Friday, August 26, 2016

A Long Break

After completing nine years of this blog I thought I deserved a short break. I got a break from unexpected quarters. The Government (my employer) itself gave me a break by sending me away from home for two long weeks. Naturally I couldn't go to Abids for the past two Sundays and hence no posts here. I came home only two days ago from that strenuous duty bringing with me fever, cold and a nagging cough. Right now I am recovering from it all and promise to post something next Friday. Until then let me rest :)

Friday, August 05, 2016

Nine Years On and The Sunday Haul

I’m a bit surprised that I’ve managed to keep this blog running for nine years. I am not known to be tenacious at anything that requires regular effort so last week when I noticed that I have completed nine years of blogging I felt pleased. While thinking of what could have made me keep this blog afloat for so long two things struck me as possible factors. One was that the time this job in the government that allowed me to write sometimes in the office. Sometimes I go through days with almost nothing to do and on such days I try to fill the time by reading and writing which is far better than chatting with colleagues. The second factor is that the fear of becoming just another boring bureaucrat must have made me keep on writing the blog so that I have something to show that I am something more than a mere file pusher. Anyway I am pleased that this blog has now crept into its tenth year. If I keep at it for another year it means that I’ve done it for almost half of my service in the government. It is thanks to all those who follow this blogo and also to those who aren’t followers but who read this blog regularly and leave comments occasionally.
One thing I regret is that I am not travelling as much as I wish to. I haven’t been anywhere exotic or even far off sine long other than that single trip to the Andamans that I made exactly ten years ago. It seems highly unlikely that I’ll make another such trip given that I am not longer young. I am fifty three now in case you didn’t know.

However what lessens the frustration of not having travelled much is the travel books I keep finding and read. Except for a couple of travel writers like Patrick Leigh Fermor I think I’ve found books by almost all the big names in travel literature like Wilfred Thesiger, Jan Morris, and Pico Iyer. I even have a copy of Moritz Thomsen’s ‘The Saddest Pleasure’ that I found a couple of years ago at Abids. The Sunday before last I had found a list of travel titles in a book I found at Abids and I realized that there are many travel writers and their books that I do not know about. It humbled me, honestly. Last Sunday I was pleasantly surprised to find another travel title by a writer I haven’t heard anywhere before. Since it was a Penguin title I literally pounced on it to grab it like before anyone could set their eyes on it.

The title I found was ‘West of Centre’ by Ray Ericksen and it was, as the blurb on the cover says ‘A Journey of Discovery into the Heartland of Australia’ and I have kept it aside as my next immediate read.

Friday, July 29, 2016

The Sunday Haul (on 23-07-2016)

My weekly visits to Abids every Sunday have been yielding a regular haul of books. I bring home at least two good books from Abids every Sunday. This has resulted in overflowing bookshelves at home crammed with books. This year so far I have bought about 106 books, all of them (in my view) fantastic titles that I have brought with the intention of reading, obviously. Last Sunday was no different and I added five more titles to this figure.
The Sunday before the last I had found Series II of Sahitya Akademi’s ‘Contemporary Indian Short Stories’ that had a story by an author I had been looking for. I had bought it because it had a story by Pudumai Pitthan. Though there were Series I, III, and also IV I did not buy them for some reason. Last Sunday I bought series I and II but left Series IV behind to be picked up next Sunday. Series I has fifteen stories and Series III has nineteen stories. These series have stories translated into English that were by writers of all Indian languages that would be difficult to find at one place. I am glad I found these series. Next Sunday I will buy Series IV. I do not think anybody would be interested in it so I am certain it will be at the same place I saw it last Sunday.
Another title I bought was a title someone I am bumping into at Abids told me was a good read. I have read David Morrell earlier but since I haven’t read ‘Extreme Denial’ I bought it to avoid disappointing a fellow book lover. In the same heap of books I saw a couple of titles by a writer whose books I see quite often at Abids. Somehow I have resisted buying T. Jefferson Parker’s books so far but last Sunday I decided to picked up one title and that was ‘Silent Joe’ just to see if he is any good.
The most interesting find of the day was a title I picked up right away the moment I spotted it. The title was ‘Travels in Nepal’ by Charlie Pye Smith which I bought because I love to read travelogues. Another reason why I bought it was that it was a Penguin title that I cannot resist buying. In one of the pages at the back I found ‘The Penguin Travel Library’ which is a selection of about two dozen travel titles published by Penguin. I was quite thrilled to find that I have ‘Hindoo Holiday’ by AJ Ackerley, ‘Indian Summer’ by James Cameron, ‘Stones of Florence and Venice Observed’ by Mary McCarthy, and also ‘Mash Arabs’ by Wilfred Thesiger. After seeing the titles in the list I want to look out for all those I do not have especially ‘First Russia, Then Tibet’ by Robert Byron and also ‘A Little Tour in France’ by Henry James. One travel writer whose books I have been unable to find is Patrick Leigh Fermor. I wish I could lay my hands on one of his titles somewhere soon.

Friday, July 22, 2016

The Sunday Haul (on 17-07-16)

Most of the titles I’ve picked up purely on a hunch at Abids have turned out to be those written by good writers I haven’t had the luck to know until then. In this manner I have found Ross MacDonald, Ross Thomas, Peter Blauner and other writers. I do not hesitate if I find a Penguin title by writers I haven’t heard about before since I know Penguin publishes only good writers. Last Sunday I came across a Penguin title that I bought right away.
I found this title with the seller at RTC X Roads who kept this title in a heap of twenty rupees books. It was ‘An Exile’ by Madison Jones, which, I read on the cover was also made into a movie under the title ‘I Walk the Line.’ ‘An Exile’ is a small, slim title with just 156 pages. I love these kind of novels that tell a story in under two hundred pages because it doesn’t take me more than a day to finish reading them.
The previous Sunday I had picked up ‘The Group’ by Mary McCarthy from this same heap but not her other title ‘A Charmed Life’ that was also in the same heap. I decided that I would buy it this Sunday if it was still in the same place. It was and I bought this title too for twenty rupees only. Sometimes after you finish reading a good book by an author you haven’t heard before you wish you could read other titles by the same author. Since I read that ‘The Group’ is a good book I hope I will like it and also read ‘A Charmed Life’ next.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Sunday Haul (on 10-07-2016)

The second hand book sellers of Abids who were scattered and in disarray on all Sundays during the month of Ramzan that got just over were back to their usual places last Sunday. This was comforting because it meant that it improved my chances of finding some good titles that I usually find at some of the good sellers at Abids. Needless to say last Sunday I ended up finding three good books.
The first find of the day was a collection of short stories- Series II of the Contemporary Indian Short Stories- brought out by the Sahitya Akademi. Though there were all the series from Series I to Series IV with the seller I had reason to buy only Series-II. Sometime back I had read about Pudumai Pithan, the Tamil short story writer whose works I was desperately hoping to find some day. I was glad I found one of his stories- The Redemption- in this volume that had twenty stories by different authors translated into English from different languages. After I went home I realized that it would have been better if I had bought all the series. Next Sunday I will buy them if I find them.
The second find was a title I picked up on a hunch. In a heap of books that were being sold for Rs 20 each I spotted the title ‘Law and Order’ on an attractive cover. The author was Dorothy Uhnak and it was a name that I was coming across for the first time. I read inside that Uhnak had been a police officer and ‘Law and Order’ was her first book. I had a hunch that it could be a good book and so I bought it. Later when I checked out the reviews online I discovered that I had indeed bought a good title. I hope to find her bestseller ‘The Investigation’ and other titles by Dorothy Unhak soon.
The third and last find was another wonderful title. I already own a good copy of ‘A Room of One’s Own’ by Virginia Woolf that I found a couple of years ago. I saw another nice copy of this same title with a seller who manages to stock some good titles in the few dozen tattered books that he displays. This copy was in a good condition except for a stain on the bottom of the cover that seems to have spread to some of the first few pages. Otherwise it looked new. I bought it to add it to a couple of books I plan to a dear friend who lives in Mumbai.

Friday, July 08, 2016

The Sunday Haul (on 3-7-2016)

Of the many agonies that some bibliophiles like me experience one in particular I face quite often. When one is looking for a particular title by an author that has made him/her famous it is agonizing to find other titles by the author other than the one you are searching for. I’ve gone through this agonizing experience several times in the past. I’ve come across ‘Killing Mister Watson’ and also ‘At Play in the Fields of the Lord’ when I was looking for Peter Matthiessen’s ‘The Snow Leopard’ that I ultimately found after a long search. Similarly I came across copies of ‘Play as it Lays’ by Joan Didion and other titles when it was her ‘Slouching Towards Bethlehem’ that I was desperately looking for. While looking for JM Coetzee’s ‘Disgrace’ I kept seeing many copies of ‘The Life and Times of K’ until finally I found it sometime recently.

For me this agony is doubled because I have developed this curious habit of not reading any other title by an author until I’ve read the title that made the author famous. Though it was ‘The Group’ by Mary McCarthy that I was hoping to find since a long time I never was able to find a single copy all these years. However I found ‘Venice Observed’ a couple of years ago but haven’t read it because I wanted to read ‘The Group’ first before reading other titles by this author.

Last Sunday, finally, I spotted an old copy of ‘The Group’ with a seller at the RTC Crossroads on the way back home from Abids where I hadn’t been lucky. The copy of ‘The Group’ I saw had a faded cover and looked like a very old copy. No wonder the seller had dumped it in a heap of books being sold for twenty rupees. I took it but not the copy of ‘The Charmed Circle’that was also there in the same heap. Now I am wondering if I should have bought this title too.

Friday, July 01, 2016

A Midweek Haul

Last Sunday’s visit to Abids did not yield even a single title in the haul. I came home empty handed after a long time. I wasn’t disappointed though because I met my friends and fellow book lovers. We had sat in another café we’ve begun to haunt because the café which was our regular meeting place was razed to the ground a couple of months ago. We talked about books, writers, movies, and the trending topic- the potholes on the roads of Hyderabad. The time spent in the company of friends made it possible to forget that I hadn’t picked up anything at Abids.

Later on the way back home, at Chikkadpally, I had seen a good copy of ‘The Sly Company of People Who Care’ by Rahul Bhattacharya. I decided I would buy this title after a couple of Sundays after wearing down the seller who was asking for a high price for it.
However, on Monday I happened to drop in at the MR Bookstore branch beside the flyover near Punjagutta. I saw a good copy of ‘My Own Country’ by Abraham Varghese. Sometime back I had read his ‘The Tennis Partner’ and right away decided to read his other books. Though I picked up ‘My Own Country’ and held it in my hand I came across another wonderful title that I instantly decided to buy instead of Abraham Varghese’s book. I found ‘Yesterday Morning’ by Diana Athill. Finding a good copy of ‘Stet’ by this celebrated editor on the pavements of Abids was one of the few thrilling moments of my life half spent dredging for books. This joy was doubled when I found a second copy shortly afterwards. Anyway, I bought ‘Yesterday Morning’ by Diana Athill, a remarkable editor, and also a person who led a very interesting life.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Sunday Haul (on 19-06-2016)

As the month of Ramzan has already begun the shopkeepers in Hyderabad keep their shops open on Sundays also. Abids is no exception and since the stores selling shoes, dresses, etc that abound in Abids were open the second hand booksellers who occupy the pavements before this shops shift to other places. Not finding the regular booksellers at their usual places causes some sense of dislocation. Despite this dislocation I had the usual haul netting two books last Sunday at Abids.
It was a bit of luck that I spotted ‘In the Country of Men’ by Hisham Matar nestled in a pile of haphazardly arranged books with only the Penguin logo being visible. I usually do not miss out checking out Penguin titles so I extricated this book from the pile with some difficulty. I do not remember the titles but the name Hisham Matar was familiar as I had come across the name many times. I decided to buy this book and paid only forty rupees for this book in a good condition.
In the plant pathology classes at the agricultural college where I studied a long time back I read about the potato late blight disease that damaged the potato crop in Ireland completely and caused a famine that claimed millions of lives. At that time it was only a statistic, a fact useful only during examinations. I hadn’t realized the human dimension behind that tragedy and so when I came across a copy of ‘Famine’ by Liam O’ Flaherty I decided to check it out. The blurb on the front cover said it was ‘one of the greatest novels of this century’ and Anthony Burgess called it ‘a major achievement, a masterpiece’ which was enough to make me decide to buy it. It is, as classics go, a lengthy book of nearly 450 pages. But I am glad I found it and gladder still that I got it for only forty rupees.

Friday, June 17, 2016

The Sunday Haul (on 12-06-2016)

It’s been almost two weeks since the monsoon season has begun but the rains have yet to fall. Since there has been a drought here for the past two years I really wish it would rain heavily and regularly but not on Sunday, please. For some reason I do not like it when it rains. The cloudy weather and the wetness that the rains come with brings on a gloom in my life that lifts only when the sun comes out. Since it hasn’t yet started to rain I am normal and yet to be engulfed by the rain-induced gloom that brings back painful memories. Last Sunday it was quite sunny when I started for Abids to hunt for books on the pavements there.
Even before I was halfway through to Abids I stopped at a seller in RTC Crossroads on a hunch. I was glad I followed my bunch to stop there because I spotted a good book in a pile stacked up against the wall. I found ‘Everyone Can Write’ by Peter Elbow. It was quite a hefty paperback of nearly 500 pages containing several lengthy academic essays on the process on writing. Academic or whatever when it comes to anything about writing I’m willing to empty my pockets. I got this book for a hundred and fifty rupees which was quite cheap considering the immaculate condition of the book and what it is about.
Later at Abids it was a happy reunion of all my friends I made through this blog where I write about books mostly. I met Umashankar, Srikant, and also Jai and we dug through a large pile of books where we had gathered. Our search yielded quite a few good titles as Shrikant and Uma found two different copies of ‘Kitchen Confidential’ by Anthony Bourdain. I found a nice copy of ‘Diary of a Madman and Other Stories’ by Gogol. Since I had not come across any such collection of stories by Gogol I picked it up from the pile of books selling for thirty rupees.
The last find was a title by Ross Macdonald that I spotted with another seller in a heap of books selling three for a hundred rupees. The title I found was ‘MEET ME AT THE MORGUE’ and I was excited at finding another Ross Macdonald title to add to my collection of his books. But I was disappointed when I saw that it was not a Lew Archer novel. I bought it nevertheless because Ross MacDonald is the kind of writer you wouldn’t want to miss reading.
With these three books the total number of books I found so far this year stands at eighty eight.

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Sunday Haul (on 5-6-2016)

Sometimes being deprived of something one is addicted to has a brighter side to it. Among other things one learns to savor what one is deprived of. Last Sunday visiting Abids after a two-week gap I realized the eye had become keener and the hunger to find good titles is a bit sharper. I ended up finding seven good titles at Abids last Sunday that washed away any remnants of resentment I had over not being able to go to Abids and look for books on the pavements.
When I spotted a book by Cyril Connolly I did not even want to look at it because I thought his were books that I wouldn’t understand. Though I had come across the name ‘Cyril Connolly’ enough times to remember it I hadn’t bothered to find out more and it was my loss. Last Sunday after much hesitation I picked up the slim and small copy of ‘The Unquiet Grave’ by Cyril Connolly that I decided to buy for the sole reason that it was a Penguin and I strongly believe that Penguin publishes only the best writing. It sounds like a very interesting book judging from the blurbs on the front cover and the back.
Sunday’s second find was a nice copy of ‘Billion Doller Brain’ by Len Deighton that I had been eyeing since the past few weeks at the same spot with the same seller. I have a couple of copies of this title but nevertheless I bought this copy too hoping to pass it on to someone who hasn’t yet discovered Len Deighton’s magic.
I found the third and fourth books of the day in a heap of books selling for twenty rupees only. I found a good copy of ‘Black Sun’ by Edward Abbey. (I have already finished reading it.) I also found a copy of ‘Memoirs of Hecate County’ by Edmund Wilson in the same heap. The first time I saw this title a long time back I had a feeling that it could be a good read. But somehow for whatever reason I did not buy it and later I regretted not picking it up. This time however I did not want to lose it so I picked it up. I am also looking for a good copy of ‘Peyton Place’ by Grace Metalious to read along this book.
The last find at Abids was a book by another author who is one of my favorites- Arun Joshi. I found yet another copy of one of the earliest editions of Arun Joshi’s ‘The Foreigner. Sometime recently I had found a good copy of this same edition and added it to my collection of multiple copies of novels by Arun Joshi. I couldn’t resist buying this copy too and adding to the delight was the price which was just forty rupees that the seller asked.
Later at Chikkadpally on the way home I found a nice and almost new copy of ‘South of the Border West of the Sun’ by Haruki Murakami. It was a slim volume and in quite good condition and I expected the seller to quote hundred or hundred and fifty rupees for it. I did not let the shock on my face show when the seller asked for fifty rupees so I quietly handed him the cash and took the book.
The last find also at Chikkadpally but at a different seller was yet another book on writing. I must have close to a hundred and fifty books on writing half of which would have been more than enough for anyone to get started on their writing yet I wanted, desperately, to buy the copy of ‘Writing on Both Sides of the Brain’ by Henriette Anne Klauser that I saw at Chikkadpally.