Saturday, February 07, 2009

Receding into Oblivion

A lot is said about the evils of recession and its cascading effects on sectors like IT,Finance and Real Estate.Very little is said about book lovers with an entrepreneurial spirit;the kind who open tiny bookshops round street corners.This is an ode of some sort to that spirit which sometimes wanes with the weight of the effort required to brace oneself in tough times.During the course of the past month I have become aware of the almost systematic demise of the minimalistic bookstore.I use the word 'systematic' as there seems to be a conspiratorial prophecy lurking behind the end of the proverbial 'shop around the corner'.

Tiny bookstores were dark and asphyxiating.They had books stacked haphazardly and precariously from floor to ceiling;as though the shop owner intended to replicate the leaning tower of Pisa by using nothing but books.One would,with intense apprehension,approach the shop owner and whisper the desired book title into his ears,lest the leaning towers crumble.One had to know what he or she wanted to read.Quite unlike shops of larger chains where readers flop down on bean bags and spend hours pouring over manuscripts before they even decide to buy something.The wizened owner of the shop around the corner always knew what to recommend.He knew every detail of the last book of even the most obscure genre.He didn't need a computer to find out whether a certain title was in stock, he merely glided over to the next decrepit shelf/stack and retrieved it as though he were Houdini.

The gigantic book chain is something like the cannibal that swallowed the tiny bookstore for lunch.I have no intention of sounding politically inclined but my lamentation is well justified.I lament the fact that I now need to go to some impersonal and impeccable store with sprawling interiors and sturdy shelves.It no longer seems blasphemous that such stores keep books by Sidney Sheldon and Archer under a section titled 'Indian fiction', or that I need to spell out the title of a book so that the salesperson may look it up in the database.I am now on a hunt for the last survivors of the endangered species of book entrepreneurs.Recession is too lame a reason to compromise on well recommended reading.


Suhas said...

I'm guessing this was inspired by Premier closing down, right? Quite sad, after they fought the odds for so long.

Last week, the local bookstore at my University in Texas also shut down, and I had a pretty insightful chat with one of the staff. She remarked that such bookstores operate on extremely low margins, and often needed to supplement their income by including a computer products section or a coffee shop inside. And crucially, they are being marginalised not only by the bigger chains like Barner & Noble or Borders, but also the advent of the online bookstore. I don't know how much it has caught on in India yet, but buying your books cheaper from Amazon is all the rage in America now.

La Diva! said...

Yes it was inspired by Premier closing down.That was one bookshop that was something like a part of Bangalore's heritage.The trends you mentioned are now quite common in India.