For those who nurture a sense of romance with old, weather-worn yet affordable books, second-hand book shops continue to be the destination

Musty, brown and weather-worn, some of us like our books like that. For reasons diverse — be it affordability or the thrill of a rare find — second hand book shops continue to have a charm that is hard to resist.

About 16 years ago, on the pavement outside Moffusil Bus Stand, Kozhikode’s first second-hand book shop took shape. Two friends and book lovers, Shashi and Anish V started the sale of second hand books every Sunday. “We modelled it after the shops outside the Fine Arts College in Thiruvananthapuram where Shashi studied,” says Anish.

Six months into the venture, Hari Krishnan came on board. The shop soon expanded into a 10x10 space on Kannur Road and thus, the now popular, Aathira Book Stall was born.

What once started solely as a second-hand book business has transformed over the years. The Kannur Road shop is no more. Now, Anish’s wife Suhitha manages the Aathira Book Stalls on Rajaji Road. One shop is completely devoted to old and new academic books and the other to general books.

Most of the general books that adorn the shelves are first hand. The second hand books are displayed on tables outside, sorted by language — English and Malayalam. Probe a bit further and one knows about the scores of second hand fiction and other genre books stacked on the first floor.

“Only if you are lucky can you find anything worth your while. Besides, with the ratio of first hand books increasing in these shops, the probability of finding good second hand books naturally lessens,” says Sharath P, a PhD student at M.G. University.

In vogue

However, with the number of educational institutions growing, the second hand book market for academic books is doing really well.

“Most of the medical and engineering books are very expensive. So, it works out cheaper for students to buy books from us at 60 per cent of the MRP and later return them and get 40 per cent back,” Anish explains.

All the second hand book shops seem to follow this unwritten discount rule when it comes to academic books. But with novels and other literature, it is a different story altogether.

“Novels are priced from a range beginning as low as Rs.30 depending upon the type of book,” says P.K. Somnath, who runs Vignesh books store in stadium area. “Generally these come in shipments from abroad. A set of containers is collected from Chennai and other places. We don’t get to choose the books,” he adds.

In Hari Krishnan’s opinion, second hand books of good writers are hard to come by these days. He had split from Aathira Books 12 years ago and started Life Books near Paragon Hotel.

“Earlier the collection from Chennai would contain some rare books and I could procure them for cheap. Now, it’s hard to find a good print of writers like Sartre, Camus and Kafka. Though Bangalore seems to offer a better collection, the rate at which I buy is the same at which I sell and that is unprofitable,” he elaborates.

“Reading habits too have changed drastically. There is a lot of demand for popular Indian authors like Chetan Bhagat and Ravinder Singh. Not many children read the classics or comics like Asterix and Tintin anymore,” he says.

There is a shift in people’s perception as well. “I think people now-a-days prefer giving their children new books instead of old,” he says .

Nevertheless, when it comes to rare/out of print editions, second hand book stores can surprise you with treasures. “Recently I came in possession of Mir publication’s Russian classics edition. All of it was immediately bought by a book lover who had asked me to keep an eye out for them,” says Hari Krishnan.

None of these second hand shops have any cataloguing mechanism. But, these shopkeepers don’t seem to consider that a set-back. Some like Ideal Books and Amal Books manage to appear more organised. But, by and large, most of them rely on memory.

In fact, they aren’t perturbed even by online competitors. Sunny Joseph, who manages Good Books that is owned by six women, , says, “We are doing a service by making books affordable. People come all the way from Lakshadweep and Kasargod to buy books for a cheaper price. Online portals can never be a threat to us.”

Second hand books propagate an inherent culture of re-use. No e-book can match that feeling. As Shari Joseph, a school teacher from Tirur, puts it, “Nothing can substitute the sensory pleasure of an elegant, old book .”