Thursday, April 23, 2009

Read the fine print, books are back in style

Read the fine print, books are back in style

Recession sees Bangalore returning to second-hand bookstores, as new book prices remain high

Second-hand book shops and circulating libraries are revelling in the city's renewed love affair with the printed word

Alan Polson. Bangalore

The stress of the recession and today's V-Day seems to have Bangalore desperate for a reason to celebrate. World Book and Copyright Day provides just that. Started by Unesco in 1995, to promote reading, publishing and copyright, the Day is an event that celebrates reading as a hobby, interest, or just plain addiction.
Surprisingly enough, Bangalore's' reading habits have remained upbeat, in spite of the recession and a fast-paced lifestyle that has threatened to snuff out leisure reading from the Bangalorean's day. Reading is still, arguably, the city's number one hobby. Where people buy their books from, however, is changing: "People don't want to buy books costing Rs700 anymore. These bookstore chains overcharge everyone. It's at the second-hand stores that one can find the real deals for fiction and non-fiction," says avid-reader, Aditya Suresh.
Of course, one can't ignore those bastions of knowledge, the public libraries…or can you? While the State Central Library at Cubbon Park boasts of an enormous variety of books (2.48 lakh, according to their website), a dismal number of people seem to frequent it. "Well, the books are quite dusty," offers one young reader. "That's probably because these old books aren't exactly attractive or appealing. And let's face it, that OPAC (On-line Public Access Catalogue) machine in the corner isn't even plugged in. How are we supposed to know what's on the top shelves? Are those books just there for decoration?"
And it's also the library's atmosphere that's putting-off young readers. "Aside from the option of actually borrowing books (an option lacking at the Central Library) it would be nice to get a couple of fans in here," says Sharanya Rao, adding that "the Library is very beautiful and Cubbon Park is such a perfect spot for it".
Institutional libraries like the British Library, have always been high on the Bangalore reader's must-stop-at list. But it isn't the sort of library you'd visit to pick up a pulp fiction novel. "This is definitely the place for an application-oriented selection of books," says Anirban.
The British Library's system of cataloguing books and communicating with embers has garnered praise from many. "Our system is very user-oriented," says assistant manager, G Sadashiv Naik. "We especially focus on updating books periodically, and our system of feedback and member suggestions ensures that our membership subscriptions go up steadily. Though we have a members-only policy, we find that, by charging a minimum fee, the readers develop a respect for the books, and that respect is reciprocated by our staff. The only problems we face right now are the traffic and parking issues that the city, on the whole, is facing."
"I personally prefer the privately-owned, circulating libraries, like Eloor or Mecca," says Sony Balakrishnan. "[Eloor] has some good magazines, and, obviously you want to borrow a guitar magazine, not consult it. I personally, like the range they have, even though it may not be enough for other people. I guess one just has to find the library that caters to your taste."
Blossom Book House, on Church Street, is another option for book-lovers with average-sized wallets. 'They have a mix of new books, as well as second-hand ones," says Vikram Sheth, a Blossom patron, "You can buy a book, read it, and then sell it back at a good price, so I guess it is kind of like a circulating library, in that sense."
"Actually, this sort of selling and buying back is bad for business," confesses Mayi Gowda, owner of Blossom. "Still, I have no plans to turn this place into a library, or anything else. We have maybe, 60 per cent second-hand books, and 40 per cent new ones, but we still stay in business. Parents are encouraging their kids to read, so I have no worries for the future. Stores like these will always be appealing to customers, and we like to serve their needs."
The Select Book Shop, another second-hand book store, off Brigade Road, has been in the book buying and selling business for three generations. "My Father, KPK Rao, started this store, and served clients like Ruskin Bond and CV Raman," says KKS Murthy. "Now my son has also joined the business. This generation seems to be moving towards the Internet and Google to find what they want, but that is just data. Nothing can beat the feel of a book in your hand. Plus, we also locate hard-to-find, OP (Out of Print) books, which have a demand in Bangalore. A surprising number of youngsters are reading the Classics, as well as African, Brazilian, and Scandinavian authors, and many people come in looking for books by the Russian writers like Tolstoy and Chekhov.
"Libraries are good, but my shop, for example, is sourced from many private collections. It's a good habit, to collect, and spend time reading the books you love, and not just 'refer' to them, when you borrow them from a library. Research reading is one thing, but the general reading, of the classics is something that we need to inculcate in our children. Reading, as a habit, will always remain the same. It's only the type of reading that has changed in the recent past."Bookman of Bangalore: KKS Murthy at his Select Bookstore


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