Guest post by Asfand Waqar
A few years back, when I moved to Islamabad, I went out searching for Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, and couldn’t find it at all the major book retailers in town. That was when I stumbled upon a marvelous little bookstore called Old Books Collection in Jinnah Super Market, F-7. Their only copy of the book had recently been sold but, as I was looking at the rest of their impressive collection, they informed me that if I left my cell phone number, they’d text me when they got another copy. It was the beginning of a fantastic friendship. Over the years, I have texted them several times asking for books that I knew I’d otherwise not find anywhere else, and they’ve found me those books.
A visit to a great bookstore can be an educational experience in itself, especially if you are as lucky as I was to discover a gem like Old Books Collection. The people working there knew books beyond their titles and authors’ names. For instance, they corrected me about the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the year 2010, which I had thought had been won by Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, whereas Egan had actually won 2011’s prize. On another occasion, when I asked them to find me everything they could by Jorge Luis Borges, we started chatting about other great Latin American writers like Marquez and Fuentes. It was then that I realized how quality bookstores can actually offer so much more than just books.
Sometimes you won’t find the exact book you’re looking for, but in the process discover another book by the same author. This happened to me when I was searching for Tarjei Vesaas’ The Ice Palace. By this time I was pretty certain that if someone in Islamabad could find me a book from a Norwegian author (who wasn’t really famous here) it would be the people at the Old Books Collection. So I decided to just text them directly, without even trying other major book retailers in town, and though they didn’t have The Ice Palace, surprisingly they said that they had another book, The Birds, by Tarjei Vesaas. I was delighted at the odds, and straightaway went there to get it too. Later on I found out that no one else in the book business in Islamabad had even heard of Vesaas. Since then I’ve called these guys “my book people”.
Buying an old book is like rescuing a retiree that has served its time on someone else’s shelf and is now ready to be read again, and cherished. Like other old book shops, Old Books Collection has the added charm of offering early prints and editions, which are not available anymore, and sometimes even rare books. There is also the benefit of saving money (which in book lovers’ speak means buying two old books for the price of a new one). The extra credibility for Old Books Collection, for me, comes from its owner’s reluctance to stock pirated books, because of which their collection features largely original old and new books in excellent print.
That’s my favorite bookstore for you. So who are your ‘book people’ and why?
Asfand Waqar graduated with a degree in Material Science and Engineering from the US. He teaches at the Physics Department at Comsats, Islamabad. He spends his spare time reading and writing.