When Nature Sells…What Will You Buy?

Being ebullient in nature. A poem that appreciates the wonder and beauty the world has to offer.

 

BARTER

~Sara Teasdale

 

Life has loveliness to sell,

All beautiful and splendid things,

Blue waves whitened on a cliff,

Soaring fire that sways and sings,

And children’s faces looking up

Holding wonder like a cup.

 

Life has loveliness to sell,

Music like a curve of gold,

Scent of pine trees in the rain,

Eyes that love you, arms that hold,

And for your spirit’s still delight,

Holy thoughts that star the night.

 

Spend all you have for loveliness,

Buy it and never count the cost,

For one white singing hour of peace

Count many a year of strife well lost,

And for a breath of ecstasy

Give all you have been, or could be.

 

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The Blind Owl – Book Review

Title – The Blind Owl

Original language – Persian/Farsi

Author – Sadegh Hedayat

English translation – D.P. Costello

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The year takes off with a literary bang! The first book of the year and what a treat it has been. In continuation with my Birthday Reading Goals of reading translated books from languages starting with each letter of the English alphabet, I had selected this literary masterpiece from Iran for Persian.

There are sores which slowly erode the mind in solitude like a kind of canker.” When a book opens with such haunting lines, you marvel at the author’s ability to keep the reader hooked from the start, and at the same time to not discourage one with its morose theme. According to folk lore, screech owls are considered to be harbingers of death. The Blind Owl is considered as one of the major literary works of the twentieth century, and is a story of romance as much as it can be seen as autobiographical. The story opens with an unnamed narrator – a painter of pen cases – who has confined himself to a room, as he lumbers about within its four walls thinking of death, and gives the reader glimpses into his murderous thoughts as he shares his writings with the shadow on the wall. “My shadow on the wall had become exactly like an owl and, leaning forward, read intently every word I wrote. He understood perfectly. Only he was capable of understanding.” The narrator considers only solitude and his shadow as friends, to the extent of believing his shadow to be more real than himself. “The shadow that I cast upon the wall was much denser and more distinct than my real body.” He is in poor health and is waiting to die, while remembering an unrequited love that brought him to this state. Or maybe his ill health caused his love to be unrequited in the first place. Who knows for sure? “Was not my room a coffin? This bed that was always unrolled, inviting me to sleep, was it not colder and darker than the grave?” Is he waiting for death, or considers himself dead already (as he often refers to himself as a living corpse)?  Who are the familiar faces he sees, and what are the experiences he remembers as already having experienced in another life?

The narrative spans different times and eras, but the writing is almost surreal and leaves you wondering whether you’re reading about the same person or different people. We know the unnamed narrator is sinking into despair after the death of a loved one, and his own worsening health. But which one was the cause and which one is the effect? “I would cut up her body, pack it in a suitcase, take it away with me to some place far, very far from people’s eyes.” The writing swirls with memories, dreams, nightmares, a gory past, a fearful future, a confusing present, leaving the reader to figure out what is actually happening and which parts are in the head of a madman. Sightings or hallucinations? Dreams or reality? “It seems as though I have forgotten how to talk to the people of this world, to living people” , writes the narrator. So can we, as readers, be sure of what he writes for us?

Hedayat seamlessly weaves the overlapping narratives, often reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe’s morbid themes, but makes you read in awe as his writing, without for a moment, causes the book to appear sad. (The novel was originally banned in Iran with the reason that it made people suicidal.) He teases the reader with ironic lines from his narrator like, “How sick I am of well-constructed plots and brilliant writing!” But it is this very writing that makes this book so brilliant and a treat for literary enthusiasts. In spite of the narrator’s obsession with death, the lines are beautifully composed.

Death was murmuring his song in my ear like a stammering man who is obliged to repeat each word and who, when he has come to the end of a line, has to begin it afresh.”

It seemed a miracle to me that I had not dissolved in the bath like a lump of salt.”

The fact of dying is a fearful thing in itself but the consciousness that one is dead would be far worse.”

Some more beautifully constructed figures of speech:

It was more pleasant to sit in the dark, that dense liquid which permeates everything and every place.”

The sun, like a golden knife, was steadily paring away the edge of the shade beside the walls.”

The interlocking trees with their wry, twisted branches seemed in the darkness to be gripping one another by the hand for fear they should slip and crash to the ground.”

The night was departing on tip-toe. One felt that it had shed sufficient of its weariness to enable it to go its way.”

Several lines strike a chord of what haunts us as humans – fear of death, loss of time, soul searching, hope, random musings being universal themes.

I stood in front of the mirror and stared at my face. The reflection was unfamiliar to me. It was frightening.

What do days and months matter? Time has no meaning for one who is lying in the grave.”

If it were possible for my being to dissolve in one drop of ink, in one bar of music, in one ray of colored light…

Silence is a language which we do not understand.”

All my life has passed within four walls.” I read somewhere about Hedayat’s writing – it is meant to be an experience in itself, and not a book about an experience.The themes are dark, but the lyrical prose shines a light on what great writing truly is. The Blind Owl  was originally published in 1937 in Bombay (India), and only released in Hedayat’s native Iran in 1941. The novel was written when Hedayat was a student in Paris in 1930, and ironically, the French translation by Roger Lescot during WWII was what first brought it popularity. The English version by Costello (which I read) was published in 1957. Hedayat committed suicide at age forty-eight, following years of addiction and disillusionment. (He allocated money for his burial, closed up the doors and windows and turned on the gas in his apartment in the heart of Paris city, where The Blind Owl was written years ago.)

Another one of those books where a review cannot do sufficient justice. It needs to be read to be experienced. The book has been translated into numerous languages, and much gratitude needs to be expressed to the translators who make such wonderful literature accessible to readers everywhere.

My rating – 5/5

A Bibliophile’s Farewell to 2018

Last book of the last weekend of the year. We got this! 💪😼📖

The curiosities of cats never cease. This little guy is about two months old. He was found abandoned soon after birth, and has been hand-reared. He’s one among the bookworm coterie now. 🤓 We’re looking forward to a cozy weekend with a classic Christmassy mystery – a whodunit written in the 1940s.

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Literary Christmas Tree

In keeping with the Christmas tradition in a house filled with bibliophiles, here’s my teensy, bookish Christmas tree for this year.

Story behind the picture: I’m out of shelf space and the latest purchases and gifts have nowhere to go. They’ve been in boxes the last few weeks, and ably supported the festive decor. The upper layers of the tree have Christmassy books that I’ve been reading this month. The lower ones, I will get to gradually through the new year. The bottom layer has books already read that need to be donated.

Merry Christmas, everyone! 🙂

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Have Yourself A Literary Christmas…

Season’s greetings to my bibliophile family! Five days to go for Christmas. Woohoo!! Here are my ongoing reads for the festive season. From thrillers and mysteries, to humor and drama, in the form of novels, anthologies or novellas, literature sure has some variety to offer through Christmas. Has anyone read any of these? Feedback is always appreciated.

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Books and Pets

“There are many little ways to enlarge a child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.”

~Jacqueline Kennedy

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When you belong to a reader family, a walk around the house is met with treasures scattered everywhere. This curious little kitty peeks into the bibliophilic world. Or maybe he’s drawing inspiration from Agatha Christie – Christmas is drawing near; time to find out where the humans have kept the Christmas pudding.

 

Burial Rites – Book Review

Title – Burial Rites

Author – Hannah Kent

Genre – Fictionalized biography

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Picture sourced from the internet. I read the e-book version.

“People claim to know you through the things you’ve done, and not by sitting down and listening to you speak for yourself.”
~Agnes Magnúsdóttir (1828)

When I love a book, I waste no time in talking and writing about it – people need to know, and they need to read. There are very few books which strike such a chord that I’m left dwelling on them long after reading – whatever I say will not be enough; no review would ever do justice. “Burial Rites” falls in the latter category. This book came highly recommended from an online literary forum I follow, and in spite of receiving numerous recommendations I only recently got around to reading it. And what a treat it has been! I usually avoid reading fictional accounts of true incidents, and rather opt for non-fiction books on the same subject, if available. But Hannah Kent’s debut work was highly spoken of and I decided to give the then twenty-eight year old writer a shot. “Burial Rites” is a novelization of a true story set in the early 1800s cold, wintered landscape of Iceland, and is centered around the conviction and final days of a woman sentenced to death for a double murder – commonly known as the Illugastaðir murders, the farm where the killings took place. Capital punishment was abolished in Iceland in 1830, and Agnes Magnúsdóttir was the last woman to be beheaded.

Agnes Magnúsdóttir, a thirty something housemaid, is charged with the murder of her master and his friend. The district commissioner Björn Blöndal has entrusted her to the household of one of the officers – where she needs to be kept until her execution. In his words, death row convicts need to be placed in the homes of upright Christians who would set a good example and inspire repentance in the criminals, and at the same time benefit from the work these prisoners do in and around their farms as they await their judgement. The family is compensated by the government for their contribution to society, and officers are also present on the premises to ensure no harm comes to the locals. A young priest, Assistant Reverend Thorvardur Jónsson is required to visit the household and pray with the criminal to ensure she is repentant by the time of her execution. The family is horrified at the prospect of housing a murderess and avoid interacting with her. The reverend has no prior experience in dealing with murder convicts, and all he can contribute are passages from the Bible. Agnes has nothing to do at the farm since the family is wary of giving her any “tools” – suspicious of what she can use to kill them with. Even a request to knit is almost a plead, with the possible harm she could do with knitting needles. Having to idle away time till her death and no one to talk to, Agnes hopes to be killed then and there itself. “Why not kill me here and now? It is the waiting that cripples.”

The story is narrated through a series of correspondence between the various officials involved in the case – the district commissioner, the priests, the district officer, various clerks and officers handling the criminal records. Not to be confused with an epistolary novel, these were actual letters exchanged at the time which the author has translated and presented to the reader. Each chapter begins with numerous letters, and then follows changing narratives from the third person’s accounts of the happenings in the case, to Agnes herself speaking in first person. And step by step, the reader is led through Agnes’ story – her childhood and adulthood, her parents and siblings, her work life, ultimately leading to the core of the murder mystery that shook Iceland in the early nineteenth century – What exactly happened on the day of the murder that led Agnes to her present state?

“They have strapped me to the saddle like a corpse being taken to the burial ground” , says Agnes, when taken to the farm that will house her till her death. And this is the crux of “Burial Rites” – the entire book is a rite of passage for Agnes as she readies herself for death. Agnes looks forward to living at the farm even when none of the residents want her there (and are only abiding to the district commissioner’s orders), being “grateful that I am returning to the valleys, even if I will die there”. Because living (and dying) in nature is better than “rotting slowly like a body in a coffin” – the atmosphere of the prison she was housed in before being transferred to the farm. Set in the present moment at the farm, the story is narrated in flashback mode through conversations and interactions with various family members – the officer, his wife Margret, the daughters Steina and Lauga, the priest Toti, and Agnes’ thoughts. And as the day of execution nears, the wife, daughters and priest learn of the other side to the sensational double murder story as projected by the authorities and rumor mills. Her final audience to life’s lonely narrative. An absolutely riveting account as Agnes goes from wanting to die to wanting to live, when people finally hear and understand her. “I don’t want to be remembered, I want to be here!” But can they do more? Appeal to the government? Stop the execution?  No spoilers here since we know what finally happened to Agnes Magnúsdóttir – the last person to be executed in Iceland, before the country finally abolished capital punishment in 1830.

Some of the quotes are so beautiful I thought they deserved a mention here:

~I was worst to the one I loved best.

~I will speak in bubbles of air. They will not be able to keep my words for themselves.

~The home had begun to disintegrate, a hovel that had spread its own state of collapse to its inhabitants.

~A tight fear, like a fishing line, hooked upon something that must, inevitably, be dragged from the depths.

~A tremble of exhilaration passes along my skin, like the tremor on the surface of a pot of water about to boil.

~Memories shift like loose snow in a wind, or are a choral of ghosts all talking over one another.

~There was some comfort in talking about death aloud, as though in naming things, you could prevent them from happening.

~There is so much illness in the world…so much that can go wrong with a person.

~A person you love as much as you hate the hold they have on you.

~They said I must die. They said that I stole the breath from men, and now they must steal mine.

Kent’s interpretation of the Illugastaðir murders and executions is based on years of research through accessing ministerial records, parish archives, local publications,  historical records, letters and documents. There are several works of literature and poetry mentioned, highlighting the high literacy rates among Icelanders since the end of the eighteenth century. Some sagas quoted go as far back as 1245. I loved the snippets of Icelandic, and was glad to learn some phrases in the local language. Kent’s meticulously researched and written account is commendable indeed – for a debut writer, and just at twenty eight years of age when the book was published. When you already know how the story ends, it takes a great writer to hold the reader’s attention till the end. In today’s social media age, people’s opinions and judgements of each other are often based on what is read or heard or seen on feeds, posts and pictures. In the early 1800s, Agnes Magnúsdóttir raised the same question – What happens when one’s life is based on the stories told by others? Without speaking to the person, the world claims to know all about them. The fairness of the original proceedings of Iceland’s “most notorious woman” was questioned even centuries later, and reading “Burial Rites” is not for everyone. A difficult story to read but one that needs to be read for the many questions it raises. Kent is a talented writer and efficient researcher, and this is one of the few books where the author and protagonist of his/her story compete for attention – such is the brilliance of this speculative biography, a beautifully haunting, gripping, and outstanding debut work of literature. I read this on Kindle, but plan on procuring a paperback – it deserves a place in the library.

My rating – 5/5

Reading Goals 2018 – An Ode To Translators

It’s my birthday today! Rather than keep New Year resolutions, I set various goals on my birthday that follow through till the next birthday. As part of my bibliophilic endeavors, the past year was dedicated to reading regional books from around India – a way of travelling around the country through literature. India is a very large country with myriad local languages within its many states. Although Hindi is the national language, each of the states have their own languages, and there are many more dialects within. Reading a large number of translated books over the year got me thinking about the role played by translators in literature. We read books from around the world – many of them translated works of the literary greats – and aside of the name of the book and original author, the name of the translator often isn’t remembered. I also came across many poorly translated books – fabulous stories by the original writers, but appallingly translated with grammatical errors, spelling mistakes, and several editing issues as well. Badly translated books make you wish you knew the original language, because one misses out on so much literature on account of not knowing every possible language in the world.

This led me to plan reading goals for this year – read world literature comprising exclusively translated books, as an ode to translators who make books available to us around the globe. Italo Calvino had once said, “Without translation, I would be limited to the borders of my own country. The translator is my most important ally. He introduces me to the world.” Translators need to not only be proficient in both the original language and the language being translated into, but also be efficient writers to ensure the author’s words stay as true to his/her intentions as possible. A good translator can cause a mediocre book to be well appreciated by efficient writing skills. A bad translator can turn readers away from a great piece of literature. This brings us back to Calvino – the most translated contemporary Italian writer, whose books have frequently been translated by William Weaver, and are a beauty to read even in the English language.

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So, this year I will be identifying translators from around the globe. I have listed down languages starting from each letter of the English alphabet, and will be picking and reading translated works from each of those languages. Here’s the list I came up with and have already procured books from some of them.. A few books been lying around for a while and fit well with the theme. There were some classics I wanted to revisit and authors who had long been in the to-be-read list. As always, the books will include a mix of fiction and non-fiction, prose and poetry. A challenging task ahead when a reader is completely at the mercy of translators. The languages I know have been pushed to the far end of their categories. If time permits, I will pick up translated works as a tribute to those translators. My reading habits over the years will also be taken into account when prioritizing literature – hence the preference of Greek over German, Swedish over Spanish, and Turkish over Tamil.

A – Arabic, Assamese, Armenian, Albanian

B – Basque, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Burmese, Bangla

C – Catalan, Croatian, Cantonese, Czech

D – Danish, Dutch

E – Estonian, Esperanto

F – Flemish, Finnish, French

G – Greek, Georgian, German

H – Hungarian, Hebrew, Hindi

I – Icelandic, Italian

J – Japanese, Javanese, Jarai

K – Korean, Kurdish, Khmer

L – Latin, Latvian, Lithuanian

M – Mandarin, Macedonian

N – Nepali, Norwegian

O – Ojibwa, Oriya

P – Polish, Portuguese, Persian

Q – Quechwa

R – Romanian, Russian, Rwanda, Romani

S – Serbian, Swedish, Swahili, Spanish

T – Turkish, Thai, Tamil

U – Ukranian, Urdu

V – Vietnamese

W – Welsh, Warlpiri

X – Xhosa

Y – Yiddish, Yoruba

Z – Zapotec, Zulu

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Piled up a few of them – and have a couple on Kindle as well – to start off with.

If you have read English translations of any of the languages listed above, share your titles of recommended reads. If you’d like to join me in this endeavor, hop on board. Let’s read the world! 🙂

 

Finale Of The Birthday Bookathon

For someone who can never seem to quench my thirst for literature from around the world, I had set out to read books from around India, in keeping with my reading goals for the year. The idea was to “travel the country through literature” – read at least one book from each of the twenty-nine states and seven union territories, making up a minimum of thirty-six books. The birthday bookathon started on the 14th of November last year (my birthdate), and concluded today. The objective behind this literary endeavor was to explore India through books. I wanted to identify lesser known books/authors, give a chance to newbie writers, dig into books I might have missed in the past, explore regional literature and translated books. Not all of the titles I picked up are popular books that might show up on a Google search. I intentionally avoided googling lists on Indian literature, and stayed away from recommendations from book clubs, for the simple reason that the same books/writers keep showing up and one’s reading gets very limited. I went about the task by listing down all the states and union territories and looking for local writers from each place. The criteria that had to be met for a book to be included in the bookathon were – it needed to be set in a particular state or any city within that state, or the author was a native of that place though the book wasn’t set there, or the author was writing about his/her own hometown. Preference was given to translated books from regional languages.

These were the books I read through the year (specific to my birthday reading goals. Overall, there were more books not part of Indian literature). As usual, I tried to maintain a mix of fiction, non-fiction, short stories, novels, anthologies, plays and poetry. Many have been reviewed on this blog site, and I’ll get around to writing about the pending ones as I get the time.

STATES

1) Assam – If A River by Kula Saikia

2) Arunachal Pradesh – Land of the Dawn-lit Mountains by Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent

3) Andhra Pradesh – Stories from Andhra by Ramakanth J

4) Bihar –  A Matter of Rats by Amitava Kumar

5) Chhatisgarh – The Burning Forest by Nandini Sundar

6) Goa – Poskem by Wendell Rodericks

7) Gujarat – Fence by Ila Arab Mehta

8) Haryana – Come, Before Evening Falls by Manjul Bajaj

9) Himachal Pradesh – A Year in Himachal by Humera Ahmed

10) Jammu-Kashmir – The Siege of Warwan by G.D.Bakshi

11) Jharkhand – The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar

12) Karnataka – Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Shanbhag, and Hayavadana by Girish Karnad

13) Kerala – The Sixth Finger by Malayatoor Ramakrishnan, and The Legends of Khasak by O.V.Vijayan

14) Madhya Pradesh – A Breath of Fresh Air by Amulya Malladi

15) Maharashtra – Zopala by V.P.Kale, Rangresha by Shanta Shelke, and Bloodline Bandra by Godfrey Joseph Pereira

16) Manipur – Mother, Where’s My Country by Anubha Bhonsle

17) Meghalaya – Onaatah by Paulami Dutta Gupta

18) Mizoram – Zorami by Malsawmi Jacob

19) Nagaland – Son of the Thundercloud by Easterine Kire

20) Odisha – A Life Like No Other by Sujata Prasad, and Yagnaseni by Pratibha Ray

21) Punjab – Time Out by Jasjit Mansingh

22) Rajasthan – Annals of Mewar by James Tod

23) Sikkim – Beyond the Goal by Mohammad Amin-ul Islam, and Don’t Ask Any Old Bloke for Directions by Palden Gyatso Tenzing

24) Tamil Nadu – Poonachi by Perumal Murugan, and A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman

25) Telangana – The Mango Season by Amulya Malladi

26) Tripura – Human Interference on River Health by Shreya Bandyopadhyay and Sunil Kumar De

27) Uttar Pradesh – Run to Realise by Abhishek Mishra, and Nirmala by Premchand

28) Uttarakhand – My Kumaon by Jim Corbett, and Love Among the Bookshelves by Ruskin Bond

29) West Bengal – Murder in the City by Supratim Sarkar

UNION TERRITORIES

1) Andaman and Nicobar Islands – Islands in Flux by Pankaj Sekhsaria

2) Chandigarh – Crossroads by Preeti Singh

3) Dadra Nagar – Did not find any literature

4) Daman and Diu – Travelling Through Gujarat, Daman and Diu by Adam Yamey

5) Delhi – Korma, Kheer and Kismet by Pamela Timms

6) Lakshadweep – Lakshadweep Adventure by Deepak Dalal

7) Puducherry – Evolution and the Earthly Destiny by Nolini Kanta Gupta

Forty-four books in all, comprising regional literature from all around India. Here are some of the books from the Birthday Bookathon – borrowed ones have been dutifully returned, and Kindle reads cannot be stacked.

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In addition to these books, I also identified numerous others which have been added to my list for future reading. Literature is so vast, and new books are written even as one struggles to finish previous works. Those of you who have been following this blog site and have read my book reviews, would be aware of my reasons for selecting each book. Reading, for me, is not merely to add titles and increase the yearly count of books read. The purpose of the Birthday Bookathon was to learn more and move beyond what I had already been reading – for instance, Rabindranath Tagore has been intentionally avoided for West Bengal because I have read a lot of his works; I had read Premchand’s Nirmala in English years ago, and hence read the original Hindi version now; P.L.Deshpande is a popular name in Marathi literature whom I have already read a lot from, causing me to opt for Shanta Shelke for Maharashtra. I also found books after I had finished reading from that particular state – reading will continue in tandem with the new goals I set for my birthday this year. Another observation was that most translated books tended to be fiction – I suppose it has to do with the popular notion that people prefer stories, and books are accordingly picked for translation.

For those interested in exploring Indian literature, this is the original link to the article I had written on my birthday last year. It includes books I had already read at the time, and also new ones from where I picked titles for the bookathon. If I come across anymore titles, I will keep updating this original blog-post as a handy guide to country specific books. (I had undertaken similar reading initiatives for South Africa and Australia in the past, but wasn’t blogging at the time.) In case you decide to take up this challenge too, happy ready and happy travelling! 🙂

 

 

 

 

Bookstore Visit – Bargain Book Hut

Bookworms possess unique skill sets to sniff out and identify bookstores anywhere. The weekend combined book shopping with running kit collections. Bargain Book Hut is a quaint book shop nestled in the bylanes of Kala Ghoda – a little distance away from Colaba, the venue for the expo of the upcoming Navy Half Marathon. Post picking up my running number bib and racer’s kit, I visited this niche outlet of the chain bookstore known for its heavily discounted books. The space is small (unlike the humongous Kitab Khana I had featured a few days ago), but the stock keeps changing frequently. The deals on box sets, children’s books, and hardcover books are the largest, making this store a must-visit for those looking to build a home library. They have numerous compilations and anthologies that make for good gifting items. The store does not allow photography – one can click pictures of the books, but they object to photography of the interiors and decor as a whole, and posing around and clicking selfies is a definite no-no. They take their reading seriously and patrons are expected to do the same. Books receive prime importance.

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The non-fiction section – There is a good range available in the cookery and health and fitness hardcovers.
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The children’s book section with special deals on the Hindu mythology genre, on account of the Diwali festival.
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A special section with offers on the classics – hardbound with gold embossed covers.
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My book stash, along with a 3D bookmark and the runner’s kit. They have numerous animal themed 3D bookmarks, with quotes specific to each animal. 

Bargain Book Hut is a unit of the Wilco Publishing House – the chain of concept bookstores having been designed to make books affordable to book lovers everywhere. There are special imports made available at discounted rates, causing titles selling out and new titles being introduced frequently. This isn’t one of those bookstores within an eatery, or with an accompanying café. It is not a huge space to sit around while you skim through books. And you’re not allowed to take pictures of anything else besides the books. If one is not obsessed with selfies and social gatherings while picking up books, this is the perfect place to spend some time alone purely with books as you browse the narrow aisles. If you find yourself in the far end of South Mumbai, give this one a visit.