Thursday, March 25, 2010
What Makes a Bookstore Work
The other day, while I was on my way back home, a hoarding drew my attention: Sapna Book Store – the largest book store of India. I stepped in to check the veracity of the claim.
The store is a three-storied affair which offers many things apart from books: CDs, gift items etc. They have a floor dedicated to each type of things on offer. A part of the third floor is apportioned for books. There are different sections for different genres of books – and, although the book section is not very large, the collection is quite impressive.
I also liked how they handle their customers. They have salesmen loitering in the book section but they help you only if you approach for help, unlike some other places where there is a person trailing you whichever part of the store you walk to, soliciting unsolicited help.
It irritates because you don’t always visit a store with the intention buying books but just to browse. It also denies you the privacy and escape you expect a bookstore to provide. It causes the suspicion: “Do they think I’m going to flick a book and walk out?” Exasperated, you walk out after a while. I had a similar experience with Oxford bookstore in Calcuta.
Over time, you get addicted to a bookstore. The atmosphere, how books are arranged, everything seems distinct and makes you feel at home. If it plays a light music, it can add to the atmospherics (readers mostly have very refined musical sensibilities, so you have to be discreet with what music you play). A visit to the place becomes an experience and a must. And, if the store is sprawling, it’s merrier. Landmark in Bangalore gives me this feeling.
It is sometimes difficult to pin down what makes a bookstore special, though. Gangarams, the oldest bookstore in Bangalore located on MG Road, doesn’t have any of the attributes of Landmark. Gangarams is shabbily maintained, cramped for space, disorganized, dusty. But these work out to its advantage, giving it a warm old-world charm.
A very well-maintained bookstore may appear too mechanical to be comfortable. When I visit a Crosswords outlet anywhere, I find it a little distant. A disheveled look of Landmark and Gangarams makes me feel at home when it comes to books.