I had been quite 'literally' brought up with the principle of only using/buying/reading new books. You know, the unused ones, with new ones, the ones that exude the crisp aroma of fresh publication. The unstained. Freshly bound. Pristine. Perfect.
My sister and mom just told me not to look at used/second-hand books and that was that. It was never really reasoned out. Until, it finally was. I realised there was little to no sense in this rejection of second hand books. And there hardly seemed any probable logic.
Besides, who am I kidding? The old, rusty books are cheaper than new ones and as a college student, when you are perennially broke, and have an insatiable urge to read, you explore all possible avenues. So it hardly comes across as a surprise that I finally resorted to second-hand books. But resorting is one thing, I fell in love with used books. And to know the why and how of this love, you'll need to read up my tryst with these treasure troves over the years.
It all began with a library clearance sale in the opposite part of the city, and I was getting Ghosh and Lahiri and Coelho for as low as 50 rupees. It was dramatic, all right! I had braved a commute of 2 hours and the muddy terrain (yes, to add to the flair of dramatic, it was raining). and here I was. Torn between a handsome deal for books that had long been on my TBR, and my sister's inexplicable dismissal of used books.
I took a call, of which I am proud, and would be gladly narrating 4 years from that moment.
I will admit it started with sneakily importing the yellowed book into my shelf.
There was no going back from there. I went to various book sales and sneaked in the discolored, even auburn-ed copies of some real treasures of books. What marked an important juncture in the transition from my practical acceptance of used books to my unalloyed love for them was this: I opened this old hardbound copy of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. And there was a name scribbled in childish handwriting, crooked at the edges, as if the child had picked up a pen for the first time. Or maybe one of the siblings had a fight and in order to mark the book as his own, the kid who went by the name of Alex, established his ownership in ink. Maybe, the book scared him and so he couldn't hold the pen without shivering. Who knows?
But the point is, there are so many possibilities, so many conjectures, and to think of the stories that these books have witnessed, somehow adds to the charm. To think that someone cried on the same pages that now have our tears, to see the same page has been dog-eared where our favorite part of the book lies.
Since then, I have come across so, SO many used-books. With notes, with thank-you's, with apologies, with inter-generational exchanges. It warms my heart so much.
And with that magic, I ganged up with the used books. I bought them at every available opportunity, because, well, if I love them, why friend-zone them?
A latest edition may give me crisp pages for the story, but the used editions give me crisp stories for the pages. (Yes, multiple!)
Before you leave, let me add: this also speaks to me on a deeper level: for one, it made me realise how futile our obsession with perfection is. No one wants a termite-infested book, but just a used book does not harm. And then there are stories, as many as you make up, about the person who was the owner prior to you and what the book did to them, meant for them. But most of all, that you know you are holding more than just bound printed pages in your hand.
There are always lessons hidden in the little, seemingly innocuous events of life, aren't they?
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