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The tale a second hand book tells

By June 11, 2021Guest Blogs

“Slip inside the eye of your mind
Don’t you know you might find
A better place to play?”
~Oasis, Don’t Look Back in Anger


Street markets and the books they hold can be very unpredictable. Sometimes books that have been out of print for decades can turn up hidden behind a bestseller, or tucked away at the bottom of a box that the neighbour is selling for 500 rupees. Much like O’Henry’s short story, The Tale of a Tainted Tenner consider the continuation of this post to be the saga of the second-hand book.
A lot of red flags have popped up as I am writing and maybe the new version of Word has an issue with my grammar, or maybe as I am growing old, I am becoming feeble. But we digress. This is about books, not typos.
A second-hand book is a story within a story. They are wild things as Virginia Woolf (whom I’m yet to read, do suggest where to start) remarked once. I believe the full quote also calls them homeless books.

A second-hand book may be wild, but it is not homeless. It may lie on the makeshift table made of creaky wood at a sidewalk bookshop or be hiding at the bottom of a crate, but in it resides two stories- the story it was meant to tell, and the story life made it tell.

Could the second-hand book have been purchased by a student for his literature thesis originally, then fallen from grace have been sold to a peddler of such nothings? Could the second-hand book be the first gift a lover gave her lover, with an inscription that was a cipher only the lover can decode? Is it possible that the second-hand book was the favourite story of a child, who having grown to manhood, has given it away to a local library, which has bound it in a new cotton binding, slapped a sticker on it and is letting you have it for a membership fee of fifty rupees per month?

Some books might even come with a cigarette burn in them, or be damaged by water or be falling apart, but that gleam in the eye of a reader when they realize they’ve stumbled upon a hardcover edition of a book which if purchased first-hand would cost them in the neighbourhood of a thousand rupees is now available to them at less than half the price and therefore must be purchased, even if it means bread and cheese for dinner for the rest of the week, which makes them pick it up and say “To hell with this!”

That sentence does not sound right to me. I’ll perhaps rewrite it, or perhaps I won’t. Creative licence!

And as in the world of today, e-books and e-readers are taking the place of corporeal books with a proper smell and weight, are second-hand books the future antiques which will sell for millions at auctions? Imagine if you will, a book like Anna Karenina, that too a first edition being sold to a collector a few hundred years in the future!

Think about your second-hand books the next time you dust them. They each have lived more than one life. Do you not want to write a story about the story they tell you which is hidden in the story they were meant to tell?

This is a guest blog by Ashesh Mitra

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