The joy and genius of second-hand book shopping
Lit-fest crowds are all very good. But to spot a serious book lover, head to used-book markets. And prep with these tips
It wasn’t a big-ticket literature festival. But Delhi’s reading public was in a bit of a frenzy last week. For any book lover – books, that is; not selfies with authors or #IWasThere posts – the annual World Book Fair is the one to beat. Publishers offer discounts until it hurts. Rare gems are discovered at the bottom of second-hand book piles. Seasoned book hunters have been known set a book-fair budget (and struggle to stick to it) and lug a small suitcase around for their purchases.
The 31st edition, which skipped two years, didn’t disappoint. There was a focus on Hindi literature. And, amidst too many copies of the Twilight series (as always), were new favourites Colleen Hoover and Harlan Coben, all priced between ₹50 and ₹150.
If you’ve missed the fair, start saving up for next year, keep the suitcase handy, and look for sales that sell books by the kilo. Meanwhile, here’s what to look out for in the second-hand book market.
Authors that bookstores no longer promote: Rahul Bhatnagar, 32, a Noida resident and Associate Fellow (Media) with the Delhi Government, got hooked on to second-hand books after his trips to the Sunday book market in Delhi’s Daryaganj. It’s where he discovered Orhan Pamuk’s works: Snow, My Name is Red, and Other Colours. In 2011, he even got his copy of Other Colours signed by the author at the Jaipur Literature Festival.
Daryaganj was also where Aanandita Chawla, 32, a copywriter who now lives in Bengaluru, picked up Jodi Picoult and Erma Bombeck. “I remember going there in a DTC bus with my mom and a few friends and picking up 20-30 books,” says Chawla.
Missing bits to complete your collection. At second-hand stores, Abbas Momin 34, a podcast producer and a podcaster from Mumbai, has found the Led Zeppelin biography, Hammer of the Gods, for ₹100, and the novelisation and script of the 1977 Star Wars film for ₹150-200 (bookstores sell it for ₹9,444). He’s currently collecting Stephen King books published in the 1970s and 1980s. “As much as I’m a fan of King’s writing, it’s the cover art from that era that is iconic, especially the fantasy Dark Tower series,” he says. Sure, the books will be a bit worse for wear, “dog-eared, with sentences underlined. That just adds to the quality of the book for me,” he says.
Gems in another language. Small publishers typically send their surplus to second-hand stores. So this is where your hunt should begin if you’re looking for regional-language classics and bestsellers in translation. “I have been trying to read in Hindi for the last few years,” says Bhatnagar. “I’ve been collecting books by Munshi Premchand.” He picked up Godaan and Kaphan recently.
Momin has an interest in Urdu poetry but can’t read the script well enough yet. So he’s been picking up Hindi translations to compare the poems. “I also used to collect Diamond and Raj comics in Hindi: Nagraj, Chacha Chaudhary, Pinki and Billu; in my teens,” he says.
Pricey foreign e-books.If a book has been around for more than a few years or is out of print, chances are that you’ll find an old copy for cheap somewhere. Abbas uses the Kindle app to read quick thrillers or an author he doesn’t want to be seen reading public. But for titles that are keepers, he prefers physical books. He found a set of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi classics, the Dune books, with the title embossed in a golden sheen on the cover. “It feels like it’s a part of the Dune universe.”
Or just swap. Perhaps the greatest collection of second-hand books isn’t in a store or a fair, but scattered in the homes of people just like you, waiting for a new reader. Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Bengaluru have thriving book-swap groups on Facebook. Most of them meet every month, with people announcing the titles they’re bringing to swap, and throwing in personalised recommendations that feel more trustworthy than an algorithm. Steer clear of swap meets that assign you a book at random. “I got Bhaskar Chattopadhyay’s Patang in a book swap once,” says Bhatnagar. “I had never heard of it and I’ve still not been able to read it.”
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From HT Brunch, March 11, 2023
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