Second Hand Love

July 01, 2006

To Mummy,

Hope you enjoy it!

Love Andrew, Anne, Olivier

I have a friend who only buys first hand books. He loves that fresh, new smell and the feel of crisp pages between his fingers. My friend's obsession extends to newspapers as well, so much so two sets of papers are bought in his home - one for him and one for the rest of the family to crease, bend and scribble phone numbers on.

My own book buying habit began rather late in life. My family preferred library memberships. My father and I used to visit Easwari Lending Library in Royapettah and later on to Eloor in T- Nagar every Sunday afternoon. After a good hour's browsing we would head to Woodlands Drive In or Gangotri and study our selection in detail over hot coffee and bondas. I somehow never felt the need to buy books.

All this of course changed once I got married and moved to Bombay. In Madras poky, ramshackle rooms that masqueraded as libraries could be found on every street corner. Alas, Bombay was bereft of a motley crew of Shakti/Murugan/Swami lending libraries. So after my husband and I had exhausted the contents of each other's meagre collection, we proceeded to buy books. At first it was once every few weeks, when we went to town and were driving by Oxford. On moving to south Bombay, Crossword opened up down the road it was impossible not to pop in every other week and have a nose about.

By the time we moved to England our collection had grown modestly. We had 3 small cartons of books that thankfully fit in the oak bookshelf our landlord had provided us with.

In London, I once again found myself with a library membership. Our local council library was free and had a rather good collection. What's more, books can be quite exorbitant here and picking up even 3 can set you back quite a bit.

Until I discovered charity shops. While Madras has Azhwar on Luz Corner and Bombay has the pavement shops near VT, in London the charity shop rules. Not to be confused with city's excellent second hand bookshops that dot Charing Cross and the city's many markets, charity shops are a different breed altogether. From Oxfam to St. Isobel's Hospice, charities great and small in England have stores that allow patrons to contribute everything from their grandmother's doily collection to 1930's rocking horses. These are then resold at bargain prices, the proceeds going to fund the charity's noble cause.

Though I've picked up my fair share of Victorian beer bottles, cast iron Spanish horses and other tat, my favourite charity shop buys are always books. Starting from as little as 50p and going up to hundreds and sometimes even thousands if the book in question is a collectors item, charity shops stock an amazing variety of titles. From Penny Jordan to Proust and William Shakespeare to old editions of Women's Own they're a great place to buy books. And perish any thought of old books in tatters and with pages missing. Nothing could be further from the truth. A few months ago I bought a hardback copy of Vikram Seth's Two Lives that looked brand new for 2.At that price it seemed stupid not to buy it!

That's the thing with charity shop books, the price alone can convince you to reach for your wallet. Books that you wouldn't really want to pay full price for (Sex and the City) suddenly seem appealing at 49p. You can take risks at charity shops. Paying 12.99 for a book you're not sure about is hard. But when the same book costs 1.99 it makes life so much easier. I've made some good, indifferent and excellent purchases at charity shops. While Joanna Harris was a little too sweet for me, Penguin's Anthology of Women's Short Stories introduced me to Angela Carter and Banana Yoshimoto.

Sometimes I buy books for silly reasons. The 'To mummy...' at the beginning of this piece was in a book called Slow Boats to China by Gavin Young. When I saw the spine of the book today, I realised it was the name of a blog I read. Intrigued to see what had inspired the name, I picked up the book and saw the inscription inside. It somehow made me want to read the book.

I like the idea that a book I'm holding has been read, loved or hated by someone before me. I like to think that fingers over the grainy pages and tucked old bills or pressed flowers as bookmarks. I like to think that someone else was amazed by the writer's lyrical prose, incensed by a character's actions or horrified at the sudden turn of events on page 234.


I don't know if 'Mummy' enjoyed the book. I hope she did.

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July 2, 2006
01:34 AM

Hi Shoefi, lovely post! Am afflicted by similar compulsions, so you have no idea what a boon this is, living in India for any length of time!

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