Friday, February 26, 2016

A Mixed Haul

My fifty third birthday turned out to the one of the luckiest in terms of the presents I got. Two friends gave me titles of my choice. A friend from Mumbai sent me ‘Vanity Bagh’ by Anees Salim, and Hari bought for me ‘The Girl Who Ate Books’ by Nilanjana Roy on the day I turned 53. Just when the birthday high started to come down Jai made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He generously asked me to choose any title that I wanted as his gift to me on my birthday. I mentioned two titles and he, knowing how much I love books (in fact, he named me as ‘Bibliovenator’) ordered ‘Second Thoughts’ by Navtej Sarna. I did not realize it would be such a beautiful book with a pale yellow color and superior looks. I have been following his column in The Hindu and many of the essays on books, reading, and writers/writing in the ‘Second Thoughts’ are those I have already read. But it is always a good idea to have them all at one place and this book does just that. Thank you, Jai for the wonderful gift.
Sometime last week I was in Abids when it wasn’t a Sunday. Whenever I am in a locality I always make it a point to check out the bookstores in the neighborhood to see if there is anything worth buying. Needless to say I always I chance upon something that I feel I must, must buy and also end up buying it. So when I saw ‘The Zebra Striped Hearse’ by Ross Macdonald I knew I had to buy it, and bought it right away. Later on Sunday at Abids I saw a copy of ‘Riding in Cars’ with Beverly Donofrio that had the Penguin logo on the cover. It looked interesting so I picked it up. It cost me only thirty rupees.

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Sale Haul- 2

On my first visit to the Best Books sale of second hand books that took place sometime back at YMCA in Secunderabad I had come with a poor impression of it. I had thought it did not have a good collection and that it wasn’t worth a second visit since I found only two titles worth buying. I did not plan for a second visit and surprisingly managed to stay away from the sale for more than a couple of days.
However I became restless and wondered if I had made a mistake not looking at the titles in the RS 50 or Rs 250 for ten titles section which on first glace appeared to be full of worthless titles. On Tuesday which happened to be a holiday due to the GHMC election I decided to make a second visit to the sale. I ended up making one of the biggest hauls of the New Year with ten titles in my bag. On my second visit I made it a point to look at each and every title in the section I had merely glanced perfunctorily on my first visit. I think it was the smartest thing I did because I found some fantastic titles.

A couple of years ago someone had mentioned the name ‘Mavis Gallant’ and told me to look out for her short stories. Since then I had been looking for Mavis Gallant titles at Abids, at secondhand book-stores , book fairs, but couldn’t find a single title of hers. I had seen a story in a collection of short stories I had found recently but hadn’t come across her own collection anywhere. I was disappointed but hadn’t completely lost hope of ever finding a Mavis Gallant title. I knew, from experience, that someday I would find one.
That someday was the other Tuesday when I spotted ‘The Cost of Living’ by Mavis Gallant at the second- hand book sale at YMCA. I felt triumphant when I picked it up like I had found a rare gem. My joy was doubled when I found a second copy of the same title a few minutes later in the same section of books selling for fifty rupees each. After finding these two copies I decided to look carefully at the scores of titles by unknown authors. This careful search was rewarded when I found another fantastic title – ‘Open City’ by Teju Cole, a hardcover copy for just fifty rupees.
Finding these two titles lifted my spirits and I continued my title-by-title search. The table containing the cheap titles stretched quite long and there were literally hundreds of books to sift through. Once again my patient search was rewarded for I got lucky and found another title by another wonderful writer- Joan Didion. I found a copy of ‘After Henry’ and grabbed it.
A couple of years ago, on a mere hunch, I had picked up a collection of short stories by Jayne Anne Phillips titled ‘Fast Lanes’ that I somehow read soon after. After I read a few stories I realized I had discovered a fantastic writer. I was pleased that I had a good instinct for spotting wonderful writers. Later I found ‘Machine Dreams’ another short story collection by Jayne Anne Phillips that too was just wonderful. At the sale I saw another title by Jayne Anne Phillips- ‘Mother Kind’ which I discovered was a novel. Since anything written by Jayne Anne Phillips is worth reading I bought this book too.
Curiously my haul at the sale seemed to be mostly short story collections by writers I had only read about and couldn’t find so easily. After Mavis Gallant Lorrie Moore was another writer whose stories I wanted to read. In another terrific stroke of luck I found a beautiful copy of ‘Self Help’ by Lorrie Moore which is a short story collection with just nine stories including one called ‘How to Become a Writer.’
After buying ‘Devil on the Cross’ by Ngugi Wa Thiongo on a hunch at a second hand bookstore a couple of years ago I realized he was a contender for the Literature Nobel. I found another Ngugi title called ‘Dreams in a Time of War’ that wasn’t a novel or a short story collection but a memoir of his childhood. I found this book in the Rs 50 collection.
In keeping with my new found interest in all things culinary I am unable to resist cookbooks, memoirs by chefs and books on food and eating. I found a collection of essays on food and eating by writers that was titled ‘Not for Bread Alone’ that was edited by Daniel Halpern. Shortly after finding this title I saw a nice copy of ‘Kitchen Confidential’ by Anthony Bourdain. I had given away the only copy I had so I bought this book.
Last month I had read that Easterine Kire had won The Hindu Prize for Fiction for her novel ‘When the River Sleeps’ made a mental note to look out for it or buy it sometime soon. Luckily I saw another title by Easterine Kire titled ‘Bitter Wormwood’ and I bought it. It might give me a taste of Kire’s writing. Since the organisers of the sale offered ten books for Rs 250 only from the shelf of books that were only Rs 50 each I was short of one title so I picked up Satya Saran’s ‘From Me to You’ that I happened to glance at. I was pleased that my haul of ten books cost me only 250 rupees which means that I paid just twenty five rupees for each of these wonderful titles.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Sunday Haul

We aren’t even fully into February and I’ve already bought more than thirty books so far. Only the previous day I had bought ten books at the Best Books sale at YMCA and the next day, being Sunday, I went to Abids out of sheer habit. It was a complete haul of cookbooks. I bought them out of my habit of buying any good book I see and also because I am gradually moving towards beginning to actually cooking on my own. I had made two attempts a few weeks ago and had succeeded in preparing a dish that everyone at home ate without any problem. This experience has emboldened me to read more cookbooks and try to attempt some complicated dishes.
The first book I found was ‘The Foolproof Cookbook’ by Rohini Singh, which, as the covers says is for ‘brides, bachelors, and for those who hate cooking.’ It was a hardcover title and had a lot of recipes along with some wonderful advice. I loved the book. The next find was yet another glossy cookbook titled ‘Simple Cooking for Smart Men’ that seemed just the sort of book I needed though I am not exactly a smart man. I got this book for only thirty rupees.
Just a few minutes later I found another cookbook, a glossy, slim title by the roly poly and popular tv performer- Kunal Vijaykar titled ‘Made in India’ that I got for just twenty rupees. This had a recipe for bottle masala at the end that I want to try my hand at making, if the wife allows it, that is. The photographs of the dishes in this book were something worth looking at though I don’t know if they would look so good when I try my hand at preparing them.

I have no idea why I bought the next book that I saw but it could be that it was the subject- Bread- that got me. I really do not like to eat bread but when I saw the book and the terrific photographs of the various types of breads around the world I decided it would add to my knowledge knowing about the history of bread making, and also the various methods of baking different types of breads though it seems very unlikely that I would try my hand at baking bread. I am happier making chapatis. By the way this book cost me only a hundred rupees. It was a thick tome with gloss pages and some superb color photographs.
Apart from these four cookbooks I found another book that I simply felt I had to buy. This was ‘Of Hemlock I Drank’ by Manubhai Pancholi Darshak, who I read at the book is a giant in Gujarati literature. I read that he was awarded the Jnanpith and so it was enough for me to buy it without a second thought. However, this title is the first in a trilogy and I don’t know if I would be able to find the next two titles.

The Birthday Haul

Last Saturday it was my birthday. ( I turned 53.) Knowing my love for reading and books a few of my close friends ask me what title I would like to have as a gift. I have a list ready for such occasions and though it is quite a long list I usually manage to get a couple of titles I am dying to read as gifts. So when a friend living in Mumbai asked me to name a title I told her about ‘Vanity Bagh’ by Anees Salim she sent it to me. I got the book much before my birthday. It was a hardcover title and I have kept it aside to read as soon as I finish the books I am currently reading.
On Saturday I decided to go to Akshara to look for a book I had a hard time buying. This title was on Amazon but there was no ‘Cash on Delivery’ option and there was some problem with the online payment so I decided to go to a bookstore and check it out. I didn’t know bookstore chains like Crossword employed dumb people. I had been to Crossword in the City Center mall in Banjara Hills to check out ‘The Girl Who Ate Books’ by Nilanjana Roy but the person at the counter couldn’t even spell books correctly. I thought I would be able to find the book at Akshara (currently at Jubilee Hills) and as I thought so it happened. No sooner had I started to mention the title than the girl at the counter interrupted me to say that they had the book. It did not take even a minute to take out the book that was prominently displayed.
So when Hari dropped in at Akshara and asked me what I wished to have as a birthday gift I told him I wanted ‘The Girl Who Ate Books’ by Nilanjana Roy. My wish was granted and I was quite delighted that I had got the book as a present. Since I was able to save the money I had put aside to buy this book I thought I would buy myself a couple of books as gifts I looked around in a room at the back in Akshara. This room seemed to have copies of books that have long faded from memory. I was quite thrilled to find a beautiful, brand new copy of ‘Ex-Libris; Confessions of a Book Lover’ by Anne Fadiman. I decided to buy it at any cost though I already have a couple of copies of this title. The girl at the counter told me that I could have the book at Rs 150 only!
Since I had some more money left over I decided to buy ‘Ismail Merchant’s Indian Cuisine’ by Ismail Merchant since my interest in cooking seems to be growing the more I look at books on cooking, eating, and food. I got this book for just hundred rupees. There are more books in that back room at Akshara and I am planning to go again someday and pick up some of them.

Friday, February 05, 2016

The Haul at the Best Books Sale-1

In December it was the Hyderabad Book Fair. Last month it was the World Book Fair at New Delhi, and again now it is the sale by the Best Book Center people that’s lured me. In the Hyderabad book fair I had picked up almost a dozen books, followed by half a dozen books at the World Book Fair, and on my first visit to the Best Books sale I found only two books. I couldn’t go to the Best Books sale that had begun sometime after the Republic Day but went there on the third day. It wasn’t such an impressive collection on sale and I was disappointed because usually they have some extremely good titles in the sale. If last time they sold books by weight then this time they were offering ten titles for two hundred and fifty rupees. If bought individually each copy would be fifty rupees. Unfortunately I couldn’t find anything interesting in this section. But in a different shelf I spotted two good titles that I picked up almost immediately.
I have this habit of buying multiple copies of books I like enormously. One title that I have found to be a moving account was Chinua Achebe’s ‘Things Fall Apart’ that I read a couple of years back. I have two copies of this title with me that I found a long time back. At the sale I saw another good copy of this title. It was in extremely good condition and looked so inviting that I ignored the price which was a hundred and fifty rupees and bought it.
Currently I am in a Graham Greene phase and I am buying anything that I find by him. When I saw a nice copy of ‘The Third Man/ The Fallen Idol’ I couldn’t resist taking a look at it before buying it. This title was priced slightly lesser than ‘Things Fall Apart’ for some reason that I did not understand. However, in the end I bought this book too. This takes the total tally of books I bought in January this year to 21. I think someone should tie me up on Sundays to prevent me from going to Abids and buying more books to add to my already overcrowded shelves.