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.