - "IS IDAHO IN IOWA? - IS IOWA IN IDAHO?".

sk said...

Your post made me so nostalgic. I was a member of Easwari, Senthil, Murugan and British Council libraries- my dad used to take me to the library on rainy days and we'd stock up on books. Then we'd come home and devour capsicum bajjis and read for hours. I like Woodlands too-in fact a waiter there asked after my dad on a recent visit and I had to tell him my dad was no more. Now I feel like getting on the next flight to Madras.

sonia said...

Calcutta is great for old books. And so is London - its a haven for old book lovers...! One of the things I know I will miss most about London if I were to move on somewhere else is the second hand bookshops..sigh..

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