Documenting the bookstore
When I heard about the death of Mr T. S. Shanbhag the legendary bookshop owner of Premier, I once again watched Mr Shanbag’s Shop on YouTube. It made me nostalgic for the weekends I had spent at Premier Book Shop on Church Street. The grief over Premier’s closure in 2009 re-emerged with a pang when booklovers heard that Mr Shanbhag had passed away. It’s the end of an era and the beginning of what will only remain in the memories of everyone who walked in between those piles of books and heard the sound of them falling.
The documentary reminded me of others that document such iconic places for future generations. A literary tour of New York would include Strand Book Store, Argosy Book Store, James Cummins Booksellers, Housing Works and Baumann Rare Books. If you cannot do it in person, then watch the documentary The Booksellers about New York’s antiquarian book dealers. Book Wars by Jason Rosette brings out the perspectives of the street booksellers of New York. I wish someone would make a film on Bengaluru bookstores such as Bookworm, Blossom, Select and Gangarams, which are not mere bookshops but institutions.
As more of them close down or struggle to survive in the pandemic, a fulllength documentary would capture the spirit of Bengaluru literary landmarks, including vanished ones like Premier and Strand. Welcome To The Last Bookstore is an exploration of the quirkiest bookstore in Los Angeles and the man who brought it into existence. I was fortunate to visit The Last Bookstore (rated one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world) and interact with the owner Josh Spencer.
When I asked him about the future of the physical book he replied that physical books, like vinyl LPs, were more popular than ever and, perhaps surprisingly, also among the younger generation. Since writers are my role models I love documentaries on them. Salinger is about the reclusive and enigmatic author of Catcher in the Rye and was one of the top-ten highest- grossing documentaries of 2013. And Still I Rise reflects on how the events of history, culture and arts shaped Mary Angelou’s life and how she in turn shaped our worldview through her literature and activism.
I Am Not Your Negro is a 2016 documentary directed by Raoul Peck, based on James Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House. Becoming is an documentary of Michelle Obama’s life and connections as she embarks on a 34-city book tour of her bestselling memoir. If there is a documentary that captures the meaning of what a library means to people even in the most harrowing circumstances, it is Daraya: A Library under Bombs in Syria.
This is an account of how a group of men decide to build a secret library collecting books from their war-torn neighbourhood in Syria. Delphine Minoui has written about them in her bestseller The Book Collectors. My most recent memory of Mr Shanbhag is of him contemplating re-opening Premier after he read my column about the idea of bookstores being community spaces. He even had a few discussions on this topic with Krishna from Bookworm. Unfortunately the second innings never materialised. But perhaps I’ve been paying Mr Shanbhag a silent and unwitting tribute, after all. Because my own room is beginning to look a lot like the interior of Premier Book Shop! (The author is a technologist based in Silicon Valley who is gently mad about books)