Friday, February 12, 2010

Notes from the Strand Book Festival

I’m absolutely delighted with the collection of books I picked up at the Strand Book Festival. I went there on the Festival's second day itself. Can’t say I’d been saving for this – I now buy books on a regular basis, Superfreakonomics, The Book Thief, A Case of Exploding Mangoes are some recent buys – but generally, browsing in a room full of books, with bibliophiles from in and around Bombay, can be quite therapeutic. For example, that’s one reason many of us visit Landmark bookstore on weekends, buy nothing and come out feeling better.

This year, Strand’s done things a bit differently. I’m not sure if this is how it always is, but they have not put up ‘everything’. So for example, you can’t come here looking for Jeffrey Archer, Coetzee, Murakami or JK Rowling. I spotted just one title by Jhumpa Lahiri and Orhan Pamuk's latest, that's all. One can argue that you don’t come to a book sale to pick up an Archer novel, but then, well.

The arrangement of books at the Festival is a blessing. I’m tired of craning my neck at bookstores to read the titles. Why don’t you just arrange the books horizontally? Ten brownie points to Strand for this simple change.

So what interested me the most? I think it's is an excellent opportunity to pick up some great coffee table books at throw-away prices. I also found some interesting titles about Tarantino, Satyajit Ray, but I didn’t give in to temptation, as frankly I found myself overspending by quite a bit. Last year, I spent about Rs 1,500 on about 6-7 books. This year, I’ve bought 10 titles and spent about Rs 2,750.

What made me overspend was the high number of non-fiction titles (see list below). Was also keen to buy more titles here – Inside Steve’s Brain, Inside Rupert’s Brain and Rana Dasgupta's Solo – but convinced myself to postpone the purchase for another time.

My keenness to buy non-fiction was the simple fact that I think learnings from these books can lend much so more to daily conversation. Which is why books like Tipping Point, Freakonomics, The World is Flat, and Superfreakonomics are such absolute must haves on your bookshelf. I cannot imagine discussing The Kite Runner or A Suitable Boy or Milan Kundera for over 15 minutes. I can rave about them, listen to you talking about it and nod, but that's about it.

Coming back to Strand, I was disappointed to see very few youngsters at the Festival. Most of the visitors were in the age group of 35+ and that included a lot of people in the 45+ range. My fears of youngsters – 18 to 30 year olds – not reading enough books are confirmed. Is Facebook and Twitter making us stay away from the fresh smell of paperbacks? I’d like to agree.

Billing done, I came home (Ambarnath, that is) carrying these books in a Khopoli fast local, keen to spend the weekend with my parents. 14th February, Valentine’s Day coincides with their marriage anniversary and my availability over the Valentine’s Day weekend has absolutely convinced them that I do not have a girlfriend. Not that they doubt it, or are opposed to it; they’re just sure of it now – hardly any conversations on the phone, no calls after 10pm, one can easily tell who is dating and who is not.

So paperback diet it will be for the next few months. And I hope that in the near future, when you and I are having a conversation, it will be much richer than it is now.

Here’s a list of books I bought and since it’s sale, I would be charged guilty if I did not mention the prices that I bought it for.

English August - Upamanyu Chatterjee - 225
Love and Longing in Bombay – Vikram Chandra - 150
Smoke and Mirrors, an experience of China – Pallavi Aiyar - 195
Why We Buy – The Science of Shopping – Paco Underhill - 490
The Undercover Economist – Tim Harford - 350
The Ayatollah Begs to Differ – The paradox of Modern Iran – Hooman Majd - 225
Tricky Business – Dave Barry - 200
Family Matters – Rohinton Mistry – (Hardbound) – 275
The Art of Conversation - Catherine Blyth - (Hardbound) - 300
A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaleid Hosseini - 295 (to be gifted to my cousin, I hope you're not reading this, Debo! :))