Saturday, April 30, 2011

On why I hate second hand books.

I am scared of second hand books.

People tell me all the time about Moormarket in Chennai and Orchids(?) in Bangalore where you get fabulous low priced books. But they are all mostly second hand books. And that's why I steer clear of these supposedly delightful places.

Ofcourse, I do own many books handed down by my cousins and friends at some point or the other. My painfully limited bookshelf at home does possess that Grandfather Copy Of The Decameron Which Is So Carefully Covered With A Sheet Torn From The Hindu Newspaper Of The 1970s. And I don't mind. These books are filled with memories of people I know, or people I am vaguely aware of. They aren't strangers, just good old friends or the easy- to- talk- to acquaintances.

It is the books I pick up randomly from nowhere, which originally belonged to someone else, that scare me.

For they once belonged to someone else who I don't know. Their pages are filled with the stories of these unknown strangers' lives and when I place them among familiar faces in my bookshelf, they stand out awkwardly. And most of these books contain embarrassing dedications like "To my darling sister, Soumya, on her twenty second birthday, With love, Raji" and I always feel like I am prying into the lives of Soumya and Raji whoever they are and wherever they lived. The book gifted to Soumya does not belong to my bookshelf, no matter how fervently I try to hide it behind my very own Anna Karenina and Kafka on the Shore.

So every time I pick up a second hand book which was owned by someone I do not know, I am filled with some sort of revulsion. And uneasiness. The feeling you would get if you steal someone's lunch at a restaurant. Or attend a random wedding celebration down the street. I should suppose it is an awful feeling and I never shall buy second hand books even if I have to shell a Holy-Mother-of-God 300 bucks for Ulysses. The folks at Flipkart gotta love me!


geeta said...

wow! amazing piece of writing.....loved your threadbare feelings .....while reading i also got into thought bursts of thousands of reasons for your mystical soumya or raji to have parted with their prized possessions.....way to go.... may you inspire many a soul into this marvelous portal of expression!

Vaishali said...

thanks a ton! :)

dHiwYa said...

Awesome post..! But I actually like finding second hand books with dedications like those because it reassures me that all is not wrong in the world and that someone somewhere cares enough to actually go out and buy a book and gift it to someone else and not just download a pdf (even though that is what I do too, when I have to totally, positively, absolutely read a book and I cannot afford it)

Sanchari said...

Sounds like you don't like the role of a voyeur. But as a writer, don't you like catching glimpses of lives different from your own?

Here's an example: I was forced to buy Mohsin Hamid's Moth Smoke secondhand from a fellow grad student last year for a South Asian class, and the inscription in it spoke of two siblings from Pakistan's "high society," similar to the one outlined in the book itself. Turns out the person I bought it from, had bought it from Amazon. Gave me a frissure of pleasure to have that air of mystery surround the book that I now own. It seems quite comfortable on my shelf, next to my brand new copy of Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

Of course, to each his own. I, for one, love such personalized inscriptions. They help fuel my already fertile imagination.

Vaishali said...

I do enjoy voyeurism at times, albeit selectively. I do get excited when I get books from people I know and which carries something of those people. But for me, a book is a private possession, much like one's own pillow and email inbox. It's fun to peek into others lives, some sort of guilty pleasure there - learning more about someone and filling the rest with my own imagination, but I do feel terribly guilty when random books from nowhere land up in my shelf, furtive and forever alien. That I'd prefer new gleaming untouched books is another story :)