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Culture Columnist Divya Venkattu gives advice on how to get the most out of your book-buying experience.

In 2020, the year that the Covid-19 transformed life as we know it, one of the things I missed the most was the feeling of entering a bookshop. Rain or shine, the bookstore has always felt inviting and comforting to me. Oh, to be nestled among bookshelves, to gaze at neatly stacked piles of books, to ruffle through every type; hardcopies and paperbacks, new prints and old, illustrated and with plain text, large or small. Being the old-fashioned non-Kindle convert that I am, I missed taking myself on little trips to the bookshop around the corner. Having ventured back, here are a few general ideas that might come in handy if you are wondering how to shop for books:

Take your time: While considering buying books, more often than not, I go in undecided. I like to take my time, getting lost in the sea of books and eventually finding a book (that may lay on my bookshelf unread for a couple years till I finally fancy it). While I understand that we may not always have the luxury of time to immerse ourselves in a bookshop, I do believe, in a rather romantic manner, that books come to you at the right time and that you need to be in a specific headspace for certain kinds of books. 

Be open to suggestions: It can be tempting to Google “Best books of 2021” just to keep up with the trend, but personally, I have found suggestions from friends who read, to largely be more helpful. Keep an ear out for book recommendations, or an eye out for Instagram book-related posts (I discovered Sally Rooney through a social media recommendation and I am forever grateful for that!) Taking suggestions from a diverse set of people; teachers, siblings, colleagues and friends, can help expand your literary palette.

Familiarise yourself with titles and authors: This is more of a pre-bookstore ritual but I find it helpful to read about books in literary magazines, newspapers and journals. These articles contain a lot of insight on the book and give you a good idea what to expect and whether it might suit your taste. Whether it is book reviews, interviews with authors or excerpts, these random readings might come in handy during your next book-purchasing spree.

Experiment: You may have found your favourite author, or picked a favourite genre of books that have really become your go-to, kind of like that sitcom you always return after a long day, but you never know which new genre/writer might become your newly beloved. So, be open to genres and authors (sometimes, the most widely-read happen to be plainly overrated!) Try to experiment with not just different genres, but also different styles of writing. For example, books written in the second person, like How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid, render a completely different reading experience from third-person narrations.

Lastly, enjoy everything you read. Try not to get caught up in the whirl of “bestsellers” and save some of your reading appetite for undiscovered gems. Happy reading, and happy book-shopping!


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