Friday, January 28, 2011

The Sunday and Recent Haul

In the excitement of posting about my recent finds of Joan Didion’s ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ and ‘At Home With Books’ at Begumpet’s Frankfurt Bookstore and at the Best Books sale at YMCA I had completely forgotten two more books that I had found at the same time. On the day that I had picked up Didion’s book at Frankfurt Begumpet I had bought two other books that I found.

The first find was my second copy of Stieg Larrson’s ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ which was in a far better condition than the one that I had found at Abids a couple of months ago. The earlier copy was an Maclehose edition and after I bought it I had thought it did not have all the pages in the end. But when I took out the one I found (Black Lizard edition) I realized I was mistaken. My earlier copy too had all the pages right up to the end of the story. It too had an excerpt of Larrson’s second book ‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’ and since the excerpt ends abruptly I took it to be the ending of the original book. But it is quite a lengthy book running to 644 pages and might take me at least a fortnight if not a month to finish it. Judging by the reviews of the book I should have read these two books long back. But then as the saying goes ‘better late than never’ I plan to begin TGWTDT sometime in the first week of February. Of course, I expect to find ‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’ very soon.

The other find at Frankfurt was Zadie Smith’s ‘The Autograph Man’ that I got for the same price that I got Stieg Larrson’s book- hundred rupees. Zadie Smith’s books, especially ‘White Teeth’ were something I was looking forward quite eagerly to read if only I could find second hand copies. ‘The Autograph Man’ is her second book I guess which came after ‘White Teeth’ which is what I want to read first before I read ‘The Autograph Man.’ Of course I am also eager to read her book of essays titled ‘Changing My Mind’ that I read about somewhere recently. I don’t remember where I read it. These two finds were ones I made on a day other than a Sunday.

On Sunday the haul at Abids consisted of two finds and not one of them a book but interesting nonetheless. The first find was the June 2007 issue of ‘Literary Review’ that I got for only ten rupees. I picked it up because it was the first time I was finding the magazine at Abids and though it was quite dated there was a review of Ryszard Kapuscinski’s ‘Travels with Herodotus’ in it that I wanted to read. Plus there was a review of Haruki Murakami’s ‘After Dark’ that I also wanted to read. It was a good find since there was a lot in it about books, reviews, new books and new authors I haven’t even heard before.

The other find on Sunday at Abids was a 2010 Mont Blanc catalogue, beautiful in black with stunning pictures of the beautiful pens. There were pictures of a new series made with ‘Meissen Porcelain’ that I haven’t seen anywhere before. Mont Blanc is talking about their pens as something that you pass on to your children, as a sort of legacy. The ads for Patek Philippe watches too have a similar theme (You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.) Anyway, there were two other models, the Meisterstück Solitaire Silver Barley and Meisterstück Solitaire Geometric Dimension, both so breathtakingly beautiful I wondered why I was not born rich.

Incidentally, the other day I started with Uma for the Mont Blanc store in the Inorbit mall at far away Madhapur, to get the hole in the star on the cap of my Meisterstück fixed. It turned out that they do not do any servicing at that outlet being a franchisee and the person asked me to go to the MB outlets in either Taj Deccan or the Grand Kakatiya. We also dropped in at the ‘editions’ store next door and gawked at the pens displayed. The counter person told us that they stock pens of brand one normally cannot find anywhere. I was quite excited to see copies of ‘Pen World’ magazine of December 2010 for sale at four hundred rupees each. Then there was a hefty book on pens that was for Rs 3500. We did not buy anything but walked out to go to Taj Deccan. Unfortunately for us, being the Republic Day, the Mont Blanc outlet at Taj Deccan was closed. I wonder what if one of the guests at Taj Deccan developed a sudden desire to buy a Mont Blanc pen that very day where would he go?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Double Post- 'AT HOME WITH BOOKS'- 2

Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill.’- Barbara Tuchman

Dispensary to the soul.’- Library inscription in Trajan’s forum, Rome.

I have seen men hazard their fortunes, go on long journeys half around the world, forge friendships, even lie, cheat and steal, all for the gain of a book.’ A.S.W. Rosenbach

You can read a person by the books he reads.’ A.L. Rowse (historian)

If that is true then I wonder what my own collection of books would reveal about me. I have small collections of travel books by Pico Iyer, Paul Theroux, VS Naipaul and others, books by Elmore Leonard, Dave Barry, Somerset Maugham, books on writing, fountain pens, books on books and reading, autobiographies and memoirs especially of writers and movie stars, and scores of other titles, mostly about humor. The sight of all these books scattered around my house sometimes consoles me that my books are one of the few things that make me someone more than just a faceless bureaucrat.

All these days, watching books clutter up every space in the house, I was feeling that I had with me far too many books. But in AHWB I read about people with collections of books running into thousands. My pathetic collection of a couple of hundred books is nothing before the number of books some of the people featured in the book- Seymour Durst (12000),Barbara Kirshenblatt Gimblett (15000 books), Victor Niederhoffer (18000 books), Ruth and Marvin Sackner (35000) and others who have thousands of books arranged in beautiful bookshelves in their equally beautiful homes and libraries.

One reason I love AHWB is the photographs of the people and their homes filled with bookshelves. Some of the people have the sort of homes I would love to live in if I were to earn as much as they earn. Surprisingly, many of the people in the book happen to be architects or designers like Laurie Mallett, Thomas Britt, Michele Oka Doner, Michael Graves, Robert A. M. Stern, Bill Blass, David Hicks, Joan Vass and of course, Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones and so many others.

Some of those people whose collections in ‘At Home With Books’ that I have found to be fascinating are those by Nicolas Barker, Barbara, Richard Howard, Kitty D’Alessio, John and Jane Stubbs whose collection is the first in the book, Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett (my favorite) and too many others to be mentioned here.

It is both humbling and inspiring to read about the effort, money and passion some of the collectors put into collecting books. Some have actually built climate controlled rooms or libraries so that nothing affects their precious books. Some are dedicated to building a collection on a particular theme like Seymour Durst who has thousand of books on New York, Loren and Frances Rothschild on Samuel Johnson and others who have collections on art, music and such culturally relevant subjects. In a way they are preserving culture for the future generations. I think all book lovers owe a lot to these indefatigable collectors.

What I realized after going through the articles on these dedicated and passionate collectors is that I too should bring some kind of an order to my book collection however simple it is. It makes sense to keep all your books neatly arranged in bookshelves which is where they belong. Having them in that manner gives the books the place they deserve and at the same time imparts a sense of order to one’s life. Another side effect of the book was that I was able to convince my family members that I am not the only one in the world who buys too books and fills the house.

I had been reading about Hay-On-Wye since long and had wondered how it would be. There was a separate chapter in At Home With Books on this book town on the border of England and Wales with a lot of pictures of its more than two dozen book stores and also how Richard Booth thought up the idea of such a place. It is one of my dreams to visit the place sometime in the future.

Buying several copies of the same title isn’t a habit only I have because apparently there is another person, Peter Canell who acquires several copies of his favorite books and gives them away to his friends. (Maybe here I can confess that I picked up the paperback copy of Joan Didion’s ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ at the same sale.)Then there is stuff about “Library Organizers” who will organize your book collection into a manageable affair which was quite interesting to read. There’s an entire chapter on specialist book binders and conservationists and I was fascinated to read that Richard Minsky binds books so well that they get stolen often.

There are chapters on how to start a book collection, on how to take care of your books containing advice I would do well to follow if I don’t want to lose my books to dampness, dust and insects. There are lists of dealers of antique, rare books in the USA and England, of people who manufacture library ladders, reading and almost everything related to collecting books.

I am glad I found this absolutely priceless book that everyone who loves books should read if not own. The book has given me a new perspective on the people who love books and collect them. It isn’t a book that one can find in your ordinary book store but I found it at a second hand book sale. This is what I mean when I say I am really lucky with books. But I am really curious how this book belonging to the British Library in Hyderabad made its way to the book sale.

Double Post- 'AT HOME WITH BOOKS'- 1

Why I do it is a bit difficult to explain but I cannot resist anything, especially books, on writing, reading, fountain pens and on books. After I spot something like that I’m restless until I make the book my own. Ordinarily it is quite rare to find a book on or about books. My last book on books was Pradeep Sebastian’s ‘The Groaning Shelf’ that I bought two copies of a couple of months ago. I’ve found another book on books and this was on my second visit to the Best Book sale. I wonder how I missed spotting this book because it was no ordinary book. In size, content and the pictures it was unlike any other book on books I had ever come across. ‘At Home With Books’ was the wonderful book I immediately lapped up paying three hundred and fifty rupees for it. It is a book that I couldn’t just miss buying.

Nothing can be luckier for someone who loves books to find a book on books. Pradeep Sebastian’s ‘The Groaning Shelf’ is another invaluable book about books, reading and book collecting. However, TGS is a small sized book without any pictures or illustrations. On the other hand AHWB is a super-sized book with colorful pictures on every page. It has every thing a book collector needs to know- other book collectors and their magnificent collections, articles on care of books, articles on starting a book collection, and so on. It is just what I felt I lacked in my book collecting life. Now I feel a large gap in my book shelf (and my knowledge of books) has been filled.

Just as finding and reading ‘The Groaning Shelf’ convinced me that I was not the only one mad about books, ‘At Home With Books’ too convinced me that I was not the only one crazy to buy several copies of the same title. There are several book collectors featured in AHWB who own several thousands of books and have collections I cannot even dream of putting up in my life time. Apart from featuring designers, millionaire collectors, genuine book lovers who talk about their love of books the book also has stunning photographs of the books, the bookshelves and the rooms that house the collections. It is not only a feast to the mind it is also a feast to the eyes. I am unable to decide which is the best part of the books- the profiles of the collectors or the pictures of their collections? Whatever it is, I am glad I found this book that has me seriously thinking of my own motley collection.

The hardcover copy of ‘At Home With Books’(Eds- Estelle Ellis, Caroline Seebohm and Christopher Simon Sykes) that I found last week is in immaculate condition with a transparent plastic jacket over the covers. One look at the pictures alongside and one will know how beautiful the book is. Running into almost three hundred and fifty pages, the book has beautiful color photographs on almost every page which makes it a visual delight. It is one reason why I asked my friend Uma Shankar to take a few pictures because he is a far better photographer than I am and also has a better camera than the one I have. (Thanks, Uma for the beautiful pictures.)

There are names in AHWB I haven’t come across anywhere before except that of Paul Getty, Roger Rosenblatt, and Keith Richards (of Rolling Stones). Until I read the book I had no idea who Seymour Durst, Victor Niedehoffer, Laurie Mallett, Richard Minsky, Bill Blass, Nicolas Barker, Niall Smith, Peter Canell, Kitty D’Aleessio, Richard Howard, John Richardson and many others were. But now I know what wonderful book collections they have and how much they love books. They are exactly the sort of people I would love to know.

There’s more in the next post- ‘At Home With Books’- 2 with some more wonderful pictures. I’m putting both posts at the same time.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Golconda High School- Movie Review

Mercifully movies don’t hold as much attraction to me as do books. However, I try to watch good movies whenever I find time or learn about one worth watching. Last Saturday, for the first time in my life, I went to a movie on the first day of its release and saw the second show of the day. It wasn’t an ordinary movie but one that was made out of a friend’s novel. The friend in question is Harimohan Paruvu and the novel in question is his bestselling first book ‘The Men Within’ which was made into a film ‘Golconda High School’ that was released Saturday last. I watched the film at Prasad’s in the afternoon. When I bought the tickets I noticed on the display that the tickets to the movie were easily available and that was when I began doubting. But later the hall filled up.

When Hari told me the actor Sumanth would be playing the lead in GHS I was a bit skeptical. Though I haven’t watched any of Sumanth’s movies I could make out that his films did not do well. One of the reasons could be his acting. I went to GHS expecting the movie to be undone by Sumanth but I was wrong. Actually it was Sumanth who carried the entire movie on his shoulders. I guess it was his finest performances till date and I hope he gets some acclaim for it. For those who do not know, GHS is based on ‘The Men Within’ which is a story of a cricket coach and his team of students of Golconda High School. It is a tale of how the coach transforms the skeptical kids into a team that wins the Inter School trophy.

Comparisons with ‘Chak De’ are inevitable since the theme more or less is the same- that of an inspired coach who puts brings together a bunch of players and transforms them into a winning team and in the process, redeeming himself. But there are a lot of differences between the ‘Chak De’ and ‘Golkonda High School’ worth talking about. First, GHS is about cricket whereas Chak De is about hockey. If it was a team of grown up girls in Chak De then the team in Golconda High School is made up of young school boys. If the goal in ‘Chak De’ is winning the World Cup, then it is the Inter School Cup in Golconda High School. Of course, the big, big difference is that ‘Chak De’ has Shah Rukh Khan whereas it is Sumanth in GHS. I really liked SRK’s performance in Chak De but Sumanth also pulled off an equally laudable performance in Golconda High School. I guess he deserves some kind of recognition for his performance in the movie as the determined coach.

Apart from Sumanth others too have shone in their roles. The actor who played ‘Kirit’ almost matched Sumanth but I cannot say the same about Swati who is not required to act much other than to act coy. The true stars of the movie are some of the kids- the boy who played ‘Siddhant’ had a strong screen presence. The boy who played ‘Mikey’ also acted well. The kid who played ‘Nasir’ had a lot of potential but wasn’t exploited. Ditto with the kid who played ‘Gautam’. There were moments when I had a lump in the throat, especially the scene where the coach asks the hotel guy to forgive Mikey and all the kids realize what the coach is. It was one of the memorable scenes in the movie. Some of the songs in the movie reminded of those in Art Beat Capital’s earlier movie- Ashta Chemma.

The final verdict is that Golconda High School is an interesting and engrossing movie worth watching with your school going kids, if you have any. I have three hopes for the movie- 1) that it will do well 2) that it will win some kind of an award and finally 3) that it will be made compulsory viewing for parents of all those kids forced into ‘coaching centers’ and who don’t think sports help kids in any way.

PS: If you don’t know how Hari looks like maybe you can watch him in the movie bowling to the Golconda High School team.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Mid-Week Haul

It feels wonderful to have one’s wishes (however minor) granted not very long after you’ve made them. Sometime last month I had resolved to buy Joan Didion’s ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ after failing to find a second-hand copy anywhere. I wanted to begin the New Year by reading something good. I had seen the book at Odyssey a couple of months ago and had also read a few pages right there in the store. Reading it made me want to buy it urgently but the price was too high and unaffordable. For the same amount I could get nearly a dozen books at Abids. I put off the decision to buy a new copy of Didion’s book and wished I could find a second hand copy of ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ soon.

Last Friday I happened to drop in at Frankfurt Book Store at Begumpet for a quick look at the books on sale. The title ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ leaped up from one of the spines of the books stacked side by side on a table. I pulled out the book and found it was a hardcover copy and a first edition to boot. But I guess the icing on the cake was the price- only one hundred rupees, far, far less than the original price. But, even if I wanted to buy a new copy I doubt if I would have found a hardcover copy not to mention a first edition copy anywhere.

I have Joan Didion’s novel ‘Run River’ and maybe ‘The White Album’ that I am waiting for a quiet time to read. But the book I am looking for is the one that made her famous- ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’ that I hope I will find soon. If I can find her latest book that I wrote about in a previous post that would be terrific.

After I picked up the book I read in the papers about the sale of ‘pre-owned’ books by Best Books at YMCA, Secunderabad that began on the 7th of January. The next day I landed there and was quite astonished to find a paperback copy of ‘The Year of Magical Thinking’ on sale. It was almost brand new and the price was Rs 125. The hardcover, first edition of the same title that I had I picked up at Frankfurt was cheaper and I am glad I bought the hardcover. I was tempted to buy the paperback too but I did not. Apart from this book there was Dave Barry’s ‘Dave Barry is Not Taking This Sitting Down’ which I already have. I was also tempted to buy this book too but, mercifully, the feeling passed. I wanted someone else to discover Dave Barry. The sale of books is until 23rd January which means I can make a couple more visits.

Friday, January 07, 2011

The Sunday Haul

Of the half dozen tentative and uncertain New Year resolutions that I’ve made one is regarding my book buying habit. I’ve resolved to buy not more than one book every Sunday at Abids. I’ve too many books occupying every available space in the few rooms of my home. I’ve no further space to put books anywhere hence the resolution to stop buying too many books. One solution to create space for more books is to dispose off the books I no longer want to keep. But the problem is that there are too many books that I am yet to read. So a related resolution is to read all those books that I haven’t read. There are several dozens of books that I’ve been thinking of getting around to reading quite leisurely, especially fat books of the sort written by Stieg Larsson, Umberto Eco, and the like. Last year too I made a similar resolution. I also remember that I had also resolved to read more books by Indian writers but I did not keep the resolution. The only books by Indian writers I’ve read last year are ‘Dork’ by Sidin Vadukut, Chandrahas Choudhury’s ‘Arzee the Dwarf,’ and ‘Jet City Woman’ by Ankush Saikia.

After the break in December I had thought that I’d do reviews of these books and also other books but I feel I’m totally unqualified and also incapable of writing reviews. However I love to read book reviews. I read book reviews as eagerly as I read books though I haven’t read as many reviews as I’ve read books. There’s a peculiar joy to reading well written book reviews. I prefer reading book reviews by intelligent reviewers like Michiko Kakutani, Pico Iyer and such people who open your eyes to new books and new authors.

There are a lot of occasions when I’ve bought books that got good reviews. Rarely have I come across a book review where the reviewer, while actually writing the review of a book, actually trashed (literally) an entirely different book. In this month’s The Literary Review’ supplement in ‘The Hindu’ there’s just such a review. I’ve read random pieces by Anvar Ali Khan earlier in ‘Outlook’ and other publications but this was the first review by him that I read. I found his review of ‘The Gorilla and Other Ways Our Intuition Deceives Us’ absorbing until the last paragraph when he writes about Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Blink’ which he says belongs to the waste-paper basket. This left a sour taste in my mouth and made me wonder why AAK did not write a separate review of ‘Blink’ instead of rubbishing it in another review.

A few hours after reading that review on Sunday in ‘The Literary Review’ I went to Abids. It was the first Sunday of the year and my first visit of the year to Abids. With the new resolution fresh in my mind I looked carefully for that one book I would have to buy. I wondered which book would be the first haul of the year. I found it not very long after. It wasn’t a fiction book but a very old travel book, a Penguin 1950’s title. Aldous Huxley’s ‘Beyond the Mexique Bay- A Traveller’s Journal’ was my first find of 2011.

‘Beyond the Mexique Bay,’ as it says on the inside cover page, is one of the foremost travel books of the thirties and is also described as one of Huxley’s most entertaining pieces of writing. It is a travelogue of Aldous Huxley’s journey to places across the Mexican Bay. He writes about travelling by ship and road to Antigua, Barbados, Trinidad, Guatamela City, Jamaica, and other places. I was intrigued by the names of some of the other places he wrote about- places with names like Solola, Zacapulas, Momostenango, Etla, Mitla, Cholula and so on. I hope to read this book when I am traveling though the book isn’t in good shape.

‘Beyond the Mexican Bay’ is another addition to my growing collection of travel books. There are still some titles I want to read especially Paul Theroux’s ‘Fresh Air Fiend’ that I foolishly missed picking up a few years ago. I am certain I will find it one day either at Abids or at one of the secondhand bookstores of Hyderabad.