Buying books in India


Books are one of the most important aspects of travelling. The Lonely Planet's guide to India makes sure to list the main bookshops for each town. In fact, one advantage of carrying a book as large as the Lonely Planet India (1200 pages) is that one always has emergency reading material.

Having time to read was one of the best things about India. I read dozens of books during my travels (what else are you going to do on a 31 hour train journey?) I visited bookshops ranging from plush Borders-style places a to shelf in a cafe. My favourites were probably the Full Circle Bookshop in Delhi's Khan Market (the cafe, while overpriced, was a good place to relax) and the shelf in Sonam's kitchen in Darjeeling. The photograph above shows Jodhpur's Krishna Book Depot, which had the feel of an old-fashioned English secondhand bookshop.

The books I read were decided by the stock in the shops and those I found in guest-houses – basically books sold in airports and the sort of books that interest travellers. Certain writers turned up everywhere, such as Howard Marks, Paul Coehlo and Salman Rushdie. Haruki Murakami and Milan Kundera were also well-represented. Occasionally you'd see a book that looked marooned, out of place among the others. An example of this was Piers Morgan's celebrity diaries, which I found in Jaisalmer (a fun read, but not as good as the first volume).

Sometimes, when supplies of fresh literature run low, one faces difficult choices. At Ajmer I was down to my last book and, faced with a poor selection, considered buying a copy of the third volume of Lord Archer's prison diaries. I was saved by a visit to Pushkar, which had several good bookshops.

I re-read Lord of the Rings and discovered it was a far, far better book than I remembered. However, revisiting the book while travelling made some shortcomings obvious – Tolkien mentions neither hand sanitizer nor digestive issues. These are notable omissions for what is, effectively, a book about backpacking.

I also read my way through the whole of Stephen King's Dark Tower sequence. I'd read the first half of it in the 90s and when I came across the whole series in a bookshop decided to read the entire thing. The seven Dark Tower books run to about 3,900 pages. It wasn't terrible, but Tolkien managed a far deeper saga with much less fuss.

While in Bikaner I found a copy of Extremely Loud and Incredibly
Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. This was one of the best books I've read
in years. As delighted as I was by the novel, I was also vexed. How
come no-one raved at me about this book? If I'd not found it in a
guest-house, huddling next to a couple of Ludlum thrillers, I might never
have read it. I now worry that there other modern classics I've missed.

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2 thoughts on “Buying books in India”

  1. Oh so true, when we travelled in SE Asia it was basically a tour of bookshops, everytime we got somewhere new the first thing we sought out was the bookshop! I found a lot of the time books were priced on size/weight and not content, sometimes you found a gem. I read some amazing books, and some rubbish ones (the Davinci Code), there was even one time when I read a Ian M Banks sci fi novel when I got stuck for something to read in Koh Tao (where the bookshops were ridiculously over-priced and I refused to buy there), I found it in the guest house and it was a mighty tome and I was desperately trying to read it before I left, I ended up having to pilfer it and heft it with me…I got a good price for it in the north as it was a weight!!!
    It changed my view of books though, I no longer hoard them, I prefer to let books go on their travels, transient and free these days. Not that I actually get to read anything other than text books at the mo. and having a daughter stops you reading for leisure! Last year we went to Indonesia for a month and I just about read the 2 books I took with me!!

  2. Hi Ayng – Thanks for the comment. I agree with you about travel and book hoarding. Only being able to carry half a dozen books makes the decisions about what to take a lot more interesting!

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