& occasionally about other things, too...

Friday, January 09, 2009

The Books that changed the World & Civilization-1

Why do we need to buy books? To read them, obviously. But to read books one doesn't need to buy them. I've come around to the view that book buying is an integral part of retail therapy. No wonder then, bookstore chains proliferate around the world.

I recently walked in to one of the Chapters-Indigo chain store at the Yorkdale mall in Toronto. It is a bigger (much bigger) version of the Crossword chain in Mumbai. Many years ago, for a temporary duty assignment at the US Department of Commerce headquarters in Washington DC, I had the opportunity of spending my afternoon breaks at a Borders book store, at a walking distance away from my temporary work place. That place, too, was huge.

I would marvel at the variety and the depth of the books at display inside the store. Crossword really captures the essence of the Borders, Barnes & Noble, Chapters-Indigo style of book retailing.

These chains will eventually wipe out the small book stores. And that would really be such a tremendous loss on two important fronts. The death of the small, independent book shop around the corner is a serious loss to a city’s vibrancy.

For me it would be difficult to imagine Mumbai without Strand Book Stall. I guess, for someone who has lived all her life in Toronto, it would be impossible to imagine the city without Pages Books & Magazines; or there is perhaps an older independent book shop that I haven’t heard of as yet. I’m rather new to Toronto.

More ominously, the rise of box-format large retail chains will also bring about (if it hasn’t already) a substantive shift in people’s reading habits. Retailers will determine taste in books. Books will be judged good because they are bestsellers. Natural corollary: If you can’t write a bestseller, your book is worth reading only if it wins some award/prize. That again is another scam.

This rather long prologue to today’s blog entry is to provide you an introduction to the book I want to discuss – Robert B Downs’s The Books that Changed the World (BCW) and Kenneth Clark’s Civilization.

As far as I can remember, these were the first books that I bought. I had gone to buy BCW at the Strand Book Stall. While I was there, I also saw Kenneth Clark’s Civilization, read the back cover, and bought it, too. That was sometime in the mid-1970s.

Continued in the next blog

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