Saturday, June 23, 2012

A Book Hunt In Delhi

As I approached the corner of another birthday, this time spent in Delhi, my family asked me to choose my own present.  And I decided it would be books - a delightful indulgence as it involves long, guilt free hours spent browsing in bookshops. 

Much as I appreciate the ease, accessibility and affordability of online shopping, this also tends to narrow one's range to things that one already knows about or that are prominently advertised.  Besides, I like to feel that my selecting and buying things from personal bookstores might help in a small way to keep them afloat.  I particularly dislike the convenient modern appliances that scan books in stores and tell you cheaper places to buy them from (not yet possible in India but quite prevalent in  the US).

So, braving the furnace like Delhi heat, we went book-hunting (it was more purposeful than a casual browse)!  The bookshops I like in Delhi are the smaller, individualized ones, with distinct personalities of owners and their sometimes idiosyncratic staff.  We began at The Bookshop (Jorbagh Market).  They have a small but unusual selection of bestsellers, translations of well known European authors, new editions of Penguin classics and an eclectic mix of detective novels (something I have a weakness for).  Here one will find Raymond Chandler, Eric Ambler and Boris Akunin reposing peacefully beside H.R.F. Keating, Alexander McCall Smith and Agatha Christie.  An elderly, pleasant (and hawk eyed!) Punjabi couple run this little shop in a determined way.

The next halt was Khan Market, partly because it lies close to Jorbagh.  I often pop into Bahrisons just to see if they have anything new on existing authors that I read.  They usually get new releases soon after they are in print and have a steady supply of older and popular books. They also have a slightly different collection of hardbound cookbooks on one shelf in the midst of their regular cookery section.  Just for information, they have now opened a new shop for children's books, located in the same market.

In Khan Market is also to be found the Full Circle Bookstore.  They also publish their own books, focussing on spirituality, philosophy, religion etc.  They are one of the better stocked bookstores for books in regional Indian languages, in particular Hindi.  One climbs up a steep flight of stairs, past walls lined with Tibetan tangkas to reach a section of this store.  Above this is Cafe Turtle, a popular little eating place.  As a rule, though, I avoid eating in bookstores; I feel somehow that the business of book selecting and eating don't quite mix!  I have also often observed that eating spaces have an unfortunate way of expanding and overshadowing the rest of the environment around them (particularly evident this time when I visited one of my favourite alternative bookstores- 'Trident' in Boston.  They originally served home made fruit pies and fresh juices in a small, snug corner, but now a new cafe space has been constructed, pushing out several shelves of books).

Last but not the least - a bookshop that I have recently begun visiting is Midland Books (Aurobindo Place Market).  It stands opposite a little shop that sells excellent mushrooms, sprouts and different kinds of paneer.  My family stopped here to drink some cold almond milk while I rushed in to the shop, for fear that it might close.  But it seems to remain open well after 8 pm.  It was here that I chanced upon a cookbook I had not seen before and that looked particularly interesting - Perfect Cakes by Nick Malgieri.  It is hard to get a good cake book - one that has a range of cakes listed by technique, where the simple ones are not just plain vanilla and the fancy ones are not wildly extravagant, just elegant, interesting and do-able affairs.  This book perfectly complemented my blood curdling detective purchases!

Midland Books has a diverse collection (often just one copy of a particular book) especially of Western fiction and cookbooks.  They also give a hefty discount (20% on average).  This particular book's original price was about $40 (over Rs. 2000) but after the mark down and  final discount, I could get it for a little over Rs. 800 (about $16).  Even the internet would not be able to give a better deal!  It's probably because no one else wanted the book but that's the nice thing about real browsing as opposed to the virtual kind, I think.

1 comment:

Sujata Varadarajan said...

A note on Nick Malgieri's book: out of sheer curiosity I looked it up on Amazon. Of course the prices are much higher than what I paid, but that's not the important point. The reviews were very positive but several people indicated that this is not a book for novices as methods are only outlined, not described in great detail. I am just putting this snippet in, in case anyone is interested in buying the book after reading my blog. Somewhere down the line I seem to have unconsciously passed the 'novice' stage as I could immediately relate to and understand the concept, method and the essence of each recipe, even if it was just clearly expressed but not explained in tremendous detail.

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