Used book shops all over the world have a familiar powerful gravitational pull. Like a black hole but more concrete and perceptually stronger. I’ve stepped into too many of them “for a few minutes” to come out hours later. Very disorientating – and missed too many buses (and appointments) – but what treasures I have found. I think the root of this pull originates from the time I spent sniffing around for comics along the “Lending Libraries” along D R Wijewardena Marwatha as a child. They are still there – the small shops starting from the intersection of D R Wijewardena Marwatha and T.B Jayah Mawatha off the Maradana junction. The location is marked in the Google Earth snapshot below.
Most of them (I’d say all of them) are quite literally (that’s not a pun. really), hole in the wall establishments squeezed under the shade along railway line side of D R Wijewardena Marwatha. A fragment of College Street in Kolkata but cleaner 😉
The whole “lending library” deal used to work like this: you pay a fee for each book and take it home. When you return it, you can get part of your fee/deposit back or use it as credit to borrow another book. The idea is that you keep “borrowing” books. Essentially from the same “library”. With enough browsing you find your own favourite.
Went there for the first time as an adult a few weeks ago. It was a blazing Saturday afternoon which made the leafy shade among the shops very inviting.
That old book smell is still there (mingling with insense that fails to kill the aroma of old pages. Some of the stalls/shops are just intimidating heap of books. Others are neatly arrange labyrinths of narrow shelving. Most occupy the spectrum between the two. Check out the lables on the shelves in the shops that have them. A little eccentric at times but I suppose it must reflect the content.
The shop keepers/librarians are friendly and helpful. They invite you to browse but aren’t pushy.
In the best tradition of used (should I say pre-owned?) book establishments, they have the humanistic chaos needed to for those great find. Or interesting combination of subject: an old FORTRAN book in a pile of National Geographics.
Sadly time was pressing and so was lunch (such are the demands of growling guts). Wasn’t able to browse too deeply to borrow anything and get a sniff of the prices. Perhaps not as steep as a new book from a big name shop. No matter what the bargain is, I’ll still have to buy the time to read it.