Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Of Old Bookstores and Literary Gems.

There is just something magical about old or second-hand bookstores that makes me feel at home. Sure, modern bookstores like Borders and Kinokuniya, all gleamingly bright, lushly carpeted, neatly merchandised and having the "hip" element makes them a nice place to shop but to me, nothing compares to the 60s' and 70s' feel that a run-down old bookstore have.

Perhaps it's only me, at an age where I start to miss the many old familiar landmarks, cultural icons and old neighbourhoods that are fast disappearing in the face of relentless modernisation, and old bookstores, with their musty smells of old books, dusty shelves and counters that have seen better days and haphazard merchandising methods that have no apparent system to them, represent a trip down memory lane - back to a time when I was a boy, spending many splendid afternoons browsing old books, rummaging through dusty tomes and the joy of unearthing literary gems. Almost like a time-machine.

So it was with great delight that I chanced upon an old bookstore, tucked away in a row of old shops, on a recent trip to town. And what a find it was, turning up 2 sizzling reads :

1. People Of The Book by Geraldine Brooks.
A Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction in 2006 for her novel, March, Geraldine Brooks' People of The Book is an epic and fascinating tale based on an actual 15th century Hebrew manuscript, the Sarajevo Haggadah.

Stunningly written, it begins in 1996 in Bosnia, where the rare book, feared destroyed, turned up in a bank vault and the task of analysing and conserving the book falls on rare book conserver, Hanna Heath. As she pores over the ancient manuscript, she finds tiny clues as to its history littering its pages - an insect wing, saltwater marks, wine stains and a fine white hair and begins on a journey to unravel the stories behind the book.

From anti-Semitic 19th-century Vienna to the Spanish Inquisition in 17th-century Venice to 15th-century Barcelona, People of the Book takes us on a journey of historical grandeur and spans centuries and continents, and follows the trials and tribulations of individuals who, driven by circumstances and conscience, created and preserved the Haggadah amid war and persecution. Breathing life into the history of a rare illustrated Hebrew manuscript, People of The Book is an electrifying tale that takes us on a journey from the Haggadah's salvation back to its creation.

2. The Solitude Of Emperors by David Davidar.
A former CEO of Penguin India and the author of acclaimed novel, The House of Blue Mangoes, David Davidar's new work is an unflinching look at fundamentalist beliefs in modern India.

Inspired by the Mumbai riots of the early 1990s' between Hindus and Muslims, Davidar's ambitious and disturbing new novel has Vijay at the heart of the story, a young man who left his suffocating small town home in south India to cosmopolitan Mumbai to work as a journalist for a small but respected magazine - The Indian Secularist. He finds himself in the middle of violent riots and sees the chilling effects of a country caught in a surge of fundamentalism.

Written as a novel within a novel, Davidar's deep understanding of India, its people and cultures is demonstrated by the colourful characters that peppered his story - from the idealistic Rustom Sorabjee, Vijay’s mentor and boss at The Indian Secularist, to his roommate Rao, the wastrel son of a wealthy landowner to the ganja-smoking, poetry-spouting and messiah-like Noah Yesudas. Brutal and honest, The Solitude Of Emperors is a stunningly perceptive novel about India and looks at intolerance and sectarian violence unflinchingly.

*Related posts :
- The Top 5 Books For 2007
- Great Books For The Holidays


Cromely said...

They may not be the small shops in the corner of a city, but there's still something magical about Elliott Bay books in Seattle or Powells in Portland. They have that distinctive book store smell and the creaky floor boards. They've been built up overtime so it looks like the store just physically took over its neighbors in a rare victory for the books store.

My Den said...

Hi cromely,
Creaky boards indeed!

Perhaps only people of certain age, like me for instance, will mourn the loss of those old bookstores that used to peppered the neighbourhood.

And if I ever travel to Seattle or Portland, Elliott Bay and Powells will definitely be in my itinerary. Thanks for the tip. Take care.

Keli said...

I love the look and feel of old bookstores and old books.There is something very comforting about both. The words seem more carefully chosen and thought out. Thank your for your two book tips. Both sound fascinating!

My Den said...

Hi Keli,
Finding a book by Geraldine Brooks in a run-down but comfy bookstore is one of the delights. But my recent trip turn-up another unexpected treasure :
A 1980 first print of Stephen King's Salem's Lot - one with a black cover with a silhouette of a girl with a drop of blood at the corner of her mouth.

Together with Cromely's "creaky floor boards", your "comfortable" remark is another apt description of old bookstores and books.

Great to hear from you again. Best.

Keli said...

Oh my goodness! You found a first edition of Salem's Lot! Fantastic! I actually purchased a first edition, first printing of the first Harry Potter book. Not for investment purposes or because I'm a savvy book connoisseur. I just liked it.
PS Thank you for including my link!

My Den said...

First printing, first edition of the first Harry Potter book, WOW!

I guess book lovers buy certain books simply because they love them and rarely because of vintage or monetary value.

As for the link, the pleasure is all mine as good writing, like yours, is hard to come by and I honestly enjoyed the peculiarities of human behavour that you have so delightfully pointed out. Regards.