walk a-musing

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Agony and Ecstasy

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ I had said I would write about the agony and ecstasy of working in a charity book shop. Well, 'My World - Of Heroic Mice And Thai Curries' should serve as an introduction to this. My experience in book shops the past few years being what they were, consider how it feels to be left all alone in a fantastic book shop for four hours at a stretch!

This is no ordinary book shop mind you! It is a second hand book shop, and second hand book shops, and old books (a..a...achoooo!!) have their own special charm for me. (When in Bangalore and Mysore the Select Book Shop on Brigade road was a favourite) The old books in leather jackets and gold edges, which my father quoted from and said was a must read , which I found too serious back then; Classics which, if we read, were in paperbacks, found here at their original dignified hardbound best, and with original illustrations; The popular books I read as a child or college student, and the books which were the rage a year and a half ago, and a few odd new ones, all sitting invitingly together in one room! If spending four leisurely hours in that room is not ecstasy, what is?

And what do I do in this book shop? I sort out the donations, and send the salable ones to the appropriate shelves in the store room above the shop. I bring in my favourites from the store room and display them in the shop. Occasionally when a really old book appears among the donations, I search in abebooks to find their value, sometimes discovering that it could fetch us hundred of pounds! Ofcourse I also bring home books at very reasonable prices.

The customers are so interesting! The youngish grandmother looking for Beatrix Potter's 'Benjamin Bunny' to give to her new born(!) grandson named Benjamin. The old man with the dog who buys a book from the 50p tray every week, reads it and promptly brings it back to donate to the shop. Students from the university who come in one after the other desperately looking for the same book till we realise they are participating in a treasure hunt.....

Have you as a kid, ever played make-believe shopkeeper and customer with leaves for notes and pebbles for coins? Ever fought to be the shop keeper? Ha! I get to play the shop keeper with a proper till and real money! I am proud to say that I have finally learnt to make a transaction without hitting a single wrong button! (There were just a dozen buttons to learn. Tchah! I thought. Easy. Then I was alone at the till when a customer came along and I pressed some button and it went "kreeeeeeeeeeee"!) Great fun. (when you dont have to do it everyday, I suppose!)

Now for the Agony. A lot of donations come in every week. Unfortunately, many of the books are not in great condition. They are unlikely to be sold. There are some other books which sit on the shelves for months occupying precious space. We keep reducing their price till finally they cost 50p and even then are not sold. What to do with them? Some are bought by another roadside bookseller, but the others..... are sent for recycling! Really, it is absolutely heartbreaking! When I make a fuss, the other volunteers tell me it is better than the books sitting for ages collecting dust. If they are recycled they will hopefully come out as other books (or toilet paper?! Ohh the Agony!) I am so tempted to rescue some of them, but where is the limit? As it is, I buy quite a few books I really want. Even when I know I already have many at home I havn't read, I pick up some telling myself I will not get them for 50p when I do have the time to read. So I end up coming home after every session, thinking that surely someone somewhere would have wanted that book, but now it has gone to be recycled! Sigh!

Note: Just as I finish typing this there is talk about our donating these books to another charity that is collecting books to establish libraries in Africa. If that happens, I will be the happiest!
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Btw, my son read 'My world - Of heroic Mice and Thai Curries', and said,
"Nooo Ma, you have got it all wrong, they are all lies"
"Oh yeah?"
"Yeah...........I never read Brian Jacques when we were visiting Kinokunia, it was only after coming here, to England, and..... Alex Raider is not the latest, it is the vampire books...."
So you see, the lies are all in the little details!



  • At 3:06 PM, Anonymous Rajani said…

    Hey, Anu, I'd been waiting for this one as u'd promised some time back. Loved it...Know what? It kind of inspired me to go work in a book shop too. I'd been thinking of doing so for some time now, but had held back since I can't legally work in the US, but I guess volunteering is a good way of doing what i like. What say?...
    Also loved the links u'd included, specially the Select Bookshop one..Must remember to check it out next time I visit B'lore.

  • At 9:04 PM, Blogger Shruthi said…

    Wow! Very good writeup! Agony and Ecstasy indeed! :D -- and great links ;)

  • At 1:46 AM, Blogger Anu said…

    Rajani, I say Great! I am sure you will enjoy it. Go for it!

    Shruthi, Danke;)

  • At 6:12 AM, Anonymous confused said…


    Such jobs people find! Here, rest of us work boring idiotic jobs!

    But I understand the agony of books being sent for recycling..ergh! My father has a personal collection of over 10000 books, and he keeps asking me if I would take care of his collection after he is not there anymore.

    Such pleasure books provide.

  • At 9:01 AM, Blogger Anu said…

    Confused, Wow! I hope you have assured your father that they will be treasured!

  • At 9:29 AM, Blogger Sachin said…

    Anu, first of all, thank you for visiting my blog and also for the comment! Am curious as to how you got there though it gives me great pleasure to see more people there. If only I could find more time to keep writing...

    Nice post here.... must say you're so lucky to be doing what you're doing....very few of us get paid for doing what we enjoy doing the most....I gather you are in England now so the collection of books you handle would surely be a treat!!! Keep blogging...cheers!!!!

  • At 10:50 AM, Blogger Anu said…

    Hello Sachin! I am not exactly paid for the what I do. It is a volunteering job! You can read more about it in the first link of the post.
    Btw, I got to your blog through Shruthi's
    Thanks for visiting and the comment!

  • At 3:11 AM, Anonymous Bru said…

    very interesting post. glad that you have got the opportunity to spend your time in your favourite place

    Before buying more books for 50p, remember that hundreds of your books have occupied the shelves of your near and dear ones in Mysore and Bangalore, and are looking forward to occupy their owner's shelves.

  • At 3:15 AM, Anonymous Poorvi said…

    Yipeee!! Nice one! :-P

    BTW, is Rajani the Rajani I know?! Rajani/Anu, please respond if YES!! :)


  • At 5:21 AM, Blogger Anu said…

    Bru, I didnt realise there were so many who kept a watch on my book shopping.I have to sneak my books into the house when no one is looking. It is not easy being caught when I have told V what my father told me..."Space in a private library is precious, so choose your books carefully'.

    Poorvi, Yes it is the same Rajani and she has been enquiring about you!

  • At 8:30 AM, Anonymous chandni said…


    I remember the make believe game and fighting to be the shopkeeper....those were the days!!!

    Very very nice! :)

  • At 12:20 AM, Blogger Anu said…

    Chandni, Thankyou very much!
    And yes, those were the days! Being shopkeeper was so prestigious!:)

  • At 7:22 AM, Blogger LAK said…

    Oooh, Anu, you have a dream job---I always wanted to have a bookshop or a library. And old books---I love the smell. I can understand your agony at having to get rid of unsaleable books---it must be the same as pet lovers feel when a pet has to be put to sleep.I am trying to help my parents clear their house of "junk" and all that I'm doing is transferring all those tattered books to my house!

  • At 7:25 AM, Blogger LAK said…

    I visited a second hand bookshop at Jayanagar, B'lore and came away with about twenty! Hubby got almost the entire series of "Sudden" I got 3 books of Erma Bombeck's.Strangely, I have never managed to go to the famed second hand bookshops of Daryaganj, though I've lived in Delhi for so long! BTW thanx for your comments on my blog---I guess you're Shruthi's famed aunt!

  • At 2:15 PM, Blogger Anu said…

    lak, Welcome to my blog! haha... about shifting the books from your parents house. A typical book lover! Yes I am the 'famed' aunt!:)))

  • At 10:51 PM, Blogger GuNs said…

    Anu :One word. WOW. Thats the most exciting profession EVER. IS it something you do as a full time job or part time? Does it pay you enough to "make-a-living" ?? Where exactly is this shop located? Next time you come to India, drop me a line. I will give you a huge list of books you can get for me [:-P]...I'll pay, of course.


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