21st Century Fox
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself explaining to a friend how I buy books.
An explanation was required since I was talking about titles and authors he had never heard of, that I hadn’t heard of either before I bought the books. So how did I hear about these books in the first place, and what made me buy them, he asked.
This was not a question that anyone would have asked me even earlier this year. Even earlier this year, there were a couple of decent bookshops in Bombay (plus, I went to Delhi for work a few months ago and raided Fact and Fiction in such a spectacular manner that I still have unread books from there), so how I buy my books could never have been a question. It was too simple to require an answer, but if anyone had asked, this is what I would have said: One, I go to a bookshop that I know is owned or managed by people who read. Two, I scan the shelves, pull out the books with titles that interest me or pick up the books with covers that attract me. Three, I read the blurbs, flip through the pages, stopping here and there to read a passage or perhaps even an entire chapter. Four, I either put the book back on the shelf or I keep it.
But now there are no decent bookshops in Bombay. There were two I loved, but one closed and the other has long been in the clutches of a retail chain that sees no difference between books and kurtis, so I have to buy my books online.
And so the question: How do I buy my books? Now that I cannot scan bookshelves for titles and pull books off shelves to flip through them, how do I find books by authors I’ve never heard of before, how do I find the books I never knew I wanted to read? Online bookstores often present blurbs along with titles, but that’s not enough to make a decision about a book; besides, it’s impossible to scan the titles of all the books offered by online bookstores, you have to search, so how do you know what to search for?
Here’s how I do it. And it’s almost all online.
I read the book reviews sections of international newspapers and magazines online.
I read blogs like Book Slut and Book List.
I trawl Fantastic Fiction for updates on how fast my favourite authors are progressing with their latest work in progress (too bleeping slowly if you ask me), and I also read the section below their biographies, which lists my favourite authors’ favourite authors who I then check out online and take a chance on (many of my favourite authors’ favourite authors have become my favourite authors too, so I am now checking out their favourite authors).
When I order and receive the who-knows-if-I’ll-really-like-it book and find I like the book, I read the blurbs of other titles from the same publisher that are usually at the back of the book.
I Google madly with search strings like ‘best crime fiction’, ‘best young adult fiction’, ‘best popular science’. Search results come from websites around the world, so I find books and authors I have never heard of before in my life and I take a chance on them, buying the cheapest edition I can find in the Indian online bookstores to start with.
This is how I buy my books.
Reading, over the years, about bookstores in the west going under, I had wondered what I would do if ever I found myself in a situation without a good bricks and mortar physical bookshop in my city. I always had anxiety attacks when I thought about such a thing. The prospect of never finding a new author ever again made me feel like I’d faint; I knew there were online options but I thought, how will I ‘discover’ books the way I discover them in bookshops if I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for? Online, you have to be specific about what you’re searching for.
To my surprise, I find I’m in a situation where I have no good physical bookstores in my city and it hasn’t stopped me from discovering new books at all.
I’m a bit of a joke for the young people I work with. I’m the person who doesn’t know how to use my phone properly, have only just discovered pen drives and respond to any mention of technology with the deepest suspicion.
Yet, quietly, unconsciously, I seem to have adapted to the new world. I have successfully transferred my books browsing habit from the physical to the virtual world.
And if necessary, I can write and edit and rewrite lengthy articles on my phone. For instance, this blog post you’re reading right now (if you haven’t passed out from boredom yet).
So to everyone who laughs at me for being a luddite, here’s what I can say with confidence: There’s hope for the old girl yet.