I was a model of restraint during my biannual pilgrimage to the Books by Weight exhibition at Churchgate in South Mumbai, last week. I picked up only four used paperbacks in mint condition. The books had a familiar musty smell, as if I’d pulled them out of a rusty trunk in the attic. I like the way old books smell. Some people religiously sniff pages of novels and newspapers before reading them. It’s supposed to bring good luck. A quaint habit and one I indulge in occasionally.
The four titles I picked up, out of a million-odd books, were Guzman Go Home by Alan Sillitoe, another of my favourite authors; The October Country by Ray Bradbury, whose paperbacks have some of the best illustrated covers; And So To Bed by William Ard, whose western novels I’ve read as Jonas Ward; and Lie Down Killer by Richard S. Prather, whose crime and mystery have been on my wish-list for a long time. See the topmost picture.
I found these in one of a dozen open boxes strewn across the floor in the large and roomy auditorium at Sunderbai Hall. There were at least two cartons filled with mid- to late 20th century fantasy, sf and horror novels mostly by authors I’d never heard of. I can’t imagine what I missed, especially since I was the only one pouring over this section. Most people were picking up popular and contemporary authors, such as, Stephen King, James Patterson, Michael Connelly, Danielle Steel (still widely read in India), Jonathan Kellerman, Elizabeth Gilbert, Peter James, Mary Higgins Clark, Ian Rankin, Joanna Trollope, Ellis Peters, and J.K. Rowling, to name a handful.
Apart from the boxes, there were eight rows, each the length of a bowling alley, stacked with hundreds and thousands of paperbacks and hardbacks across several categories. The books were pressed so tightly against one another, their spines facing upward, I was afraid they’d suffocate to death. Books have life, after all.
The one carton I eyed with unconcealed glee at Books by Weight was the one that contained my most favourite writer—Jack Higgins (Harry Patterson). I pulled out many of his Book Club hardbacks only to drop them back into the box. I’d enough of his novels at home. And yet, when it comes to books, there’s never too much of a good thing.
© Photographs by Prashant C. Trikannad