Sunday, 13 March 2016

Photo Essay: Books by Weight

The auditorium at Sundarbai Hall near Churchgate Station in downtown Mumbai, a popular venue for exhibitions, is so vast that you can browse through stuff and exercise your legs at the same time. If it’s a book exhibition then you end up walking around even more, because once in you don’t want out. Seldom is exercise so enjoyable. It’s a pleasant workout for mind and body. And it beats loitering inside a mall and buying things you don’t really need.

© Butterfly Books
Last week, my wife and I went to the Books by Weight exhibition at Sundarbai. Yes, the same one I visit twice a year. We spent nearly three hours browsing and reading. Eventually, we bought a few 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













30 comments:

  1. Thanks for the pix, Prashant. Looks like my kind of book sale.

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    1. Elgin, you are welcome. Over the years I have bought some good books and discovered and rediscovered forgotten ones at this exhibition, which is held across Mumbai. It's a nice place to spend a day.

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    1. Patti, I think western publishers and distributors are "dumping" books in countries like India. I don't mind that, of course!

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  3. I would have got lost there! Sounds fabulous

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    1. Mystica, it's a big place and there are lakhs of books across categories — something for everyone.

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  4. If I ever get caught somewhere in a zombie apocalypse I want it to be in this place.

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    1. Charles, it's sad that so few people visit this exhibition. Most of them don't even know about it.

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  5. I think I'd enjoy this, but probably can't haul my own body-weight in books!

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    1. Col, you could easily pile up a few hundred "tubs" and then post about them on your blog.

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  6. Oh, Prashant, what a wonderful time you must have had! What a fabulous place to be! You are very fortunate!

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    1. Thanks, Margot. I always have a "wonderful time" at this particular exhibition even when I don't buy any books, as is so often the case.

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    1. It always is, Rick. Irresistible, to say the least.

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  8. A treasure trove! I think I'd like that Colin Dexter I see. :)

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    1. I agree, Elizabeth. I did not pick up any Colin Dexter because I have quite a few of his novels, all unread.

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  9. Interesting to me that the same books in the US that I cannot escape at a book sale turn up in abundance in India. The phenomenon of bestsellers truly is interniatonl these days, isn't it? James Patterson, Jeffrey Deaver, Kathy Reichs, Lawrence Sanders, Tom Clancy, John Grisham... To me these are authors whose books are obstacles that need to be shoved aside in order to get to the "real meat" at a book sale. But I envy you turning up a large box full of Ruth Rendell books. That certainly wouldn't happen in Illinois or Wisconsin.

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    1. John, a couple of years ago, I asked the manager at another book exhibition where he got his books from and he said they came by the shiploads from the US. Is this because inventories of old and fairly new books are piling up in warehouses at your end and there are basically no takers for them? Maybe, that's why they are being offloaded in English-speaking countries like India. The number of books at Indian exhibitions, and Books by Weight is just one of them, is simply huge.

      As for bestsellers I read them every now and then. In fact, I'm currently reading a Lawrence Sanders!

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  10. This looks like a lot of fun. I would buy way too many books.

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    1. Tracy, browsing is fun at these humongous exhibitions. I had to steel against buying more than one book. I want to read and clear my existing pile.

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  11. A picture of the bookshop Book Took at Kolkata is at
    http://s14.postimg.org/t2bij5pdd/book_took5.jpg

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    1. Thanks for the link, Santosh. I believe the book scene in Calcutta is vibrant, which is not surprising considering that Bengalis are generally well-read people.

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    2. Yes, here the people are crazy after books.You should see the huge crowds at any book fair !

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    3. Santosh, someday I'd like to visit the bookshops and book exhibitions in Calcutta, Delhi, and Bangalore. I bought most of my books from used bookshops and old paper mart, the latter a veritable treasure house.

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  12. As we say over hear, that is just blooming marvellous Prashant - I could happily spend days and days there!

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    1. Thanks, Sergio. I couldn't think of a better place to spend half-a-day as we did. I'm tempted to go back for a second look.

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  13. Amazing photos - you have all your readers salivating I think Prashant. And a lovely, warm funny description.

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    1. Many thanks, Moira. This particular exhibition is held in various parts of the city, and at least twice a year at the above venue, which I prefer to visit. Even a couple of trips are not enough to go through the fiction section.

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  14. Just not Fair, Prashant, Just not Fair. My colour is a sickly green right now.......

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    1. Neer, it never is, is it? I feel the same way when I read about bargain books sales across the world, especially early paperbacks of noir and hardboiled fiction.

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