Tag Archives: Books

18 Miles… and a Lifetime of Reading

Has it ever happened to you that you go a store to buy something… even before you enter the store, your attention is caught by the wares on display outside and you return with your hands full, delighted with your purchases, without even entering the store? No, it is not a riddle… that is what happens to me lots of times at the Strand Bookstore!
Strand Bookstore is one of the world’s largest bookstores. An independent bookstore in Manhattan, it is located at the corner of Broadway and 12th Street. Founded in 1927, on the no-more-existing Book Row (Fourth Avenue below Union Square), it sells all varieties and categories of books – new as well as used. ‘18 Miles of Books’ is their slogan, but I can’t believe it is only 18 miles…

Strand Bookstore has these rows of book stands out on the sidewalk, piled up with books on sale at heavily discounted prices. And the surprise factor runs sky high… you have no idea what or who you will find there. So as soon as I get to the store, I make a beeline for these stands. It hasn’t happened yet that I have walked away from there empty handed, most often picking up as many as I can carry! And the actual book I came to buy gets postponed to the next visit.

In addition to currently published books, Strand also deals in rare and out of print editions. Reviewers’ copies at reduced prices is another speciality of Strand.

Have you noticed perfectly matched sets of books in professional offices, television and movie sets, etc? Most likely, they came from Strand. They will put together collections according to your specifications; all you have to do is, say how many feet of books you want. Yes, it is called ‘books by the foot’! And you can either buy them or if your need is temporary, Strand will lend them to you. You can also choose from a variety of subjects including art, biography, reference, law, music, theatre and classic literature.

Though generally not a fan of the ‘gift shoppe’, I love the tote bags from Strand. Not only are they sturdy – strong enough to carry a bunch of books – they look great. And well priced too.

If you needed a particular book – doesn’t matter whether best seller or out of print – Strand would be THE place to go looking for it. If they do not have it, the likelihood is that they will be able to get it for you. And a more friendly and helpful set of people I haven’t met. Most impressive is the way the staff knows about what is and is not on the shelves, despite the huge, humungous collection in the store. When I asked whether I could take pictures in the store, I mostly expected to hear ‘No way’, but was pleasantly surprised to be told, ‘Of course’.

I used to think that the best place to work, that is if you are not a writer of some kind, 🙂 would be a library. But after many many visits to Strand Bookstore, I think I would love working there!




When you sell a man a book, you don’t sell him 12 ounces of paper and ink and glue – you sell him a whole new life.
Christopher Morley

15 Aug 2014

On the Kindness of Strangers…

At some time or other, we have all been touched by the kindness of strangers. I’m not talking about someone helping you with a heavy suitcase down the staircase at the train station or holding the door for you when you are loaded with shopping bags. Those are actions of the moment, without much thought behind them, more like reflexes of good manners. What I’m referring to are actions that are the results of conscious decisions to help others with no thought of personal gain.
The other day I was listening to ‘This American Life’ on NPR, and the story was about unusual acts of kindness by strangers. What was unusual about them was that some of the stories were not even intended as acts of kindness. Like, the guy who walked along the subway platform, telling each waiting passenger that were either in or out. The story goes on to narrate how inspiring it was to be told ‘you’re in’, though it meant nothing and was just a random muttering from a stranger. Was there an intention here to help people feel good? I would rather doubt it, but the end result was that it made others happy.
Listening to the stories, I was reminded of an incident, two summers ago, when I was subject to an act of kindness – actually, more like a present – from a stranger.
It was around 2 pm and I was waiting for a train to downtown, to meet a friend for a movie. As usual I had a book with me, and sat reading as I was a few minutes early. Suddenly I got this feeling that eyes were upon me and looking up saw this person watching me intently. I looked around; lots of people on the platform, so no need to worry. Ignoring the watching eyes I returned my attention to the book.
Time for the train and I got up and walked out. The person approached me smiling and started speaking. It was easy to say, ‘sorry, I don’t speak Spanish’. He extended a small card towards me and kept talking in a mix of English and Spanish. The only words I could get were… ‘for you… books… to read’. He pushed the card into my hand. I looked down and saw that it was a Barnes & Noble gift card. Like a true New Yorker I thought… Oh, the guy wants to sell me the card – probably blank. Yeah, right!
By this time, the train was approaching the platform. I tried to give the card back to him. But he wouldn’t take it and kept explaining. What I could grasp from his talk was this: he was a visitor to the city and was going back that day. Did not have time to use the card, and so wanted to give it to me.
The train doors were open, and it was easier to say ‘thank you’ and get in to the train than continue arguing with him. And I was careful to sit far away from where he sat. I pushed the card into the book I was reading.
I did not think of it further till I was passing in front of the Barnes & Noble store on Broadway (which has since closed). Went in and checked to see if the card was of any value. How much do you think was on that card? 78 dollars! I was amazed, to say the least. And truly felt ashamed at being so suspicious of the guy’s intentions!
Why did he pick me to make a present of the card? I cannot make a guess, except maybe it was because I was the only one reading a serious book on the station platform.
I still remember two of the books I bought with that card… ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ by Jhumpa Lahiri and ‘Half Asleep in Frog Pajamas’ by Tom Robbins, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed!

20 Jun 2014

Waiting for the third…

AGhosh-featureWe do a lot of waiting in life… waiting for trains, waiting in lines at stores to pay money, waiting for the water to boil… all painful. But there are some waitings that are enjoyable. Full of anticipation. Like waiting for a friend to call. Or for spring to arrive. However, even such waitings are hard for me… have zero faith in the saying ‘Patience is a great virtue’. Rather agree with Ambrose Bierce whose saying goes, ‘Patience, n. A minor form of dispair, disguised as a virtue’. 😉

But I digress… At present I’m in such a state of impatient waiting. Waiting for the third and last book in the Ibis trilogy, by one of my favourite authors, Amitav Ghosh, to be published.


The first book in the trilogy, Sea of Poppies was published in 2008, followed by River of Smoke in 2011. In a nutshell, the books tell the story of the trade of opium in the early 19th century and the people whose lives, knowingly or otherwise, get entangled in its web.

The author paints the stories of individuals in vibrant colours in the background of the trade in opium, the cultivation of which was forced on the farmers of northern India and the consumption of which was forced on the population of another country, China, against the objections of their government. The snippets of history remembered from school days – the opium wars and the carving of the Chinese melon – come alive in the lives of these characters.


Sea of Poppies narrates the journey of the ship Ibis which carries opium from India to the markets of China, along with a group of passengers very unlikely to have met in any other surroundings. The intricate threads that bind these passengers to each other and to the central theme explain the circumstances which bring them to the good ship Ibis. And the drama of that voyage and the fortuitous turn of events bring the book to a satisfying end.

In River of Smoke, we follow the passengers on Ibis to their different destinations, some to new lands and new fortunes; others to age old conflicts and tensions. The characters are so nuanced that you will be hard put to root for any one side. While the conflicts of life throw them against each other, you as the reader recognises their innate humanness and can’t do anything other than sympathise with them.

If you are one to let your imagination soar like a kite braced by the breeze of words on a printed page, you will love these books and the rich and vivid tapestry of life they weave. And you will understand why I’m so impatient to get my hands on the concluding part of this trilogy. If we go by the timeline of the previous releases, the third part should be out in 2014. Waiting, waiting…


And to console myself in the interim, I have chosen Hungry Tide as my vacation reading. I have already read Shadow Lines and Circle of Reason, around when they were first published. 20 years ago? How time flies when you are having fun! 😉

You can read more about the Ibis trilogy and other books by Amitav Ghosh at his web site.


22 Jan 2014