A book can be a person’s most loyal companion, especially during moments of solitude. As we celebrate Book Lovers Day today, we reached out to some dedicated readers to uncover their favored bookstores and the memorable experiences that have shaped their literary journeys. Read on…
Soma Roy, 64, associate professor, Women’s Christian College
Soma Roy, an English literature professor, whose taste in literature is diverse and non-generic, prefers purchasing books from physical shops at College Street
Revisiting an era when online shopping was a foreign concept, Soma Roy, an associate professor and ardent reader, transports us to the 1970s through the 1990s, reminiscing about her exploration of College Street. Her book-hunting escapades spanned from the University of Calcutta’s gates to Presidency College (now University) and further to Harrison Road. “What I liked (I have to use the past tense because they are not the same anymore) about them was the sheer variety of books they had — mostly second-hand — and the fact that they were affordable. The booksellers themselves were well-acquainted with their stock. They recognised every buyer and knew about their individual tastes. In the 1970s, when I was a student, the sellers allowed some of us to venture into nooks and corners where rare books were stored, like an old hardbound edition of Milton’s Samson Agonistes, a slightly dusty Sartor Resartus, a couple of novels by Stendal, Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarasthustra, Russell’s essays in slim volumes,” recounts Roy.
The English literature professor, whose taste in literature is diverse and non-generic, prefers purchasing books from physical shops. “I buy books myself from all sorts of shops because I enjoy reading a bit before deciding. I cherish the aroma of paper. My fingers revel in the tactile pleasure of books I don’t purchase.” However, Roy laments that her cherished College Street has transformed over time. “Since 2010, I sense that College Street is no longer what it used to be during our times. Disappointed during my last visit, I sought refuge in the expansive bookstore across the street, where I acquired a volume of poems by Joy Goswami. Another favorite bookstore I now frequent is the Thema shop near Kalighat tram depot (it has relocated recently).”
Mousumi Roy, 44, homemaker
Mousumi Roy's preferred bookshop is Dasgupta Bookstore on College Street
Armed with dual master’s degrees, Mousumi Roy has been an avid reader since childhood. Although her expertise lies in history, she’s equally drawn to fiction. Much like many Kolkata book enthusiasts, College Street captured her heart, with a specific fondness for a 137-year-old bookstore. “My preferred bookshop is Dasgupta Bookstore on College Street, from the very first time I entered. It’s akin to stepping into another dimension. A realm of knowledge awaits, and your sole task is to select your next intellectual destination. The shop seems frozen in time, with an enchanting aroma of books. Neatly arranged volumes grace wooden shelves, while the store exudes an old-world scent. The entire experience of this shop is quintessentially Kolkata!”
Her last visit was five years ago when she acquired the Satyabati Trilogy by Ashapurna Devi, and she genuinely misses her frequent excursions there. “During my time at the University of Calcutta, I often dropped by. This ritual endured for years until online shopping made me complacent. Nevertheless, even today, I relish purchasing books in person whenever possible. This year, I procured a few from the Book Fair. The sensation of touching the book, turning its pages, and perusing the preface before buying is much akin to courting a beloved.”
Somudro Nandi, 19, Gurudas College
Somudro Nandi loves visiting Oxford Bookstore on Park Street
A second-year student of English Literature, Somudro Nandi prefers buying books from brick- and-mortar stores despite the convenience of online shopping. “There's something magical about being surrounded by bookshelves and flipping through pages. Observing fellow book enthusiasts looking through books and reading along also provides a sense of community. It’s a sensory experience that online stores can’t replicate,” he says.
Like many of his age, he too picked Oxford Bookstore on Park Street as his favourite. “I was five when I first walked in there with my mother and I’ve been smitten by the place ever since. To me, the Oxford Bookstore has been more than just a place for buying books. The cosy ambience, the scent of books, and the familiar creaking of wooden floors create an atmosphere that instantly makes me feel at home. They curate a diverse selection of books, ranging from classic literature to contemporary novels.”
Although he does not prefer any particular genre and his tastes change constantly, he has always found something that interests him every time he visits the store. “The journey that started all those years ago with books like The Famous Five series, Tintin and Asterix continues to this very day. The last time I visited was in September 2022, and I remember buying George Orwell’s 1984 and Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain.”
Paloma Majumder, 29, singer
Though Paloma looks forward to shuffling through College Street and Gariahat alleys, looking for notes on second-hand books, the Oxford Bookstore will always have a special place in her heart
Paloma Majumder’s formative years were steeped in the unspoiled allure of south Kolkata’s book alleys and second-hand bookstores, a realm her grandfather introduced her to during childhood. While school curricula predominantly guided her book purchases, her grandfather occasionally indulged her with second-hand Enid Blyton or Jane Austen volumes, often bearing notes from their previous owners. “It almost felt like an added preface by a prior reader. This is where my love affair with books ignited,” she reminisces.
Among her earliest encounters with comprehensive bookstores was Oxford Bookstore on Park Street, swiftly emerging as her sanctuary. “Beyond its historical significance as one of the city’s oldest bookstores, I marveled at how it reclaimed its colonial space to host an array of books.” Although the store’s design was straightforward, genre-specific columns lined its interior, beckoning readers towards their literary preferences. Paloma developed a particular fondness for sections like World History and Politics, strategically placed at the back to offer solace to opinionated readers. A serendipitous rainstorm in June 2017 precipitated a cherished memory. Taking shelter within Oxford Bookstore, she and a friend decided to briefly browse, only to become immersed in The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson.
“We spent over four hours at the bookstore, reciting the closing lines on our fourth teapot — I’ve heard it in the chillest land/And on the strangest Sea/Yet-never- in Extremity/ It asked a crumb- of me — and were jolted back into reality by a towering server who was almost ready to bring us our fifth teapot.” Needless to say, they also failed their task and went back home with modest bags of Calvino and Amitav Ghosh.
While Paloma still looks forward to shuffling through College Street and Gariahat alleys, looking for notes on second-hand books, the Oxford Bookstore will always have a special place in her heart for creating a space of comfort for the books and their readers alike. There’s a little something for everyone there.
Sukanya Bhattacharya, 57, English teacher, Garden High School
Sukanya Bhattacharya, an English teacher, recommends Starmark, Oxford Bookstore and Story
Asked about her favoured bookstore, schoolteacher Sukanya Bhattacharya drew inspiration from Roald Dahl’s poem, Television. Her sentiment echoes Dahl’s plea for parents to furnish bookshelves, inspiring children to devour age-appropriate books. “They’d read and read and read and then proceed to read some more,” she says. To Bhattacharya, bookstores are wellsprings of imagination, inviting curious minds to lose themselves in a world only avid readers can fathom. She relishes the joy of sitting in a corner, flipping through pages, basking in the sheer delight of reading. The tactile sensations — the touch and aroma of a fresh book, the cover, the crisp pages, and the quick glance at the price tag — envelop readers in a realm of enchantment. She urges forsaking multiplexes and fast food in favor of acquiring books, for the spell cast by reading is ethereal.
Coming to her favourite store, her recommendations are Starmark, Oxford Bookstore and Story. The location of a bookshop (like Starmark) in a shopping mall like Quest or South City always has an added advantage as they provide the right ambience for one to go on reading for an endless number of hours. “These bookstores are always well-stocked and the staff is always ready to help,” she adds.
Kaustuv Nag, 29, Master’s student
For Kaustuv Nag, a student, Boi Para is a paradise for book lovers like him
For Kaustuv Nag, reading was a profound part of life, although work pressures temporarily steered him away. Amidst a demanding job, he found solace in the book stalls surrounding Presidency College, particularly in Boi Para. “College Street was the go-to place for obtaining books,” he affirms. The allure of second-hand books kindled his passion. His tastes ranged from history to searching for rare treasures, some of which he possesses to this day. “I’ve come across extraordinary editions, including limited copies of books on Mohenjo Daro and Harappa, rare finds that are scarcely encountered elsewhere.” The creative spark he discovered in books catalyzed his artistic pursuits — prior to his full-time job, he was involved in short films and ad shoots. “Books uncover possibilities you hadn’t previously contemplated. Each book leaves an imprint that subtly influences your everyday life,” he signs off.