|© Butterfly Books
Once inside we went our separate ways, our taste in books pulling us in different directions. Since we follow the British pedestrian and motoring system, I started with the children’s section on the extreme left and slowly made my way to the extreme right, through eight uniform rows of books covering a wide range of topics including education, history, cooking, medicine, photography, biographies, reference, management, and architecture and interiors. I then retraced my steps, going back to where I started.
Paperback and hardback fiction sat tightly, sweating it out—cover to cover, spine to spine, back to back—on two neat rows, each nearly twice the length of a bowling alley. I had to frequently sidestep the cartons of books on the floor, two of which contained science fiction and legal thrillers—where Isaac Asimov and John Grisham discussed storytelling over warm beer.
I noticed that contemporary authors—Michael Connelly, James Patterson, Harlan Coben, Robert Crais, Jeffrey Deaver, Bill Bryson, Joanna Trollope, Ian Rankin, Anna Smith, Peter James, Donna Leon, and Dale Brown, among many others—were flying off the display tables. Those who were buying books knew their authors well.
At one point I was tempted to pick up a few hardbacks of two of my favourite authors, Jack Higgins (Harry Patterson) and Alistair MacLean, for old times' sake. But then, I saw that most of these were Book Club editions, and not first editions as I thought.
I observed other people browsing and the choices they made. One bespectacled gentleman in the fiction row was peering at a handwritten list of books and then peering at the titles. I looked down at his wheeled-basket and saw Wilbur Smith and Robin Cook having a tete-a-tete. These were bestselling authors I read in my teens. If you are Indian you’d still be reading bestsellers from the seventies and eighties. I hope he got lucky with his bucket list of books.
Butterfly Books, which owns and runs the million-odd Books by Weight, sells by the kilo. Paperbacks cost Rs.100 a kg and those are the ones I usually buy—I get as many as seven for the price of a dollar and half. Hardbacks, not that many.
This time, though, I picked up a hardback—a first edition of a most interesting book about detectives. You will have to wait until I finish reading and posting a review. I promise to do that soon and lay your suspense to rest.
For now, I will leave you with delectable scenes from the book exhibition where I could have done a Julie Andrews and sung, “I could have browsed all night.”
© Photographs by Prashant C. Trikannad