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BROWSE: The World in Bookshops edited by Henry Hitchings

April 22, 2017

BROWSE: The World in Bookshops edited by Henry Hitchings
Reviewed by Fiza Pathan

20170331_132901When I saw this book in one of my most favourite bookshops, without even checking out the synopsis or the editor or publisher of the book, I plucked it off its stand and went bought it. I’m a bookaholic; some people even call me a book reading dragon. I can’t live without books. I need to read them every day, because they are my closest friends and teachers. So obviously, this indicates that if I am a passionate book lover and reader, then I also love to read about my favourite authors take on their lives and in this case, which were their favourite bookshops and library haunts. BROWSE is a book published by the erudite Pushkin Press to chapter the favourite book haunts of authors who wished to contribute towards this venture. When I was reading BROWSE, inwardly I was rejoicing for having picked this book, to enrich myself and my working with books. If you are a hardcore lover of books and writing, this is a book you’ve just got to read. BROWSE contains the writings of authors: Ali Smith, Alaa Al Aswany, Pankaj Mishra, Iain Sinclair, Elif Shafak, and so many others which are a joy to read and very educative. I had to keep on taking notes in my diary of the books these writers read and which changed their lives for the better. Each writer has his or her own unique bookshop experience to share with us through BROWSE, which let us know how important a real bookshop and library was in making them the writers they are today. Sadly, most of the essays describe how those book haunts and treasure troves have disappeared without a trace, because of the constantly dynamic shifting tides of modern day consumerism; in simple words, it was becoming too expensive to keep a hold on these bookshops after the digitalization of books. Many of the essays describe how writers tried to return to their earlier book dens to find the bookshops and their proprietors with whom they had had an unspoken friendship, all gone, lost to a very competitive market. The essays in BROWSE speak about bookshops on a busy market square, second-hand bookshops, bookshops where revolutionaries used to congregate, famous bookshops, etc., which taps into that foundation stone deep down in every book reader who owes his or her accomplishments to the places that honed in on their intellectual needs. I especially loved the essay by Saša Stanišic, where she talks about bookaholics as if they were like drugs that takes you to the ‘heights of ecstasy’ but one which never fades away. Yet still, the authors do voice their opinion about e-books, e-libraries, and the numerous incidence of bookshops and libraries in the old physical form drastically closing down. Some of the authors don’t mind the closure, while others beg to differ as they feel that a bookshop experience is a form of education which does not limit a person to only certain books, as does buying of e-books or kindle version on the internet, where you get what you want and only what you want; not what you can get in the form of an educational awakening. Want to know more? Go buy BROWSE as soon as possible and read it immediately. Don’t put it down on your TBR list for a later time. Stop what you are reading right now and read this non-fiction piece that answers questions about books and bookshops we’ve all wanted to ask but were diffident to do so. More importantly, if you’ve ever loved a special library or bookshop which now has been razed to the ground or disappeared for good that’s left a gaping hole inside of you which you cannot describe because after all, ‘they were only books’ . . . please order a copy of BROWSE and read it. I have to admit: I cried while reading it. I cried because when I was a child I had a library that meant the world to me. It made me the writer, teacher, and publisher I am today, and now all those books have all gone. To tell you the truth, when I visited the library a few years ago, and found it bare without its centuries old tomes, I could have just died! That library was my father. What my real father could never do, those books did for me. They fathered me and now they have taken my father forever away from me. But who cares? They are just a bunch of old books—right? Maybe in the veins of other people, their father’s blood flows. But for me, my father was my school library and the dark black of printer’s ink runs through my veins. Go read BROWSE! GO NOW!

Copyright © 2017 Fiza Pathan


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