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New Delhi World Book Fair: A thrifting guide

The New Delhi World Book Fair will wrap up this weekend. Here’s a handy guide to the best bargains if you’re planning a last minute visit

A crowd surrounds a heap of books on the opening day of the New Delhi World Book Fair 2023.
A crowd surrounds a heap of books on the opening day of the New Delhi World Book Fair 2023. (PTI)

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The New Delhi World Book Fair (NDWBF) began last Saturday, and after an initial confusion about ticket availability, the crowds thronged halls 2-5 at Pragati Maidan. As usual, there’s something for everybody across nearly 2,000 stalls, where over a thousand publishers from 40-plus nations are exhibiting their wares.

Among other things, the World Book Fair is an excellent destination for bargain-hunters. Locating the perfect read for you amidst a mountain of other stuff requires a good eye and plenty of practice—but it’s also fulfilling in a way that stacking online ‘carts’ just isn’t.

There are a number of barely-used books available at throwaway prices, and these are the vendors you need to earmark before you head to Pragati Maidan. I’ve mentioned the hall and stall number in each case, but if you need more help, I would recommend downloading hall maps from the fair’s official website.

Kapoor and Sons (Hall 5, Stall no. 443)

One of those versatile used-books vendors. On any given day, the possibilities here feel limitless — first editions, rare and out-of-print books, generally dropped off by American and British travellers. Their eponymous shop is at Sector-16, Rohini and their stall at the book fair shows incredible range and great prices—not to mention immaculate shelving (unlike many used-books vendors who chuck everything together in a large, formless heap at the centre of their stalls). 

I bought a pristine, hardback American edition of Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts for 150, a crisp-looking Routledge volume of Bertrand Russell’s essays for 100, and a volume of Mahasweta Devi’s short stories (translated into English by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak) for 80. I could also spot books by Toni Morrison, Manoranjan Byapari, Ruth Ozeki, Ashis Nandy, Ian McEwan, William Golding — a very diverse and exciting collection. Even the relatively modest Hindi pile had some classics by writers like Agyeya, Mahadevi Verma, and Amrita Pritam.

Also Read: 5 reasons to visit the World Book Fair in Delhi

Bonus points for a handsome-looking set of 20-plus hardback history books on the lives of the Sikh Maharajas. Highly recommended if your interests skew towards the literary canon (as opposed to genre titles).

Book Home (Hall 5, Stall no. 405-406)

The Delhi-based Book Home are fair specialists—they do not have a physical storefront and conduct all of their sales in book fairs, small and big, across north India. Dauntingly and unfortunately, however, no shelving, no straight lines. You’ll have to scramble around in a quagmire of hundreds of books buried under hundreds more.

The good news however is that their stall here has clearly been bolstered by the bookshelves of departing diplomats as well as American and British backpackers. I could spot dozens of very expensive and barely-used foreign editions of books by writers like Hilary Mantel, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Chinua Achebe, Pankaj Mishra, Gabriel Garcia Marquez; this is the discard pile of advanced (and quite well-off) readers.

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A great many volumes of poetry: Vikram Seth, Wislawa Szymborska, Faiz and many others. I bought three books here, including J.M. Coetzee’s Late Essays: 2006-17, and Milan Kundera’s Testaments Betrayed: An Essay in Nine Parts— 250 in total for these two, so you know you’ll get great prices here. A bit of a treasure hunt here, but you are sure to strike gold—like I did with a gorgeous NYRB Classics edition of Curzio Malaparte’s novel Kaputt (MRP 999, but I bought it for 100).

Jain Book Center (Hall 2, Stall no. 118-119)

This is a reasonably well-known vendor of used books at Daryaganj’s Nayi Sadak. Their stall doesn’t disappoint. A generous proportion of the shelf space is devoted to genre leaders—science fiction, espionage and thrillers dominate. Plenty of Dan Brown, Frederick Forsyth, Lee Child, Sidney Sheldon, Isaac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke. A smattering of literary titles, too: several books by Roberto Bolaño as well as a couple books apiece by Nayantara Sehgal, Roddy Doyle, Zadie Smith and Salman Rushdie.

Most of the novels for grown-ups are at 100-150 while children’s books and encyclopaedias are a bit higher, at 200-300, depending upon page length.

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I would especially focus on the encyclopaedias here: Jain have a lot to offer, with several pristine volumes of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, World Book Encyclopaedias (the whole set, from A-Z), the Kingfisher First Encyclopaedia, Philips Atlas of the World and more high-value titles in this vein. Most of them were priced at either 200 or 300 — throwaway prices when you think of MRPs in this genre. (Hall 5, Stall no. 368-371) is a website and app that offers both new and used books. At the book fair, they’ve used their extra stall space intelligently—one half is covered almost entirely with literary fiction and history while another half is equally dominated by genre titles. The organisation and curation display a degree of detail that shows this is not their first rodeo.

The literary titles include a whole shelf of Anne Tyler books, plenty of John Banville, Irvine Welsh, Patricia Highsmith, Kamila Shamsie, Kiran Nagarkar and many others. However, the real strength of this vendor is their formidable genre collection. Romance, thrillers, science fiction, crime novels, legal dramas; just about every major genre has plenty of representation. Scores of Colleen Hoover and Gayle Forman books, a whole heap of Isaac Asimov, rows and rows of Stephen King, David Walliams, Meg Cabot, John Grisham and Robin Cook. And most of these books are priced at either 100 or 150.

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Lastly, some generic advice: there’s plenty of walking, so stay hydrated, and don’t lose patience. Whenever possible, give these vendors the benefit of the doubt – they’re just about bouncing back after a rough few years and deserve all the support they can get.

World Book Fair at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi, ends on 5 March 2023

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