As I breathe and think and dream

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My Life … In Books

I have always been a bookworm. I started devouring books from a very early age. Back then in India, reading books for pleasure, especially English books, was not common. However my family was an exception, as both my father and elder sister were big readers. The walls of our house were lined with books, something my mother did not really appreciate as she felt that the books cluttered up our place too much. And that was true to some extent, for in my house there were books on every available surface, on the bed stands, in the crockery cabinet, under the staircase, in the attic. However despite her protests, the books kept increasing.
Surrounded by so many books, I had a great time growing up. I did end up reading a lot of age inappropriate stuff. You can also say that probably I should have made more friends and spent more time outdoors. More than once, I was caught by my mom reading a novel when I should be revising for exams. However it was all tremendous fun and at least I was never ever bored.
English books were quite expensive in India and we belonged to the ordinary middle class with quite little disposable income. Though my sister and I saved up whatever little money was given to us, we never had enough to buy all the books we wanted. My sister was even known to walk miles to save her bus money in order to buy a desired book. Finally she found her book Mecca in New York where she moved to after her marriage. Her initial letters and emails to me used to be full of stories of how big the New York Central library was and how should she could take out thirty books at a time. Feeling envious, I would close my eyes and try to imagine such a place. But each time I failed. There were hardly any English libraries in India then. The few libraries that existed were extremely ill-stocked, despite having ludicrously high membership rates and they would only allow a person to check out a couple of books at a time. My sister used to send me books whenever she could. In order to avoid large postal packages being stolen by the Indian postmen (something that is very common in India), my sister would do something weird. She would tear up a paperback into maybe 4 or 5 sections and post each section in a normal letter sized envelope. Once I would receive the whole book, I would put all the sections together and send it for binding. Needless to say, some of those letters went missing (another very common thing in India) and I ended up with a number of books missing important chapters in the middle or the end!
Once I started working, things were much better on the money front. Each month I set aside a sizeable part of my salary for buying books. Also around that time, English books became more easily available in India. Large multi storied bookstores opened up and while we would not get all the books being released internationally, the popular ones would make an appearance. I truly enjoyed the time spent browsing through the bookstores on the weekends. However my job entailed quite a bit of travelling and that slowly curtailed my book buying. It is difficult to cart books around when you divide your time between different cities. Books become dead weight and eat up all your weight allowance on flights. When I did settle down for a little while with my first husband, he was not a book lover. He hated bookshelves or any sort of books on display. According to him, books had to stay hidden from sight. So I used a part of a walk-in closet to house my books. When we separated, I lost those books, for he kept the house and everything in it (save the suitcase of clothes I took away). I can imagine the glee with which he must have gotten rid of my books shortly after.
Post my first marriage, I started living in the UK where I came across a little something called the Kindle. Previously I had always held out against eBook readers with a reasoning that I liked to physically touch my books, flip the pages, breathe in the unique book-sy smell. However, one birthday I got a Kindle as a gift and the sheer convenience of the slim device blew me away. Now I no longer need to cart heavy books around on my commute. I did not have to wait for the book shop to open for I could shop 24X7 at the online store. eBooks were a lot cheaper than the print versions. So it was a win-win all around. Just one small disadvantage though and this could just have been me. I have always been one of those people who love to re-read books. I have read some favorite books thirty or more times. With the eBook reader, however, the pleasure of reading books seems somewhat diminished. Is it because the next book is just a few clicks away? I do not know.
Now I am settled in Australia and have been furniture shopping for my new house with my second husband. We have recently bought three enormously large book cases and now I need books to fill them up. Thanks to all the moving around and the extensive use of the Kindle for the last four years, I have just around half a dozen actual books with me here in Australia. So all the empty space on the shelves is just begging me to go book shopping. And yes, I belong to that group of people who believe books should be main component in bookshelves, rather than knick-knacks. I can feel the excitement building up in me at the thought of buying actual physical hold-me-close books after so long! Think of all the fun to be had in browsing, buying, reading and re-reading those gems! Besides, if I need another important reason to start a book buying spree (which I don’t), there is the fact that I need to provide as much encouragement by example to my 20 month old as possible so that she starts taking an active interest in books. I am picturing cozy winter evenings for us, snuggling on the couch with a book and hot chocolate. And frankly there is nothing better than living in a house full of well-loved books, is there?


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The Predisposition to Pre-Order


This weekend I felt a jolt of happiness after reading one of mails sent by Amazon. Now that, let me tell you, is something of a rarity! As a rule, I hate marketing mails and Amazon sends way too many such mails. Hot offers (Their words, not mine). Deal of the day. New products. Products that they think would be of interest to me. Just because one day when I had nothing to do, I had browsed through their babies’ toys section, the e-commerce behemoth thinks that I am dying to hear about the latest purple dinosaur thingies (or are those horses?) and new offerings from the House of Lego. So most mails from Amazon go straight to the trash bin with an artistic flick of my wrist. However the odd one does prove to be of interest to me (and that is the reason why I do not unsubscribe to the mailing service and continue to suffer through the next 25000 mails until the next interesting one comes along!). The one that I am talking about was a mail informing me about the upcoming release of Stephen Leather’s book Nightshade. It hasn’t been released yet – it will be published on the 26th of April. However Amazon is asking me to pre-order with the glittery promise that on the morning of 26th the book will magically be delivered into my Kindle.

I know that this is an eBook, so not many chances of it being sold out if I get around to buying it on the day of release or any day thereafter. Plus there is always a chance that if I can be patient and wait for a month after release, there be some kind of a discount deal available on the book. If I have yet more patience, the book will probably make its way to my council library and then after a short 4 or 5 months, I will get to read it for free. And who knows, the book might suck. After all no one has read it yet and so there are no reviews other than the very biased sales pitch being done by the publisher (‘Best Nightingale book ever!’). Still, you know what? I am going to fall for this one despite better judgement. The lure of a pre-order is so strong that I do not stop to listen to any logic. I pre-order on the spot at full price!

My affair with pre-orders started in the time of the boy wizard Harry Potter. Remember the craze surrounding each book release? Children and adults alike would line up in front of the stores hours before the midnight release time of the books. At that time, I lived in India where the market for English books is not huge. There were no stores opening their shutters at midnight unlike other places on earth and Potter-mania was also a little late to catch on there. So when the last instalment was due to come out, I had placed my order about a couple of weeks in advance. It felt sort of weird handing over 500 INR and getting nothing in return save a printed receipt. On the morning of the release, I rushed to the bookstore at the ungodly weekend hour of 8:30am and showing aforementioned receipt to the bored looking shopkeeper who then handed me the freshly minted hardcover book. Ah, the bliss! I remember striding out of the shop feeling all aglow from the inside, casting smug glances at all other shoppers, most of whom knew nothing about pre-ordering yet.

Since then I have pre-ordered many a book. Especially in the post kindle world. There is no queuing up in front of stores or even physically rushing to one. You just push the ‘Pre-order Now’ button. After that you just wait like an expectant mother and then on delivery day – Voila! The new baby is all yours. Conveniently and painlessly.

Of course, it is all a sales gimmick. A canny move by the marketing guys to ensure high initial sale volumes. This marketing strategy extends well beyond the world of books of course. Think Apple. Think Halo 4. Think of any anticipated product. Actually even some unanticipated ones are made to go down this route as marketing teams can be relied upon to drum up enough hype by placing posters and advertisements at the right places. According to Wikipedia, The highest grossing pre-order was apparently Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system, followed by Avatar (2009 film) Blu-ray DVD release April 2010 & November 2010 Collector’s edition. Really, an OS takes the top spot? What does that mean – that the earlier versions were so bug-ridden and terrible that people could not wait to upgrade?

Well it might be a gimmick – however there is no denying that it has caught on. It may just be that it ticks all the right boxes for today’s consumerist society. It is all about gratification. And spending quick bucks. And it gives you the chance of going one up on the Joneses. And it is convenient. And it is cool. What is not to love?

Do you pre-order much?