Saturday, March 31, 2012

The End of an Era : The Closing of 'Gangarams'


'Gangarams' wasn't just a bookstore. It was a monument, a landmark, a family tradition; a sign of assurance that people in Bangalore still loved to read. When I think of 'Gangarams'; I think of climbing a somewhat steep flight of stairs, scuttling between four different floors, keeping my belongings in lockers and , as a child, ambling down a grid of book lined shelves with my parents. The only people who could navigate the store with frightening precision were members of the staff. They could whip out books from inconspicuous corners, without the blink of an eye or a whiff of judgement. It used to be common for other booksellers to say, 'we don't have this book, but you will find it at Gangarams'.

I still remember buying 'Living to Tell the Tale' by Marquez from 'Gangarams'. 'Back to school' season wouldn't be the same without a trip to 'Gangarams' for a textbook buying spree. No competitive exam preparation was complete without the acquisition of that rarely published and rather 'ninja' study guide. 'Gangarams' also had an entire floor called 'the computer section', something that my father cherished. There were times when I would leave the store empty handed and scowling, while my father beamed like the 'Magi' as he clutched a copy of  'Computers for Dummies'. The store was also a place where I would return to reminisce; to breathe in the scent of books fresh from the press, to be the six year old that clutched her father's hand, and to be the adolescent who watched her mother's eyes light up at the sight of a favorite classic.

 Today, upon hearing this, a part of me is glad that my father isn't here to see the store shut down. On the other hand, I imagine him, in all jocular pragmatism, saying, 'Everything is an illusion. Nothing is forever; not people and definitely not bookstores'. One has to acknowledge that 'Gangarams' didn't generate the kind of hype that 'Crossword' and 'Landmark' did with their literary events. It didn't organize massive, garage sale like giveaways at dirt cheap prices, and it didn't have a coffee shop. It is now an established fact, that if a bookstore is to survive, it must give readers something more than just books.

On days like this, the naive sentimentalist in me trumps over the headstrong technologist. I feel as though a part of my memory has been sliced away and that I will never have access to it for either consultation or comfort.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Bookstores in New York : 'bookbook'

This is the first in an intended series of posts that chronicle my adventures and misadventures in New York bookstores. It has been two weeks since I've moved to New York, and I've already visited my first bookstore! The idea for this series comes from a friend who seems to have a very prescient understanding of my obsession with books, despite having known me for less than a year. This is not intended to be an authoritative reference on what bookshops to visit and which ones to avoid. The intended purpose of this series is to have a catalog for posterity (I have this irrational fear, that someday, I will lose my memory, and that I will have to reconstruct my life from scratch.). I intend to cover bookshops in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.

'bookbook' is a tiny and intimate shop located roughly at the intersection of Bleeker Street and Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village. I'm ashamed to admit that I discovered this place, in a rather unromantic fashion, on 'Foursquare'. The only redeeming part of my minuscule 'adventure' is that I was sitting in a park in Greenwich Village, watching squirrels, and listening to a jazz band, when I decided to pull out my smartphone and look for bookshops in the vicinity. 

It is somewhat disheartening, even for a Kindle user, to walk into a 'shop around the corner' bookstore, and to hear people whispering about buying Kindle versions of books on display. The staff at 'bookbook' are courteous enough not to chide truant customers for uttering 'the K-word' (there are bookstores where such people are publicly shamed). So here's my little tip for readers who want a nice deal; 'bookbook' houses all its bargain books either outside the store, or in the first few shelves inside the store. There maybe discounted and regular priced versions of the same book. In fact, one of the store managers went out of his way to encourage me to buy the discounted version. I suppose it speaks volumes about the state of business in smaller bookstores.

I bought two books by Murakami ('Kafka on the Shore' and 'Dance Dance Dance), and 'In Cold Blood' by Truman Capote. At first sight, 'bookbook' may not look like a place that has too much to offer, but trust me on the impressive variety for a shop of its size. The selection of books is somewhat restricted to genres like art, music, poetry, literature, and pop culture. I wouldn't go far enough to label this place as 'niche', but look elsewhere if you want books on science, technology and fast paced reading in general. It is one of those places where asking gets you around faster than just looking.

As a bonus, a friend of the store manager walked in with his pet Pitbulls, and I got to pet the friendlier one. The purportedly 'unfriendly' one had a gag around her mouth. Apparently, she bites people 'despite having only one tooth' !