Footprints and bookmarks: A quick stroll down the aisles of some delicious bookshops
5 bookstores that are any booklover’s delightUpdated: Apr 07, 2018, 23:19 IST
Recently, yet another grand old Mumbai institution shut its doors, raising the expected voices against the fickle ways of a cruel city. How many of us who lamented the passing of Strand Book Stall still shop at bricks and mortar stores, or even read ink on paper books, is anybody’s guess. The lure of cheap books and e-books is tough to resist. But it’s always dispiriting to read epitaphs for bookshops. Good time, then, to take a quick imaginary stroll down real bookshops. The physical world can’t be written off just yet. Here we go:
Wayword & Wise (Ballard Estate, Mumbai)
It’s becoming a bit much, all the artisanal this and handmade that. The latest entrant to the twee brigade is “curated”. But the books at this “curated” bookshop are emphatically handpicked by the peerless Virat Chandhok. Every time I go, he hands me a new book by Adam Phillips – psychoanalyst and literary essayist. He’s sussed me out. And he’ll figure you out, too, in that quiet and assured way of his, backed by years of experience starting with the legendary Lotus House Books opposite Bandra Talao.
The cinema section at that store was a treasure. Here, there’s a dazzling array of illustrated books, science and philosophy, whimsical meanderings that defy genre and, of course, a solid literary collection. A relatively new Mumbai establishment, it will warm the heart of any curmudgeon.
Blossom Book House (Church Street, Bengaluru)
This is a bookshop I could write love letters to. On old paper. Using a fountain pen. No, scratch that out. A well-worn Nataraj pencil. This three-storied structure, which evolved out of a pavement, is the stuff of readerly dreams. Piles of used books semi-neatly arranged, and catalogued on the computer. Thimbles of tea in musty aisles, served by the young ladies who manage the store, wearing jasmine flowers in their hair.
The poetry section is unfairly small, and most of the fun is contained in the fiction section on the first floor. But oh, the countless joys. I’ve bought almost all my Muriel Spark novels here. And am making giant strides towards completing my Iris Murdoch collection. So if you happen to be headed that way, check with me, please.
Full Circle Bookshop & Café Turtle (Khan Market, New Delhi)
Delhi has so many bookish corners and arty hubs that to single out one space would be the job of an amateur. Or a Mumbaikar. I’m guilty on both counts. This bookshop is a little treat, with its lively selection (on my last visit, I bought a book by journalist Ravish Kumar, an illustrated retelling of the Ramayana from Sita’s perspective and Kiran Nagarkar’s new book). Upstairs, there’s a vegetarian café that has a small but satisfying selection of carbs with cheese. The bookshelves are busy – which is all you need in a bookshelf – and the staff is attentive. This is best followed by a peep into the legendary Bahrisons Booksellers not far in the same market. A double treat.
Books Actually (Yong Siak Street, Singapore)
Tucked away in a hipster locality in Singapore is this gentrified gem. Its aesthetic interiors house not just books, but also growling cats (who must not be disturbed) and uber-cool literary merchandise. They’re so cool, they allow you to pick up beautifully printed poetry from a jar for free. They’re so cool, they often print their own stuff. (I picked up Joshua Ip’s poetry collection, Making Love with Scrabble Tiles. They’re quirky and fun.) The shop is so cool, they organise events on interesting subjects, and print their monthly schedules on pretty bookmarks. A funky slice of Singapore between those Slingers and the incredible zoo.
Shakespeare and Company (Notre Dame, Paris)
Not just an ignoramus, I also confess to being a name-dropper. I’ve never been to France, so all that I know about this iconic bookshop is from friends who’ve visited and brought me back stories, pictures, bags and brochures. I’ve been told I would love it. So I took a 360-degree virtual tour. And I did. Started by the eccentric George Whitman, who once described the space as a “socialist utopia masquerading as a bookstore,” it’s known for its top-notch collection of English language books.
The history of the place boasts names such as Hemingway, Ginsberg, Miller and Baldwin. And if you volunteer to work at the store during the day, you get to sleep in its aisles in the night! It’s even made its way into our own pop culture via the weepathon, Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016). I spotted the lead pair toting Shakespeare & Co bags on their Europe jaunt. The universe is sending me all these signs. À bientôt, Paris!.
From HT Brunch, April 8, 2018
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