On Buying Books


To be sure, we all love the written word. And I am sure with more than half of us; it will well work into the act of actually buying a book.
Buying is a clean option; you go to a book shop and buy it, period. Or is that it? Doesn’t much more of a mental process go into the act of buying a book?
For instance, with me, buying a book is an act of extreme pleasure and I try to prolong the feeling as much as possible. I buy books in several ways. I have an annual routine of purchase of books when specific book fairs turn up in town. I announce beforehand at home that I am visiting the fair on day X and won’t be available the whole of the day. I usually note down books I have heard of from the others and media during the year.
On the day designate, I get up quite early and finish my cooking and other stuff for the day, inform usual droppers-in that I won’t be at home. (Or you can be sure some of them will call you up on your mobile and say, hey I am at your door step, and come for the day; how long will I have to wait here?) And then be there at the entrance of the fairgrounds even before the sweepers have had their turn; I will be armed with my water bottle, spectacles, my list of look-outs and a truck load of anticipation. And then it’s my DAY!
I stand for long hours at each counter and practically touch every book possible. My cribs about standing for long hours are unheard of here. I patiently read through blurbs and drop huge numbers of possible purchases into the basket the booksellers give when they see this lady has a ‘potential’ to make their target sell for the day. I collect brochures and coming publication lists and notices. Some days I have my day made in a favourite author doing a book-signing session and get a signed copy of a book I wanted; a few minutes of interaction with the author is a bonus. And finally when I reach the end of the day and the pavilion and the bill attendant beams at me pointing to a mountain of books, and ask, ‘Mam this is the stuff isn’t it?, and I think, did I really purchase so much? Or realistically can I purchase so much? I ask sheepishly, ‘er, can I take a look at them once more?’ The bill attendant knows this type, so his grin fades but beckons me to the side of the counter where I cut down the mountain to a hillock and give the green signal. The hillock is packed into huge bags and I walk down like the local porter, and looking for an auto.
That is one scene where I stock up my library.
The other is usually dropping in at your favourite book store for just ‘one’ book and the friendly book-shop owner who knows his prey when he sees one saying brightly, ‘have you seen the new arrivals’ and I allow myself to be led into the den of forbidden pleasure (read spending) and end up using my debit card for paying for them.
Then there is that other place of forbidden spending, the old book shop street. I may be returning home earlier than schedule and decide on just a ‘minute’ at the old book vendor’s street. You can be sure, I am a favourite with them, I ask for books that others in town don’t even know of and they know they have a sure buyer in me. But they are also careful to distract my eyes from the copies of pirated books. I usually have strong words with them over stocking those, although I know it’s a part of their living and I can’t and won’t do anything about it but just not purchase them.
Well, all that sounds old-fashioned now that Amazon and Flipkart and eBay and similar people rule the roost; so also publishers who sell books directly on their sites. A few moments of googling for your book, and the new and old booksellers blink merrily on your screen waiting for that touch of consent from you. Amazon usually has copies of books which have been put up for sale by previous owners in a good or semi-damaged condition as indicated on the page. You can pay by your debit card too for Indian sites and the international sites usually accept a credit card which is a Visa or a Master card and your product is shipped to you in so many days as specified.
The option of purchasing e-books is another way of owning your book. There are authors who publish in the digital format and you can purchase the book by paying through your PayPal account or credit card. Or free too, if you are lucky to have landed at a promotion opportunity. But I have a mortal fear of storing stuff on my hard disk and if I start using up my hard disk for downloaded e-books, I might need several external hard disks to sustain my reading through the years and to make sure the money spend on the download doesn’t go waste. And my eco-consciousness doesn’t allow me to print and keep my downloads. So unless a book is available only in e-book format, I steer clear of the digital stuff; holding a book in hand is important to me.
Then of course there ‘the absolutely latest latest ‘from Amazon, the Kindle; here is away to read your books without carrying them around. For the uninitiated Kindle is an instrument you purchase and on which you can read the books you want; it is portable and doesn’t need a laptop or PC to operate. If the book you want to read is available with Amazon and it is available in the kindle format, then you can read the book with the instrument. I read somewhere recently that some publishers in India too have put their books up on Kindle, but you have to check that up.
And then for the free-sites.
There are web sites like Project Gutenberg which has all those old favourites which are out of copyright years and which are free reads. I spend at least half a day every month at that site hunting up old out-of-print stuff which you remember from childhood days but can’t locate now. Bless the guy who thought up the idea.
So tell me, how and where do you buy books?

Suneetha is a writer by passion, profession and hobby. She writes fiction in English, poetry in her native tongue Malayalam and journalistic features in both. She can be contacted at yashovathi@gmail.com

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