The smell of old books

I love those dim and dingy rooms that smell like old books, whose pages are moth ridden and yellowed with age. Those paperbacks and hard-bounds where men and women pour their hearts out, often about their unrequited love at the footnotes.

These books, which find their place in second hand roadside shops, is my haven. I have often wondered why I love second hand books that are easily torn and sometimes words so small that they difficult to read. Yet, these are the kind of books I love, rather crave.

It could be that having these books in my possession makes me think of the previous owner, in some cases close to a century old. Their thoughts when they read these books, their interpretations; I wonder about them from time to time. I ponder over the kind of people they were. It is a kind of mystery, one that can never be solved. 

But that is not all. I often lose track of time, sometimes hours together, when I’m at second hand book shops. I always end up buying too many books, more often than not quite heavy, which I have to carry with a great difficulty to home. Most of all it is the very process of finding, exploring. It is more like journey to the unknown.

Like the most, I go into these old book shops with no particular book in mind. I just love look at the columns of books arranged in no particular order. Heaps where you cannot even begin to decipher. You have to spend hours browsing, reading synopsis and repeat this process over and over again. And when that rare volume of collections of William Shakespeare play, unabridged and weighing about a kilo or the oldest edition of Black Beauty bound in thick red cover comes into your view, you strike before others. 

These second hand books are more than just books that you read at your leisure. These books are the show of strength and sweat that you put up in finding them. I guess that is why I love them more than the new ones, which you can just order by click of the button. 

I have lost track of how many I have bought. But as time passed and my collections began to beef-up, I got curious about how these owners are able to get their hands on such collections and give away these books at a throw away price. Well, I got most of mine at Rs 20 to Rs 150 and rarely may be ₹250, if I think it was really worth it.

When I was talking to one of the owners of the shops, he said they import books from the US and UK since there is quite a demand for those books in India, especially the rare ones I was talking about. 

The owner explained that there are lot of people in the UK and the US market who give away their used books to libraries and book shops at a cheaper rate. These shops in turn have too many books they can handle in their inventory and are looking for buyers. This is where these guys come in. Buyers from India have agents in UK and the US, who will buy the books either online or warehouse that contain second-books when there is a sale. The agency through which the particular company import books in UK is RAP limited and for the US, the agents are Thrift recycling limited. The books are imported thrice in a year, the owner added.


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