Sunday, March 19, 2006


What is it about us and book exhibitions? I look down my nose at friends and relatives who turn into panting fiends when let loose in a clothes store. But bung us into a book exhibition, and both Amit and I change. We transmogrify miraculously into drooling, slavering shopaholics; crazed, breathless, and obsessive, buying books we don’t need, wanting some we’ll never be able to afford.

My cheeks get flushed; determined and competitive, I dart around looking for bargains; and pick up piles of books. Amit is the more measured of the two. He is a slow searcher, combing thru racks in a painfully slow fashion till he finds the real gems. Then, flushed and happy, we meet at the counter and have a weeding-out session. This appears like a quiet, adult discussion, but actually, it can set the tone of our relationship for a few days. Usually we chuck out the same stuff, but sometimes one of us has to give away a favourite which has been rejected by the other’s cold, businesslike eye. And the sense of being sacrificial, of having been wounded or wounding the other, stays for days.

We love the Fort Book Depot’s exhibition that’s on at Chembur just now. They have all kinds of yummy books – practically no new novels, but well, frankly, strange, obscure, delightful stuff that you’ll never find anywhere else. They also have some lovely kiddie books… We’ve been thrice, and spent obscene sums, but every day I find myself wandering in and chancing upon some books that I simply must have.

Yesterday, we went back. Amit and this friend – let’s call him Hemant for now – were rooting through the cartoon books section, and Hemant picked up a ratty-looking book called Toons for our Times. I wasn’t with them, but just happened to turn around at that very moment (do you get the fatedness of all this??). And just as Hemant was opening it to look at the contents, I darted forward like a giant locust and grabbed it out of his hands, shrieking, “Ohmygod, Bloom County!!” Left the poor guy with no choice but to let me buy it.

Bloom County is an amazing strip – a sort of precursor to Calvin in some ways, but a lot more obscure, a lot more cruel about the world we live in, a lot less self-conscious. I feel that its creator, Berke Breathed, is startlingly talented. I got hooked when a friend – Nandita – leant me another BC book called Billy and the Boingers Bootleg years back. I suspect that one of my ‘friends’ borrowed it and lost it (the person shall remain unnamed). I also found an early Doonesbury, drawn when G B Trudeau accompanied the US president to China in the ’70s. You can always walk into a store and buy a book, or even – in the case of these rare cartoon books – order one online. But to stumble upon a rare book unexpectedly, at an obscure exhibition, gives you a giddy, joyous tingle all over! Sighhh… This must be what the poets call sheer, serendipitous bliss…



surabhi said...

aah! the pleasures of obscene spending in a book sale...

Becky Levine said...

Anita & Amit,

I just found your BLOG & it's wonderful! Something about finding someone way across the world who feels as passionately about books/kids books as I do and, at the same time, getting to hear about authors & illustrators totally new to me. Your experiences with finding old copies of russian books you read as children goes with the same feelings I have when I come across a used copy of a old British children's book--my mother grew up there & we read her copies, but they're hard to find in print nowadays!

Anyway, when I saw the picture of the Bloom County book, I had to write & ask if you've seen Berke Breathed's book Good Night, Opus. It's a wonderful parody (??) of Good Night Moon. Hope you can take a look...and enjoy!

Becky Levine