My ebook: Journeys with the caterpillar

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Journeys with the caterpillar: Travelling through the islands of Flores
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Friday, November 18, 2005

Books, Russia, China and prices

When I was in school, India was still officially non-aligned, while being one of the staunchest supporters of USSR. Though it meant little good for the Indian economy, I had a ball when it came to reading books. Yes, Russian books flooded the Indian markets and were often cheaper than local books; and were of much better quality. Hard bound, shiny glossy, Russian folk tales were available for Rs 5-10; and Russian printed encyclopedias of good quality cost Rs20-50. Since Russia also had a good share of worlds leading writers (Chekhov, Gorky, Gogol, Dostoevosky, Tolstoy, Pushkin....) and scientists; one was assured that the content would also not be bad. Publishers like Vostok, Mir and Raduga used to open stalls once a year in small town schools, and those days were one of the happiest for me. My missionary run school used to give me cheap Russian books on abstract mathematics for my academic performance in junior school (Class I-VI). Even after completing engineering, I have no clue of what those books were about, but I still retain them.

In 2005, India is still non-aligned but is now a staunch supporter of US. The economy is doing great and income levels have gone up. Most fiction are available upwards of Rs250. Being a voracious reader is no longer a possibility for students. The books by the same Russian masters cost anything between Rs 150 to 300. Russian encyclopedias and technical books are never to be found again. I was in fact, witness to a very gloomy stock clearance sale by Vostok during the Calcutta Book Fair of 2001. For me, most books are one time reads, and spending Rs400-800 on them sounds worthy only if I am fully convinced before buying. Strandbookstall remains a savior, but they have a limited collection. Also there are illegal prints available near Churchgate; but they are mostly about mass books, business books and self-help books (All of which I loathe). So I have turned to second hand books. In India, the second hand book market for fiction is close to zero (Second hand text books have a strong market). So whenever I come to USA, I buy as many books I can on eBay. Also there is the Harvard Book Store which has the best organized collection of second hand books. Out here, I can buy a Gunter Grass or G B Shaw for $2 (50-75% cheaper than in India).

And finally, I bought a US publsihed The Communist Manifesto from a Barnes and Noble located in a Bostonshopping mall for $5 this week. Have the Russians stopped reading and publishing books? Book prices may fall again only if the Chinese take to printing books and replicate the same magic they launched in other manufacturing sectors. But the Chinese government has many reservations about the free flow of ideas. But they can always pass a legislation that only illiterates can work in book bublishing factories, huh!!!


history_lover said...

I also have a ton of old russian books - the science for everyone series by Mir publishers.
And the magazines - Misha,Soviet Union,Sputnik too

Anu said...

I too have my childhood russian books, though some have been lost in the multiple shiftings that my stuff had to go through.

The cost of owning books have gone through the roof and I agree Starnds is the best when it comes to discount on books, places like Landmark and Crossword are good to browse. I usually go there, browse and then go to Strand and buy for an easy 20% discount.