6 second-hand bookshops worth stumbling upon

6 second-hand bookshops worth stumbling upon

Forget new media. Our selection of family run, second hand book shops offers a quick insight into Mumbai's reading preferences. And some steals
Fort book sellers
Pavement booksellers in Fort, assemble, disassemble and reassemble a pile of books every day!

A decade ago the area of Fort was where commuters, students and tourists would feed a thriving second hand book trade taking place right on the pavement. But with municipal corporations clamping down on Fort's "hawkers," the book stalls became book stores in other parts of the city. You can find one in every major neighborhood.

Plain old exteriors belie what's inside at Victoria Book Centre and VCD/DVD Library in Mahim.How do you spot one? Mumbai's second hand book stores follow an amusing trend -- the smaller they are in square foot size, the longer the shop name.

At first it's less inviting that expected (not quite the image of a quaint English second-hand shop) and you think you won't find anything in a store stacked with books like dusty sardines.

But the store owners and your own curiosity will see you through to discoveries of great works of literature at throw away prices, and in the end the experience is often rewarding. Especially that feeling you get when you suddenly stumble upon Satyajit Ray’s "Feluda" in comic strip form.

All family run, these six shops, spread across the city, offer a history of Mumbai's reading habits -- from our colonial past (read: DH Lawrence and Dickens); to airport-friendly adult contemporary fiction from the 1980s and 1990s (read: Robin Cook and Michael Crichton); to the emergence of Indian writing in English, foreign fashion magazines and DVDs in the 2000s and even an encouraging demand for local Marathi literature these days -- all prove that Mumbai's readers are not only alive but doing well. 

Smoker's Corner | Fort

More than half a century ago, the entrance of Botawala Chambers would often see sailors in transit coming to stock up on cigars and tobacco at the shop just outside the building. The shop was re-christened Smoker's Corner in honor of this tradition, by proprietor Suleman Botawala who set up a book shop in its place, with just a few books.

Sadly, Botawala passed away last year leaving behind many distraught friends who had forged closed bonds with him, over the years. These ranged from book lovers and out of work visitors with stories of hard luck, to criminal lawyers and bankers.

"I'm still in the process of discovering just how many people my father has helped, over the years," says Botawala’s son Zubair, adding that a few still maintain their bond with the shop, stopping by occasionally. He adds that he does not share a similar passion for books, but maintaining the book store is one way of keeping his father’s memory alive.

This is a good place to come if you’re not particularly looking for latest releases. You’ll find back issues of Rolling Stone’s international editions for ten rupees, English and American classics like O’ Henry, DH Lawrence and Joseph Conrad from Rs 30 onwards and Ogden Nash’s anthology for Rs 50. Smoker’s Corner also stocks contemporary authors like Michael Crichton, Maeve Binchy, James Michener, Peter Ackroyd and Isabel Allende, and a selection of children’s books and fashion magazines.

Smoker’s Corner Botawala Chambers, Sir PM Road, Fort; tel. Zubair Botawala +91 (0) 22 2216 4060

Victoria Book Centre and DVD Library | Mahim

At first glance, the Victoria Book Centre and VCD/DVD Library looks like a plain old rental shop, but that notion is dispelled once you examine the neatly stacked shelves of this small but brightly lit and well maintained bookstore.

Owner N.A. Merchant started selling books in 1938 and gradually expanded to include DVDs and magazines. The shop is now run with the help of his son Arif and daughter-in-law Salma.

Health and self-help tomes, bestsellers and romance novels tend to obscure some of the good stuff -- like the acidly entertaining "World’s Greatest Rock n Roll Scandals", and their selection of Indian literature which includes almost-new copies of Sudha Murthy’s "Dollar Bahu", AK Ramanujan’s "Folktales from India", and an anthology of stories by Indian women writers called "The Inner Courtyard", marked down 50 percent from the retail price.

Don’t leave without checking the sale section, where you can pick up any title for Rs 50 each. Agatha Christie, Dick Francis, Erle Stanley Gardner and Anton Chekov have been spotted here.

Victoria Book Centre and VCD DVD Library 12, Between Sitladevi Temple & Victoria School Mahim, L J Road; tel. Arif Merchant +91 (0) 22 2447 2468. Membership at Rs 150 a month (plus an initial deposit of Rs 150); you can borrow one book or two magazines at a time for up to ten days.

The New & Second Hand Book Shop | Kalbadevi

The three inch thick file of press articles sitting in proprietor Sultan K Vishram’s tiny first floor office is proof that over the century of its existence, the New and Second Hand Book Shop has become one of the last remaining bastions for book lovers all over Mumbai.

Founded in 1905 by Vishram’s grandfather Jamalbhai Ratansey, this corner store started out selling raddi paper, moving on to include school texts and exercise books before finally introducing fiction and nonfiction around the Second World War.

Ask whether people still read alot nowadays and Vishram smiles somewhat ironically, "to use modern terminology, the 'feedback' is not so great." He rues especially the decline in the number of younger readers thanks to media like television and the Internet, saying that "most now read only if they have to, if the book happens to be in their curriculum."

By his estimates, though the store gets around 100 visitors on a busy day, on average, just one fifth will end up buying something. They also send out their catalogue to interested customers by snail mail.

Many foreign clients would stop here to pick up books on Indian art and culture, but even that has trickled down as "they now have a fixed itinerary and don’t have the time to stop by here."

Books on children’s stories, law, religion and philosophy are on the ground floor, while agriculture, Indian and international cinema, feminism, modern warfare and rare, out-of-print books are on the first floor.

Even though there’s no (apparent) order within each section, browsing through these shelves is like taking a chronological crash course in Mumbai’s reading preferences. From the frail 1855 copy of the "Poetical Works of John Dryden" (Rs 350), to the quirky "Rise and Fall of American Humour" (Rs 150), the beautiful illustrated "366 Goodnight Stories" (Rs 120) and an outdated "Cassette Guide" from Penguin (Rs 150).

The store also has an eclectic but extensive selection of English and American drama, poetry and criticism (especially popular with students of the humanities). And the chance of stumbling upon absolute treasures like "The Best Plays on Broadway from 1972-73" (Rs 250), critical studies on John Updike (Rs 85), VS Naipaul’s "A House for Mr. Biswas (Rs 200) and an anthology of F Scott Fitzgerald's work (Rs 220).

The New & Second Hand Book Shop 526 Kalbadevi; tel. Sultan K Vishram +91 (0) 22 22013314. Prices mentioned here are before the 30 percent discount that applies to all titles in the store.

City Book Centre | Andheri

If there was one (small) consolation to be drawn from the eviction of the pavement book sellers at Fountain, it would be that suburban readers now have access to an extensive selection of seriously good literature, without having to trudge all the way across to South Mumbai.

One person they can thank is Pramod Bodade, who transported the City Book Centre to Andheri in 2004, after being evicted following the BMC's enforcement of their no-hawking policy at Fort a couple years ago.

A large number of visitors here are youngsters, coming from Bombay Central, Mulund and Colaba and even a couple of book merchants from Bangalore. However, Bodade, who himself is an avid reader of non-fiction especially on topics like self help and history, adds that, "At our stalls in South Mumbai we would interact with a much wider spectrum of visitors including tourists, and Indians from cities like Aurangabad and Nashik."

Students stop by for MBA related study materials and medical texts stocked near the entrance, but more intriguing is the large book case at the back filled with classics and a delightful selection of 20th century fiction -- Pearl Buck, Henry James, Philip Roth, John Updike and Umberto Eco that get your attention. A used set of the "Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy" (the entire trilogy in five parts) goes for just Rs 300.

Indian writing in English includes best sellers like Bapsi Sidhwa’s "Ice Candy Man" and Kiran Nagarkar’s "Ravan and Eddie" -- at price ranges from Rs 100 to Rs 395. Due to popular demand, Bodade introduced a section on Marathi literature six months ago.

This store is also a library, though one-time borrowers can avail of the rental scheme where 30 percent on the book’s current value is refunded after reading.

City Book Centre, Shop No 5, Sukhamani Building, & V P Road, Near Archie’s Gallery, Andheri West, SV Road; tel. Pramod Bodade +91 (0) 22 6553 2739.

N/books | Bandra

N/books on Bandra’s noisy Hill Road, is a relatively new street side stall and shop which opened only three years ago, but its young owner, Nasir Shaikh, is certainly not new to the trade. Having spent a good number of years assisting his father at their stall in Fountain, (before being forced to pack up thanks to the BMC’s no hawking policy), he is of the firm belief that only those who have a genuine passion for reading, and books should entertain the idea of being in the book business.

Many of his customers stop to chat and ask for out of stock or newly released selections, and Shaikh is happy to oblige. "It’s vital to develop a rapport with customers, and to have a well-researched, interesting selection based on your own knowledge and customer’s interests," both traits which he feels are lacking in many larger book stores.

The store is divided into two sections, with book shelves outside selling used cook books, Indian fiction in English, Agatha Christie titles and bestsellers for between Rs 100 to Rs 150. They stock past editions of fashion and lifestyle magazines like Vogue (including their foreign editions) that retail for Rs 50 each. The inside, which holds the new titles, has an extensive range of children’s fiction (such as Satyajit Ray’s "Feluda" in comic strip form), and books on trivia, cooking and interiors.

Sensing the need for a good second hand book shop in Navi Mumbai, N/books recently opened an outlet in Vashi.

N/books, Shop No. G-5, Rizvi House, 34/ 35 Hill Road, Bandra (West); Nasir Shaikh- +91 (0) 22 6725 5797

Ambika Old Paper & Library Book Shop | Bandra

This tiny mart cum bookshop with a big name sits on Ambedkar Road in Bandra, just ahead of popular watering holes like Janata’s and Toto’s Garage. At first glance the shop appears to deal in old magazines and junk, but it’s worth wading through the piles of old bottles and sacks to get to their collection of used books and magazines!

Owner Jayanti Vaviya, who has run this store for almost a decade and supplements it by trading in old and used items, states that unfortunately, his readership base has not increased much over the years. It’s mostly women who stop by to pick up bulk copies of magazines and books, and even so, he rues, people have become more impatient nowadays: "They’re less willing to wait while you check whether you have the book they want, and by the time you find it, they’ve hurried off." Heartbreaking.

Prices start from Rs 50 for the selection on old detective and crime novels (Agatha Christie, Erle Stanley Gardner) old English classics (Moby Dick), medical thrillers (Robin Cook) and a large but dusty selection of children’s literature.

Organization of books here is extremely basic, so don’t be surprised if you see a copy of Playboy’s Party Jokes sharing shelf space with "Oliver Twist" and John Irving’s "The World According to Garp".

Ambika Old Paper & Library Book Shop, Ambedkar Road, Opposite Zig Zag Road, Behind State Bank of India, Pali Naka, Bandra West; tel. Jayanti Vaviya +91 98335 52155