9.6.08

X marks the tome

Something Aishwarya blogged about here (para 2) keeps coming back to me. The practice of not acquiring a book you really want by just buying it through the easiest means possible. She calls it sportsmanship, but I cannot help think of it more as a Zen treasure hunt. ******************************************************************

A long while ago, I'd realised that if I continued to buy books at retail prices, I'd pretty much be in serious debt for a long, loooong time to come, considering the rate at which I buy them.

And much as I like places that stock books in nice, clean rows, and offer the added pleasure of being able to lounge around and read (with a cuppamocha to boot, natch), I increasingly find such shops a little...soulless. While it's nice to know that you can get about the same level of service and choice at any branch in any city, and while the sight of such outlets may be mildly comforting on a dreary journey to an unknown city, there's something so utterly boring about that in the long run*.

Besides, I've always been fonder of the smaller places, where the quantity and selection of books are available are governed by mysterious and unpredictable laws. Run by odd little men (in all this time, I've met just two women bookshop-owners). Tucked away in some back alley, with undefined working hours. Where a nodding acquaintance results in books being sold on credit, even if your name (let alone your address) is not known. Where a list of obscure and hard-to-find books somehow are resourced and produced for you, with just a hint of a smug smile.

But in time, even getting books from such shops becomes a tad boring, because you know that they're resourceful enough and well-versed enough to stock the kind of books that will sell, and that you're looking for. And so in time, I've found myself turning to the Holy Grail of Unpredictable Book Hunting - street-vendors and charity shops.

Aishwarya talks about making "silly noises" and behaving in an "idiotic" manner when finding a much sought-after book in a shop. Well, "silly noises" doesn't quite describe the reaction when, after countless hours spent tramping through dusty roads, scanning precariously perched piles of books in stall after stall after stall, you find that one book that completes the series you've been accumulating for over six years.

There's something Zen and ironical about this whole process - that the growth of your personal hoard depends entirely on your level of commitment (mania), the discardatory whims of other people, and the element of pure chance of the book being there when you visit, and not having being bought by somebody else before. You learn to accept things as being beyond your reach, and yet being attainable if you make that little extra effort, and walk those extra 300 feet**.

And there are so many plus-es to this system -
# If they're found in a charity shop, then the money is going towards the betterment of somebody, somewhere.
# If they come from a street-stall, then that's helping someone who has to struggle daily against the vagaries of municipal laws, the police, and the weather.
# It's like adoption for books. All those poor abandoned orphans, with no parents to take care of them, waiting for someone like me to swoop in and rescue them and take them and put them up in a nice setting with lots of fellow playmates. Who needs babies? My little books don't poop, they don't wail, they don't need lots of feeding. All they ask for is an occasional cleaning and some regular love and affection.
# It also leaves me more money to go buy even more books. Yay.

It also helps that increasingly, I tend to favour not-new books. While there's something intimately exalting about the smell of a new book, there's something far, far more comfortable about a second-hand one. I believe they fit in more easily with the other books on my shelves, who are more likely to welcome a smudged-and-thumbed self-effacing copy, than they would a pristine and snooty new kid on the block.

So, it's come to the point where I only get books from a "new" bookshop if it's a present for someone, or if I really need it and can't find it anywhere else. Otherwise, I've gone beyond mere book shopping and into the realms of book collecting.


* You only have to visit any major urban area in the UK to see where that will lead and why it's not the best thing - the consolidation of the marketplace due to the decline of smaller chains has become so advanced, that every high street feels almost identical. Sometimes it's hard to tell just which town or city you are in - if it weren't for the monuments.
** I'm not entirely sure whether the fact that I can live with waiting to find volumes Four and Five of a nine-volume fantasy series for a period of three years, is because that's how I am, or because that's how the process has made me.

7 comments:

Anki said...

i need to this pile of books u got
(n now i like see u in a totally new light... given that u r indeed a BOY!!! hmm wat betrayal)

shyam said...

I love books from charity shops too - I got an entire set of David Attenborough's series on Nature - 10 books, 50p each, in very nearly mint condition. I dont like Oxfam though - it is getting very nearly as expensive as any high street bookstore! I very rarely buy books new - too frickin' expensive, like you said.

Lekhni said...

I have a rule that I should never buy a book unless I have a decent chance of reading it at least twice. It's a great rule, but sadly I don't follow it as often as I should :( But I am really glad there are good libraries nearby.

Aishwarya said...

There's something Zen and ironical about this whole process - that the growth of your personal hoard depends entirely on your level of commitment (mania), the discardatory whims of other people, and the element of pure chance of the book being there when you visit, and not having being bought by somebody else before. You learn to accept things as beyond your reach, and yet attainable if you make that little extra effort, and walk those extra 300 feet.

Yes! This exactly. :)

??! said...

anki:
This "pile of books" needs some sorting first.

And I said sorry ok? I can't help it if people make assumptions. I told you people NOT to take it for granted that I was a girl. Hmmph!

shyam:
That was a wild bargain. I neglected to mention that I tend to pick up mint-condition books predominantly too. And yes, Oxfam...

lekhni:
That's a good rule - but what about the rule of picking up a book just because it looks interesting?

And yay for libraries! Especially ones that let you take 20 books home at a time. Woohoo!

aishwarya:
Zennnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn... :)

Falstaff said...

To me, the real joy of this process is the fact that I end up buying books I'd never buy otherwise because the books I really want aren't available. Books that aren't really on top of my reading list - and are unlikely to get there in the normal course of things - but that I'll end up buying from a second hand book store because a) they're the best that I can find there and I can't spend an hour browsing and walk out empty handed and b) they're such a great bargain.

??! said...

Falstaff:
Dammit! I edited the post yesterday, mainly to include that very point, and somehow I seem to have forgotten to include it.

But yeh, there's just so much more variety available at places that are not ruled by publisher deals and corporate profit margins.