When we say ‘Bookshops’, we do not include the shops that also sell books. The New Year is expected to be a time for both reflection and anticipation. We thought we will contemplate on some of our most favourite places – Bookshops. The ones that still exist and the ones that have gone.
Sometime back in a conversation, when we mentioned that we like to buy from bookshops rather than online and thereby support their continued existence, the question we were asked was –‘Why?’ This surprised us so much that we forgot to ask the questioner for an explanation. It did, however, set us thinking about our reasons for our fondness for bookshops.
In an age when everything is available at the click of a mouse, delivered to your door step or downloaded on your eReader, why go to all the trouble of facing the hassle of traffic, crossing unwieldy roads, unpaved pavements with cables trailing out of deep, ankle twisting cavities, and taxing your non-existent muscles. All this in order to reach a place where you will more likely pay more for the same books that you can buy online, comfortably sitting on your couch; with kids/spouse/dog/parents looking over your shoulder and providing inputs on what to buy. Wherein lies the charm?
LL: Because it feels almost like a place where you belong?
PS: That sounds precariously like ‘Cheers’. But not everyone knows your name.
LL: No, but they probably know what you read and that is as good.
PS: It has to chiefly be the smell and feel of a bookshop which is its most irreplaceable quality; the idea of being surrounded by books of all variety. And of being able to browse in an atmosphere of all pervasive bookiness. It’s not as if we have all those wonderful public libraries, brimful of books on any and every subject, where we can go to get our literary fix. Besides, there are some books which have to not only be savoured but also acquired.
LL: Somehow, the more crammed they are with books, the better the shops feel. The possibilities of new discoveries and alternate worlds hang thick in the air.
PS: And the few shops left in Bangalore, like Blossoms and Bookworm, the fact that they also sell second hand books makes them that much more exciting. There is also the added factor of them insisting on giving you coffee in those tiny paper cups, if you happen to be there at a time when the staff coffee arrives. Makes it very homely.
LL: There used to be so many more places where readers could go and which have now shut shop. Premier Bookshop being the biggest loss to the city.
PS: There was a time when Shankar’s in the old Airport added to the excitement of travel (or took away from the boredom of it). We would get to the Airport just that little bit earlier in order to have enough time for a visit to Shankar’s.
LL: Landmark used to be great and we used to really look forward to visiting it every time we went to Chennai. And I remember we were so excited when they opened a branch in Bangalore.
PS: Look at what happened to them after corporatisation and their takeover by a business house. They have totally ruined the bookshop. Something similar happened to Crosswords which started off fabulously on Peddar Road in Mumbai but soon lost the plot.
LL: It’s the attitude of the owner which matters so much. There is a very fine distinction between treating their customers as readers rather than as buyers and yet it makes a world of difference. Both Gangaram’s and Sapna, though old Bangalore shops have always been more of ‘Bookstores’ rather than ‘Bookshops’ in my opinion.
PS: The former category being more commercial as opposed to the latter?
PS: There was also Fountainhead on Lavelle Road, which despite selling other things (we bought numerous pens from there) felt more like a ‘Bookshop’. Again it was probably due to the attitude of the people running the place. They knew about the books they were selling, left you to browse for however long you wanted but had an opinion to offer if asked about a particular book.
LL; Then there was PageTurners which was such great little shop to have on M.G. Road but it didn’t last long.
PS: This is beginning to sound like a requiem for lost bookshops.
LL: The nice thing about a bookshop is that one often manages to catch snatches of interesting conversations. My favourite was the boy at the payment counter in Blossoms who counted the money in his wallet and coolly asked “Can you give me a discount of Twenty Rupees? I need it to get home.” And the owner, without batting an eyelid, very matter of fact said “OK”. As if such requests are routine.
PS: I like to hear all the people who come in asking for CDs and are told “No, only books.” It is very satisfying to hear that. Also there was the time when I overheard two ladies wondering about Terry Pratchett and I felt compelled to give an opinion which resulted in their purchasing one of his books. More people converted over to the octarine side!
LL: In most articles that we have read on the topic, the advantage of having bookshops is given only from the publishers’ point of view and not from that of the reader’s.
PS: I wish that sellers and Publishers would keep in mind that the readers are as important. So here is free advice for them -You have to make it worth our while to head out to a bookshop. Make it an experience which cannot be replicated online (which it is) and something people will crave often.
LL: And do not just rely on the die-hard customers to keep going to the shops. The competition is insidious and provides considerable temptation.
PS: Also the frenzy that can be created by the release of books of popular authors is only possible around physical shops. Readers go to such events because of the community feeling.
LL: Remember all those kids in their round frames, bearing stick on scars and carrying wands while waiting outside their local bookshop at midnight to pick up their copy of the latest Harry Potter?
PS: Online only provides you with the option of pre order. But where is the fun in that when you could be dozing off in a pavement queue in the midst of a heated discussion on the most favoured flavour of Berite Bott’s beans?