The habit of going to bookstores is dying. You can buy an e-book on your Kindle or order whatever you want online. Chain bookstores in malls only stock bestsellers and self-help, and can turn anybody off.
So I decided to find bookstores that would bring back that thrill of discovering a book that looks like it can change your life. Or just make you happy to be there – looking at rows and rows of books, beautiful, magical books.
You’ll find all this in Paharganj. This muddy, crowded market is a mix of hippie and hipster and the hoi polloi. And so you’ll find everything here – leather bags, junk jewellery, good food, great music, drugs. And books.
As you walk through the Main Bazaar, you’ll find cafés that double up as bookstores. Looks Beauty Parlour houses old (and new) books and trippy music on the ground floor. Imagine trying to choose between Alan Hollinghurst and Jack Kerouac, all the while listening to some kind of ‘temple’ trance.
Jackson's Bookstore in Paharganj has stacks of 'fashionable' books.
The best in the area, though, is Jackson’s Bookstore for the sheer number of books neatly arranged in this small space – you can’t always get what you want, but you will get what you need.
You will find books that are fashionable to read – Elena Ferrante and Milan Kundera and Julian Barnes; several versions of the Kamasutra, books on all kinds of yoga, Hindu spirituality and Indian mysticism; many, many books in Hebrew; and travel guides (especially Lonely Planet for different countries, in different languages and from different years).
You can exchange your old books here. And because this is where so many travellers and backpackers stay, the books are constantly replenished – foreign imprints, so covers you’ve never seen before. You can own the books for half the MRP plus some discount, if you ask nicely.
They also have unused books, ones that spent a while in other bookstores or with distributors but you’ll get them at store price. But you can get these old-new books cheaper at Nehru Place. Opposite a Bank of Baroda in this ‘computer market’ is Nanda Book Service.
It’s not impressive from the outside – with a display of colouring books, educational titles etc – but just two steps inside and you’ll find a table covered with books, all for Rs 150. They look unused, the covers are unspoilt but the pages are yellowing.
You’ll find Chetan Bhagat next to VS Naipaul. And deeper into the store, the unlikeliest of books. Kiran Nagarkar’s Cuckold for Rs 250. And Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex for the same price. Less than half of what you’d pay elsewhere. And you can bargain. Climb up to the loft above for hidden gems.
And if you’re looking for coffee table books. No, scratch that. If you’re looking for the most beautiful bookstore in the city, head to Timeless Bookstore in South Extension. Get to the Part-1 market, and follow Google Maps, it’s the only way to get there.
We love the place because apart from books, it also houses a bed you can lounge on – it’s where most people read anyway. If you have kids, climb up to the Teksons on the floor above. It’s a wholesale store, with a flat 25 per cent off on everything – and filled with children’s books.
Go book shopping! I hadn’t realised how much I had missed it.
From HT Brunch, January 11, 2015
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