There’s a thrill in leafing through the pages of a book that comes with inscriptions of multiple ex-owners, like my second hand Rule Brittania by Daphne Du Maurier from Blossom Book House, where most of Bangalore’s book loving public goes to hunt for second hand titles both obscure and regular. Incidentally, they also have a great collection of cult graphic titles such as Watchman, Batman, etc.
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“I buy only second hand books from there,” says content consultant Mansi Narang, who lives in Langford Town. Her reasons? “The books are cheap, in good condition, there’s great variety and best of all, the buyback option.” In fact, Mansi uses the buyback option (for books bought from Blossom and other copies) every month to sell six or seven books and add a bit more money to the cash she gets and buy some more.
Vani Mahesh, who runs the online Easy Library in Koramangala, prefers going to Bookworm, the store off Brigade Road. “The collection here is methodical and they are ready to procure something for you if they don’t have it,” she says, adding, “the (the proprietor) is also someone who knows about books.” At Bookworm too you could sell books picked up from there at half the price, making it an attractive option for anyone on a budget.
What makes a difference
Second hand or firsthand, a bookshop where the store keeper actually knows about books and authors and do not simply type names in a computerised inventory to look up stocks is a favourite with most bibliophiles. It’s one of the reasons why the now closed Premier Book Store had achieved cult status among many Bangaloreans. “I loved the fact that you could find surprises on almost every shelf. Also the fact that whichever book you wanted, Shanbag would just magically take it out for you,” says Frazer Town resident and tax consultant Varija Cowlagi, who is now on a hunt to find a bookshop with the same charm.
Knowledge is one reason Vani loves Nagasri Book Store in Jayanagar. “Prasad, who runs the store, knows a lot about authors and titles”. Sangeetha Prabhakar, professor of Psychology at Mount Carmel College likes Gangaram’s for the staffs seem to know what they are selling. “The girls know about the books they sell and the service is very good. They can get you any book from anywhere in a minute.”
Great stores for browsing
Landmark, Forum Mall, Oxford Bookstore, Leela Galleria, Crossword, Residency Road.
Stores for second hand books and rare editions:
Blossom Book House, Church Street, Bookworm, off Brigade Road, Select Book Store, off Brigade Road, Skyline Book Fair, Koramangala, Bookport, Shanthi Nagar
Educational and technical books
Gangaram’s, MG Road, Higginbotham’s, MG Road, Tata Book House, IISC, Shops on Avenue Road, Book Fair at Kattriguppe, Banashankari
Spiritual books/Coffee Table books
Landmark , Motilal Banarasidas, Magazines Store
Travel writer and photographer Arun Bhat thinks the two places where people know what they are selling are Strand Book Stall and the Sankars outlet in Ranga Shankara, JP Nagar. Knowledge and a passion for books is also one of the reasons why K K S Murthy of Select Book Stores is remembered fondly by many especially when they are looking for out of print and rare copies.
The best deal
The other big factor that always makes a difference to the buyers is a discount. This is one of the reasons why Strand with its standard ten per cent discount remains a favourite with many. The Tata Book House in the sprawling IISC campus is one place where you always get discounts. “They mainly specialise in technical books and give you flat 20 per cent discount on those but also have two shelves of fiction and can procure books you specifically want,” Sangeetha adds. Mansi likes the fact that Blossom also usually offers a 20 per cent discount on even the new, first hand books.
There was a time when one could pick up rare and original stuff at throwaway prices from pavement booksellers as well, though that is not a frequent occurrence anymore. “I once found a John Updike for Rs. 15 in Jayanagar though most pavement guys only sell pirated books now,” says engineering student and writer Siri Srinivas.
Vani has found Indrajaal Comics and other original second hand stuff rather cheap from a pavement seller who sits near Wearhouse and Spencers on MG Road. Freelance copywriter Sharath Bhat too finds original books in the pavement sellers’ racks.
“I’ve picked up some unusual titles here like one of humour writer Dave Barry’s earliest works, ‘Babies and other hazards of sex’,” says Mohit Kumar, who works with an investment bank on Outer Ring Road. Vani also finds original copies with a vendor who can be found around Dosa Camp and nearby areas in Jayanagar 4th Block.
Siri feels that best discounts are offered at smaller, lesser known stores and has found some good deals in a small book-exhibition-cum-store on the second floor at Balaji Towers in Jayanagar 4th Block, opposite Hot Chips. Another never-ending ‘Book Fair’ where you can return used books and buy some cheap new ones is above Food World, opposite Cafe Coffee Day in Kattriguppe Circle, Banshankari 3rd Stage.
“I hear Avenue Road has the cheapest and widest variety of books. But one must be ready to browse a lot and go into the dusty depths of the place to find good, cheap books,” Siri adds.
Another way to find good deals is to look out for sales in big bookstores such as Landmark and Crossword or wait for the likes of Strand and Bangalore Book Fair.
Software Development Engineer Sharanyan Chetlur looks forward to the sales at Landmark and Crossword where they try to get rid of old stock. “You find some really good books, really cheap there. Especially non-fiction on topics like music, art, etc,” he adds. However, you need to sort through the lot on display, as what catches your eye first are the popular titles, says Varija, who has found interesting stuff here such as a compilation of writings on women, famous food writer Ruth Reichl’s earlier publications between Rs. 99 to Rs. 275.
Sangeetha thinks the Bangalore Book Festival offers a good bargain. Organised by Bangalore Book Sellers and Publishers Association at Palace Grounds, she feels they have a wider variety of books.
Walk into Crossword on Residency Road and you will find a corner (and it really is a corner) towards the right hand side behind the kids book section, stocking an extremely modest section of Hindi, Bengali and Kannada books.
It is mainly the smaller bookstores which stock regional literature. Nagasri Book Store stocks Kannada literature but Prasad is of the view that there is no focus among authors on writing for the young, making it one of the reasons for a dwindling reading culture in Kannada literature. Arun Bhat would however disagree, saying “I feel a large number of young people are reading Kannada literature that is primarily non-fiction, experiential in nature”, adding that Ankitha Pustaka in Gandhi Bazaar is one of the main places where he picks up Kannada books, apart from Sapna Book House. In Jayanagar you could also pick up Kannada books at Prism, the bookshop near Jayanagar 4th Block market.
For Hindi books, Prasad suggests Vidyamandir and Anil Pustak Bhandar, both on Avenue Road. For spiritual books and books on mythology, Motilal Banarasidas in Jayanagar is an old name.
Sometimes, it’s just nice and comforting to enter a bookstore, look around the shiny new titles on display, and browse books you may not really buy. Sangeetha likes the Oxford Book Store with its Cha Bar at Leela Galleria for its ambience. She also feels a lot of stores stack good, rare to find (but perhaps not so popular) books in the lower shelves, making these difficult to spot or reach. Go near the Cookery and Decor or Feminist Writing section and if you are patient about looking through everything, you may spot some gems.
IT professional Arun Jayaprakash likes Blossom, despite the fact that you need to smash yourself flat against the bookshelves at times, to let other pass. The smaller bookstores have their own fan following for the staff know their collection (For instance, you don’t need to spell out John Le Carré), are usually ready to answer your queries and sometimes even give you discounts. At the same time you can browse to your heart’s content and walk away, without feeling awkward.
Alternative to book stores
Any takers for the pavement? Not much, at least among the crowd with disposable independent incomes. “Most pavement guys stock popular titles and bestseller novels that are pirated,” says Bhat. “I used to buy books off the pavement in my poorer days and more often than not I’ve found pages missing or not in order, poor print or paper,” says Jayaprakash. Vani points out some. “Usually you can know a pirated book by the print, the typeset which is very different, the skewed lines and also by the paper which is of bad quality and whiter.”
“The booming piracy is mainly because of the pricing,” says Bhat. “A bestseller is usually expensive and by the time it appears in a second hand store it could be a few years.” Like him, many people feel that publishers are hiking up prices of books mercilessly. The escalating rates of international titles and currently popular Indian authors have prompted some people to prefer buying online. “I bought Shantaram for Rs. 400 there, fairly lesser than its price at most Bangalore stores,” says Varija, adding cheerfully, “and I didn’t even have to leave my home!”