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Bookstore Blues

By Roopa Ramamoorthi
Tuesday December 23, 2008 - 10:43:00 AM

I looked at my watch. My husband had just dropped me off at the Berkeley BART station. I had 15 minutes to catch the train to San Francisco to meet Bernadette. We were to join some of our classmates for a beach barbecue reunion of our “Human Factors and Team Dynamics” class.  

I had time to pop into the Half Price Books on Shattuck. Besides I wanted to see if Junot Diaz’s book The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the one that won the Pulitzer, was there. I could pick up a used copy on sale. I wanted to read the book before I went to his fiction workshop—assuming I got accepted. 

I looked again as I had before between Diamant and Dickens. His other book, Drown, was there, but not this one. The bookstore was well lit with white fluorescent lights and since it was a Sunday morning, other than two teenager girls in the romance section I was the only one at the bookstore. My eyes wandered to G—Uruguayan writer Galeano—I had two books in his trilogy, wanted the third, Faces and Masks, if I could get it cheap. It was a wonderful book about the taking of the Americas, 1700-1900. I wish I could write as poetically as he does. 

Then I moved to García Márquez. I had One Hundred Years of Solitude, had seen the movie version of Love in the Time of Cholera. There was a short story collection of his—$4—seemed a steal. But I had spent $30 on books only the previous day, and when I spoke to my father in Bombay, he, the biggest book lover of all, admonished me to go slow on buying books. “Where will you put them in your two-bedroom apartment?” 

I caressed the book, then put it back. I shouldn’t be such a junkie. As I wandered off to literary criticism I heard the teenage guy at the register tell someone, “García Márquez, you should check him out, man.” 

I felt like running over and grabbing my book, but I hesitated and continued scanning the literary criticism section. Still the possessive urge dragged me back to García Márquez, where I saw a middle-aged man in shabby clothes, maybe someone down on his luck, fingering my book. 

“If you don’t want the book, I will take it,” I blurted out. 

He turned to look at me. “Do you know this author? Is the book worth $4?” 

His tone was friendly. If I press, he will probably give up the book, but I cannot do that. “Yes, he is very good.” 

“Thanks, you made up my mind. I am taking this book.” 

I leave the bookstore, a junkie without my fix. But that man would probably read and reread the book—maybe it is only three or four books that he has—while it might have just sat on my shelf in the company of Borges and Babel having only one or two stories read.