Saturday, 27 October 2012

BOOK BUYS

When good books sell cheap

There is no spectacle that is as terrifying as the sight of a guest in your house whom you catch staring at your books.
— Attributed to Roger Rosenblatt, American journalist, author, playwright and teacher


A couple of days ago, I visited the popular Crossword bookstore located within the sprawling Inorbit Mall in Malad, a northwest suburb of Bombay, and glanced through the wall-to-wall section on fiction. I was looking for the novels of three well-known authors—John le Carré, Tom Clancy and John Irving—and found them jostling for space on a couple of shelves.

While many of their books were there, each priced at Rs.299 ($6), I was looking for specific titles like The Constant Gardener and The Tailor of Panama by le Carré, a few Op Centre novels by Clancy, and The Cider House Rules and A Son of the Circus by Irving. 


I'd no intention of buying any. All I wanted to do was compare their prices with those I'd bought recently from the secondhand bookstore I frequent, like a drunk going into his favourite hooch joint on the dot of six in the evening.

The price difference between the new and used books mentioned above was Rs.279 ($5.60). I bought three of the four novels by le Carré and Irving and a couple of Op Centres by Clancy for a measly Rs.20 each (less than 50 cents), which was as good as free.

All my books were in mint condition and some of the covers were the same as the ones I saw at Crossword. I might as well have bought them from the new bookstore.

The only book I didn't pick up for Rs.20 was A Son of the Circus. That particular novel cost me Rs.100 ($2) at another bookstore in central Bombay. I was poorer by Rs.80 ($1.6) but it was still a good bargain.

This is where I feel for authors, publishers, distributors and sellers who have every right to think they have been ripped off; screwed, in fact.

I know what you're thinking: if you feel so bad about this, then why did you buy the "used" books in the first place? It’s one way of looking at it. 

The Inorbit Mall at Malad in northwest Bombay.

Here’s how I look at it.

I bought the books secondhand because ordinarily I’d never buy them from a new bookstore as I seldom buy new books. I have plenty to read as it were, nearly a hundred used books on last count, not to mention dozens and dozens of copyright-free ebooks, short stories, comic-books, and magazines and anthologies. I have gone from being an earnest reader to a mean hoarder of books.

Two, I cannot afford to pay Rs.299 ($6) and more for each new book by every popular author just because I enjoy their work. I like reading fiction by John le Carré, Tom Clancy and John Irving and would love to read every book they have written. Now how many of their books can I possibly buy? Not many. But I can buy most of their novels for as little as Rs.20 or Rs.50 ($1) and try and read all their books. 

Three, for all my love of books I would be loath to spend money on a new book when I can put it to better use on the home front. There’s always something that needs fixing or replacing. New books can wait. Yet, I do occasionally purchase those I won’t find secondhand; for instance, The Complete Prose of Woody Allen, The Master of Petersburg by J.M. Coetzee, and Flint by Louis L’Amour, a favourite.

Four, a swanky bookstore always leaves me confused. I rarely know what to buy even if a wad of currency is sticking out of my pocket and I can spend it as I like.

I blame it on my ten-year affliction, secondhand books syndrome, and it’s not going to go away soon.

For more Book Buys see under Labels.

13 comments:

  1. I buy second hand books all the time. It is the only way I could afford to read at all. The only new books I buy are those on my Reward points through my credit card!

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    1. Ditto, Mystica. Ninety-eight per cent of my collection is made up of secondhands. They are cheap and mostly in good condition and I give them away after reading them. New books are a luxury I can ill-afford. The only books I have kept away from are cheap pirated editions of new releases and all those associated with the sordid trade should be put behind bars.

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  2. I buy a lot of ebooks because they are cheaper. I buy new books from authors I know and like. to try out a new author, I'll often try a used book, and if I like them I will buy some new. When times are hard, you certainly have to take care of your money, though, and spend it where you have to spend it to survive. I've also joined bookmooch where I trade books that I have for other books, but those are mostly for older books that are not new releases.

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    1. Charles, I'm attracted to the prospect of buying ebooks because, as you say, they are cheaper than physical books except I haven't acquired an e-reader yet. I try and read a little on my laptop or my desktop but it lacks the flexibility of a Kindle or a Nook. Books are an expensive proposition in India, thanks in the main to the high cost of publishing as well as the high value of the dollar vis-a-vis the Indian rupee. You mentioned Bookmooch earlier and I'm interested in knowing how the concept of trading books for other books really works.

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  3. I buy used books online--hard backs, usually library editions. I like it that a book has some history. New book purchases are for gifts to others.

    I would like to pump more revenue into the system that produces new books and puts royalty checks in the mail to writers, but I don't have that kind of discretionary income. So as a fallback, I write reviews that I hope will do that for the authors.

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    1. Ron, I have bought only two new ebooks online but no paperbacks or hardbacks yet. Fortunately, I don't have to depend on Amazon for those as the shipping cost alone would have been prohibitive. We can now buy physical books through some excellent online sites in India that sell them at higher discounts than do most bookstores. "Discretionary income" is always the problem, isn't it? I often find myself on the verge of paying for a new book only to put it back on the shelf and muttering to myself, "I don't need it right now. Maybe, next time," and so on and so forth.

      I think writing reviews, particularly as well as you do, is equivalent of buying the reviewed author's book, especially since new visitors to your blog are going to read those reviews for months and years and help keep the book in public memory.

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  4. That's one swanky mall, Prashant. Somehow or the other though, I find myself uncomfortable in these glitzy places. Give me a second-hand book store (even if it is just some books on the footpath) and I am in heaven.

    Like the others who have commented I too hardly ever buy a new book.

    And which is this wonderful place where you get books as cheap as Rs. 20?

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    1. Neer, we have a few swanky malls like Inorbit with their snazzy designer stores and boutiques. I like browsing through new bookstores but prefer buying most of my books from secondhand outlets like the one I keep writing about. It's located at Andheri, the suburb where I live. They sell some good books for as little as Rs.10 too and I have acquired a pile of those as well. I agree, Neer, used books and bookstores have a charm of their own, especially if they come with vintage covers and smells.

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  5. I'm afraid I can't walk into a bookshop without buying something.
    What I find terrifying is when guests come to my house and ask 'have you read all these books?' Of course I've not read them all. My house is full of books I need to find time to read but I have read a fair amount of what is on my bookshelves. Whenever someone asks me that I usually mentally mark them as 'not a reader'!

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    1. Sarah, the temptation to buy new books in a new bookshop is strong but the reality bug is stronger. This afternoon, my family and I visited a charity fair organised by an old-age home near our place and we picked up a few books including David Baldacci's TOTAL CONTROL and Ed McBain's FIDDLERS, both in very good condition, for Rs.30 each (about 65 cents). Now I'd never buy these books for Rs.300 ($6) and above in a new bookstore. All I have to do is wait and the books turn up at much less than half their original price.

      I don't mind lending or giving away books I've already read or I'm unlikely to read soon but there are also many books and comic-books that I'll never part with. A polite "No" always works.

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  6. One of the things that I find most distressing about e-books is the fact that you can't get them second hand - browsing through shelves of old books is one of life's great pleasures. I hope I never get too old for that.

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    1. Sergio, that's true. I'd have liked some of my ebooks in physical format, especially since it's not smooth reading them on your PC or laptop. I tire of it easily. Perhaps, I should reconsider my plan to put off buying an e-reader until next year and go ahead and buy one right away. Question is will I then read the ebooks I brag about? I doubt it.

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  7. Prashant sir,
    I have been an avid reader of your blog since last week when I stumbled upon it.You write effortlessly and I suggest that you may try writing a novel yourself! I am an avid buyer of second hand books much like you though my "Karmabhoomi" is Daryaganj market at Delhi. Unfortunately, this used book culture is prevalent primarily in metros like Delhi , Mumbai and Chennai but I think it needs spreading out to the small towns of India

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