How has the book-buying experience changed?
Maybe because it was a blistering summer's day, I instinctively picked up a William Boyd title 'An Ice-Cream War' at Bookworm, a well-known second-hand bookstore in Bangalore's Church Street. Had never heard of that title nor did I know anything about the author. I just picked it because the title seemed 'cool enough'. And what's more, the heat was unbearable!
It later struck me that I had picked a book blindly. Without the burden of reading the blurb, minus the pressure of picking a title that's in the news, or is controversial. Without the tyranny of wishlists on e-commerce sites or lists of '100 Books You Must Not Miss Out On'.
When was the last time I just walked into a bookstore and lazed around? Maybe a good decade or more ago, when I would visit Blossom, yet another second-hand bookstore on Church Street.
When I worked as a sub-editor in a newspaper on MG Road, I'd end up at this secondhand book store during our 5-6 pm 'thindi' (tiffin) break. I didn't have too much money to spend, but would end up buying a nice second-hand one for about Rs 50, and come back to the desk, in time for the post 6 pm rush. Work on the Desk was dull and dreary sometimes, and we had to edit poorly written copies or make page after page on old systems that often hung! Blossom became a ritual, a bright spot in an otherwise dull day.
I discovered several authors, revisited old favourites and generally enjoyed taking a deep breath, and smelling the smell of old books stacked haphazardly. And yes, I chose books randomly, buying anything that caught my fancy and suited my purse on that particular day.
But today, I realise, the book-buying experience has changed. Thanks to social media and access to so much information online, I realise I have forgotten the joy of serendipity. What it feels like to discover an author...What it feels like to buy a book 'just like that'...Today, I whip out my smartphone and look for lists. Booker lists, FB pages of famed authors, New Yorker, the Guardian website, wishlists, Twitter feeds...Not that we didn't access to the Internet ten years back. Just that we didn't have smartphones, apps, social media, sample pages...today it's a whole new game.
So, when I visited the bookstore around the time of the Booker announcements last year, and saw stacks of 'The Year of the Runaways', I felt nothing. Because I already knew it was written by Sunjeev Sahota; I had read his interviews, and I knew why it was displayed prominently. The Booker shortlist. The Indian-Origin.
What does it feel like to just walk into a bookstore, spend several lazy hours reading blurbs and just randomly buying a title? I am slowly relearning how to do that. To give myself the time to discover. To avoid that nagging 'FOMO' feeling. (In case you are wondering, it's that nagging fear of missing out.) To read for the sheer pleasure of reading. To make space for serendipity. Much like how you feel when a favourite song suddenly plays on the radio. And not a song you choose from your playlist. That 'aha' moment is what makes it all worth it.
And yes, by the way, I am enjoying 'An Ice-Cream War' by William Boyd. What a breeze the book has been!