Thursday, September 15, 2011

Good books, 
cheap buys

1. It's Been A Piece Of Cake: A tribute to my favourite test cricketers by Brian Johnston

2. Pagan Babies by Elmore Leonard

3. The Spanish Gardener by A.J. Cronin

4. The Chinese Assassin by Anthony Grey

5. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

6. The Eagle Has Landed by Jack Higgins

7. The 158-Pound Marriage by John Irving

8. Death Load (Mack Bolan: The Executioner #150) by Don Pendleton

9. The Tailor of Panama by John Le Carre

10. Snow Falcon by Craig Thomas

Do you know what is common among these ten books that have nothing in common? Ignore the order. They were all purchased for Rs.20 each, about 50 cents apiece, from a small bookstore in a northern suburb of Bombay, the financial capital of India. The paperbacks are secondhand but you wouldn't know looking at them. They are in near-mint condition. I picked them up randomly from a stack of used books over a period of three months. 

Over the past few years I've had the good fortune of buying dozens of pretty good books from this little-known bookshop — by authors as diverse as Louis L'Amour, Wayne D. Overholser and Frank C. Robertson (western); John le Carré, Craig Thomas, Jack Higgins and Leon Uris (thriller); Carter Brown, Don Pendleton, Nick Carter and Edgar Rice Burroughs (pulp fiction); John Irving, Kurt Vonnegut and Joseph Heller (popular fiction); and Erma Bombeck (humour), to name very few. All for 50 cents each.

Now there is nothing to get excited about a bargain like this, especially for a reader or collector in the western world. But here in India if you find these books, and find them cheap, you've won yourself a lottery. Many of the books I mentioned are no longer available in new bookstores. 

I often resist buying a new book if I have a hunch that I'll find it someday in a secondhand bookshop, and I usually trust my hunches. They have never let me down. Besides, I get a thrill out of discovering a rare or good book tucked away somewhere in a dust-filled pile of other books.

So then, from the assortment of ten books the only one I've not read yet is The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane — one of many classics in my collection I should have read a long time ago. After all, Crane did write it 116 years ago, didn't he? He deserves more respect.

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