Note: I wrote this post quite a while ago but it needed editing and I was too lazy to edit it and post it until now.
I had to go to work on Diwali but it was not as bad as working on normal days because I got there and back much quicker since there was no traffic, and also perhaps because we had some beer with lunch. I got off the bus home before 8 pm yesterday which usually never happens even if I try to leave at 6 pm. Since I had some time to spare I decided to go to the Landmark book store to find a good book to read. The books section has been getting smaller for years now. It used to be about 80% of the store but after making space for all the stationery and music and movies and games and gaming consoles and kids toys the real books take up only around 30% of the store.
I’ve always loved looking around at book stores and even though I do it rarely, it invariably makes me feel better when I’m bored out of my mind. I’ve gone to Landmark and bought books knowing nothing about them in advance and having read only a page or two and the summary on the back. More often than not, I’ve liked the books I picked this way. There are, however, two or three books that I bought impulsively and have never really tried reading. Bookstores are also one of the few places where I feel like I can start a conversation with absolutely anyone. As long as they’re browsing the right sections, of course.
One time when I was similarly bored out of my mind and quite broke, I went to Landmark and decided to read an entire book at the store without buying it. This Landmark, like most other bookstores has a few sofas and a few people sitting around on the floor reading books so this isn’t that hard to do. I also wanted to (and still want to) read an entire book in a bookstore just as an accomplishment. I looked in the Literary Fiction shelf and found a small-enough book titled “A Slipping-Down Life” which was about an introverted teenage girl who gets infatuated with the singer of a rock band she likes or something like that. It seemed to be interesting, lighthearted, and pretty much what I needed.
I picked it up, found a sofa that would be out of people’s way and began reading it. It took a while for me to get comfortable and I’d initially move my legs each time anyone passed by even though they had enough space to walk. After a few pages, I didn’t care anymore. I stayed there for about an hour and a half and read about a fifth of the book. I’d have to come back four more times if I stayed for the same amount of time, or just twice if I stayed for three hours to finish the book. Disappointingly, I went back only a month later and I never found the book again.
I’m sure it’s not there anymore because the Literary Fiction section is now less than a third of how big it used to be. The Indian Writing section is huge, and in a way I guess that’s a good thing. The Religion section seems to be about the same size of what it used to be. Science fiction is now just one bookshelf. Literary Fiction and Science Fiction is where I spend most of my time in a bookshop, excluding the bestsellers section. At Landmark, this is now an approximate total shelf area of twelve-by-five feet. And even here, more than half of the books or authors are ones I’ve heard of before. I’ve seen more impressive collections of books in people’s houses. The possibility of finding an awesome new random book to read is greatly diminished. So yesterday I came back home empty handed and today I ordered a friend’s recommendation, “We Need To Talk About Kevin” from Flipkart so I should have it by Saturday.
A trip to Landmark still makes me feel better when I’m bored and they still have just as many sofas and people sitting on the floor and reading. It still does everything it used to do except its primary function, which is that I can’t go there to find a new book. I wouldn’t buy a bestseller because I can almost certainly find someone to borrow them from. I don’t buy books to keep them partly because I’m broke but mainly because I have no place at home to keep books. I read them, and then tell my friends about the ones I like and then tell them to borrow them if they’re interested. I need a bookstore to find a book because if I already knew what I wanted then I’d just order it online. I guess that’s the root of the problem, bookstores can’t be as profitable as they used to be now that everything’s available for cheaper online and so they sell other stuff as well. I guess the only way I could preview books in even remotely the same way before buying them would be if I bought an ebook reader. It would be awesome in a way. I could find authors online I’d never find in a bookstore. It’s just a little sad that I can find a new book, and separately have the experience of going to a bookstore, but I can’t have both together anymore.