Monday, May 05, 2008

Hunting for the books

Hunting for books, I suppose, is as involved and time-consuming an activity as reading it is. May be more. In fact, by my own experience, certainly more for some ever-hidden mysterious books, which appear on all good reading lists, except on the list of your bookstore.

However, it is also true that discovering books in a bookstore is also a rather satisfying experience. Of course that depends largely on the quality of bookstore itself. For what joy could possibly exist in the over-retailed book-selling of Crosswords, and how enchanting could it be to sit down at each step of the stairs of the small Midland and rummage through books. In each of the cities I have lived in, I have generally ended up with a favorite bookstore, that I repeatedly visit, and repeatedly rummage - to acquire books like a bibliophile maniac. If only I could read at the speed at which I buy, I would perhaps be a far more well-read person! Here are a few of my favorites bookstores, followed by some online stores that I have been exploring and have found to be quite useful in tracking the elusive books I keep talking about.

I think I am quite enamored with Midland Book Shop - a very small bookstore in Aurobindo market near Hauz Khas. The place is so small and so flooded with books, that there are books lying even on the steps leading to the first floor. The owner/manager knows his books, even if he can't pronounce the names too well. And to top it all, there is an almost guaranteed discount of 20% on all books. Someone tells me there is another Midland in Khan Market, but have never tried that.
Another good store in Delhi is Fact & Fiction near Priya Cinema. A small store which has a good collection, made even better by the knowledge and experience of the owner. I think he is part of the charm - as every manager of a good bookstore is.
I have never really taken to Om bookstore, (also at Priya and at a couple of other places) though they can have some good deals running during the sale period.

I think the Universal Book Store at Kapoorthala will win hands down. I have spend oodles of my meager student resources in this shop. With a charming old shop-owner, who always has a few recommendations and a few candies for you, even if he knows that today you have simply come to stall time, it really makes book-buying a nice experience. Definitely bigger than the previous stores I have mentioned, here you can find a stool and sit down to enjoy a book. The store even has a floor dedicated to Hindi books - and I don't think it is easy to find an extensive collection of Hindi literature that matches this.

I think while in Bangalore, I was quite satisfied with Strand Book Stall at Manipal Center. I was just beginning to read extensively, and the haphazard bookstore is a good treasure for anyone trying to find her way into good books. I don't think it will satiate me now though - I find their collection catering largely to a popular taste, and have failed to find many good works there. However, I still can never resist the temptation to go to their Annual Book Festival in Mumbai and generally end up filling a basket. What a discount!

I think everything in Mumbai is generally relegated to Malls unless you live in South Mumbai - which I am not rich enough to do. So I now find myself in some chic shops, even to shop for books. It is a little difficult to get used to the over-organization at first. If you are hunting, all you have to do is know the author and genre and walk down the alley. Else there is the help-desk. But these are also stores which offer you a nice couch to sink into and read for free :) I almost exclusively go to Landmark now. They have a superior collection and generally at least one person on the staff will be able to pronounce the name right. (Which is quite a lot, you will know if you have ever met the morons at Crosswords, who were puzzled with the name Lessing - a week after she won the Nobel!)

The non-brick shops
I don't really love to shop online - specially for books. It does not offer you the charm of browsing through a bookstore and stumble on piles of books, or meet a fellow reader to fall in love with in the Calvino style. But if you are looking for specific books, the online stores go a long way. They have a wider range of titles at their disposal, and with a certain lead time can procure some titles from abroad. I have tried a few websites for shopping for books and found them to be satisfactory:

landmarkonthenet - Well this is an online arm of the brick and mortar chain from Tata's, which they run in partnership with Sify. They ship fast, and the prices mirror those in the store, but they definitely stock a wider range of titles here. The lead time is generally 2 weeks for more easily available books and about 4-6 weeks for difficult to obtain titles. Shipping is currently free of charge.

A1 Books - Certainly the most efficient online book store that I have found till date. They mostly procure their books from US/UK and hence the prices are higher. But their collection is amongst the best that I have come across. They levy a shipment charge, but the packaging of the book is certainly worth this small price. I found Ruth Kluger's book here, which had been virtually impossible to find elsewhere. The shipping lead time is around 15 days.

Rediff Books - Now this is tricky. They have canceled my orders more than once on account of books being out of stock. However, the one book they did send (Eichmann in Jerusalem), arrived in a week's time. Their collection is large, but they may be out of stock on most books. As a promotional offer, shipping charges are currently being waived.

Indiaplaza - This is the new avtar of the earlier Fabmall, which was the first (relatively) popular e-commerce site in India. I have recently tried purchasing through them, and the order is yet to arrive. But they have a good collection too. They also indicate books which are currently out of stock, but allow you to place them on your wish-list and then inform you when they can find a seller. The prices are far better than A1, since they stock a lot of Indian editions.

I have also visited, and though I am impressed with the collection, I have found their prices to be quite high.


Szerelem said...

Midland is really nice!! And it has been there since forever.

Have you been to Bahri Sons in Khan market?? I live right opposite Khan Market so that is my regular haunt and they have an excellent collection and the staff are really helpful. Also, the Full Circle book shp at Khan is nice especially with Cafe Turtle on top :)

Madhuri said...

No, my exposure to Khan Market has been rather limited, save for the more savored version of 'Big Chill' there. Next time I am in Delhi, I will try to look up both these stores.

Alok said...

There is a nice used book store in bangalore - Blossoms on church street. Prospect of going to a shopping mall fills me with dread and anxiety but the landmark bookstore in one of those malls is pretty good too. Patna and Guwahati were both pretty hopeless in this respect. I have never lived in other big cities of India ...

Madhuri said...

Yes, I have heard of Blossoms from many sources, though I never got to know of it while I was in Bangalore. Though in Bangalore, it was the first time I had money to spend on buying books and I am quite sure I would have invested in 'new' books at the time instead of used ones :)
By the way Blossoms has gone online as well. ( So next time you are in Patna, may be you can order online!

shiva said...

Thanks Madhuri, I am now planning to go through the non-brick ones....

Madhuri said...

Shiva - you are quite welcome :-)

Ubermensch said...

There used to be a tiem when I liekd book stores, well, I still do but not the types mentioned here.

The lit groupie in India is basically a travesty; Either it is made of giggly girls or sleeveless socialists who roam aroudn aimlessly attending useless quiz competitions.
Barely a few can manage to give you a decent opinion on a book.

In my experience in India, most of all the Mall bookshops never have anything you want. The best are the second hand / used bookshops .
Calcutta, Blore, Delhi, Cochin, Bombay, Madras in that order.

BUt the best in the world is Paris. Thats something real.

Madhuri said...

Giggly girls..hmm. Do you have something against girls or their giggles? :)
Yes, the literary circle in India is almost non-existent. I have only met one truly literary person who could give a perspective on books. But I think there is at least an active interest in reading, which is welcome. Also, I think the sleeveless socialist is already history.
Stores in the malls - if I had not been to Landmark, I would have more than agreed with you, but Landmark is a treasure - it has one of the best literature collections that I have ever come across. May be you should give it a shot on your impending trip.
In Paris, I went to some bookstores including Shakespeare, but I was not overly impressed with their English collection. The bookstalls near Notre dame are another matter altogether. but there, finding one English work amongst a heap of French is like playing a game. May be you know the right places.