Archive for May 22nd, 2008

May 22, 2008

Books found and happiness

I have told this story before – years ago I was in the school library and had only a couple of minutes left of the period in which to choose a book. I grabbed pretty much the first vaguely interesting thing to hand, which was The Owl Service by Alan Garner. I’d never heard of it or him.
There’s very little I can say about The Owl Service. It’s weird and unsettling and utterly lovely, and I took it out of the library multiple times after. It became one of my favourite books. Then in 2004 I left school and no longer had access to that excellent library.
Since I left school, I’ve wanted a copy of my own. And it has seemed unattainable. It is not (I must clarify lest my bookhunting skills be called into question) that copies of The Owl Service did not exist in the country. One of them turned up in the British Council Library in Delhi, but in the children’s section which I could not access. Copies were rumoured to surface from time to time in Landmark’s Bangalore outlet, bought by friends who did not know I wanted it and therefore gifted it to other people instead. On my own trips to the shop I was either directed to the self-help section or told it was out of stock. So it was out there, just not accessible to me to read.

Why didn’t I order online? I probably would have, eventually. If I grew desperate. But as much as I love buying and owning and possessing books (far more than I actually read, tragically) I don’t like it to be too easy. I’ve joked in the past about it merely being sportsmanship – giving a book a chance to get away. I suspect, though, that it’s more practical than that. The books I want to own, that make me give out embarrassing noises when I discover them by chance in bookshops, are potentially infinite in number. I’m only ever going to actually own some, whether I order them online or find them in bookshops. Bookshops allow me to make the silly noises and stroke them and generally behave in an idiotic and pleasure-causing manner. Ordering all (or even many) of them online would merely make me broke. And while it’s sometimes frustrating to know that I’ll never own the full collection, it’s usually a nice sort of pain.

I digress. A couple of weeks ago Aadisht and I were in the children’s section of Landmark Bangalore (again!) and I wasn’t looking for The Owl Service. But I was scanning the shelves and I saw it, next to A Small Pinch of Weather by Joan Aiken. Neither had a price tag. Both turned out to be bizarrely inexpensive.
I read it on the flight home last week. I read it again today. It really is as good as I remember.