Friday, September 21, 2012

The Story Of A Book

I believe a book holds more stories than is told by its pages. It holds the lives and times of readers whose world had shrunk, even if for a few hours, to fit into the pages of the book whilst their imaginations soared over with an unmatched brilliance. It holds glimpses of the lives of hitherto unknown people in the notes by the borders. And some books, rarely so, hold within them a moment of history, a piece of mankind’s eternal search for order in this universe where in chaos has always been the way of life.

Books happen to be my first love. I should’ve been quite young when it happened and I have very little memory of when reading had become as natural as breathing to me. It opened a new world for me, a world I could inhabit when I chose to, and a world where everything fitted my moods. Some would call it dreamy; I prefer to call it imagination.

So there I am, in love with books and a few spare coins in my pockets.
“I am going to buy all the Poirot’s. I have all the Miss Marple’s!” I declared one evening to the husband. He looked up quizzically from his TV-trance. “You know Agatha Christie’s little Belgian detective” I added in case he thought I was talking about some spice brands!

“Really, what good is it to buy books? Why don’t you borrow from library and read it on your kindle?”He smiled congenially and went back to his trance.

I refused to rise to the bait. After all a successful marriage is not just about understanding one's partner but also keeping one's mouth zipped when a bait disguised as an innocent remark comes your way. The husband had mastered the art of ignoring baits of any size and intensity long back. I am still trying to learn the ropes of the above mentioned art form, an essential module in the “Art of happy married life!”

From that evening I have scourged the second hand shops in the city for Poirot’s. Some I found in the racks, some under the racks, and some in the boxes behind the shops. I even know the day of the week each book shop gets a fresh stock.

When I started partnering with a local charity shop to create a book corner I kept my eyes open for Poirot’s.A lovely lady with snow white hair and a laugh like tinkling of bells, Gwen my shop manager soon found out my panache for Poirot’s.
 I was sorting out books with Gwen. Keeping only the books in mint condition and sending back the others when we found a Poirot.
“Ah! Here comes your lover” Gwen said.
It was a yellowed copy of The Clocks.

“The Clocks .Gwen, in this one our little Belgian sits in the comfort of his chair and employs his little grey cells to solve the crime. Neither does he visit the crime scene nor does he speak to any witnesses.” I gibbered on nonstop. I know my Poirots’s. “It was first published in 1963 but this one was not the first edition. Which means it is not a collector’s item. This one is a mere reprint in 1965!”
 “Do you have a copy of this one my dear?”Gwen enquired.
“No darling, I wish I had!”I said flipping the pages and inhaling the scent of old paper.
“Gwen, can I buy this one from you? You won’t be putting this up on sale. It’s far too old.”
“You can take it for free if you want. Even if we return this to the centre, they might just recycle this one.”
I convinced Gwen that I did not want to take the book without paying and made her accept a payment before leaving the shop.

I leafed through the book. The first page stated boldly,
 “John Christopher Cornwell, Feb 1965, W.H Smith, London”

“Wow, this book came all the way from London. The book has travelled more than I have!” It was an amusing thought...

That evening I had to add the edition of the book to Good reads. I was unable to find the book based on the ISBN number behind the book. This was not surprising as most of the old books got published by several publishers and in multiple editions over the years. All this was two weeks ago.

Yesterday I received a very strange call, “Madam, we are calling from Christie’s, United Kingdom. It has come to our attention that you hold a title of interest to the Christie’s.Hmm...It is SBN number '1 332 978 31'!

I strained to get words out of the strange accent, “You mean ISBN number, and could you let me know the title?”

The operator continued,”Madam, it is The Clocks by Agatha Christie. I am talking about the one with is SBN number '1 332 978 31'!”

“ISBN-SBN, all the same. I have it. What is so important about it? It is not a first edition. It’s just a reprint anyway!”  I said trying to sound knowledgeable about book market.

The operator said, “It being an SBN makes all the difference. I hope you know that SBN was the first coding for books before ISBN became the accepted norm.”

“Yes, I know the story.  Gordon Foster, Emeritus Professor at Trinity College, Dublin created the 9-digit code for the booksellers and stationers W. H. Smith in 1965.This was later adopted by ISO into a 10 digit code and more recently in to a 13 digit code to make it compatible with the Bookland EAN-13s.” A silly girl from UK was not going to take me for a ride. We do have internet out here and we do know how to access Wikipedia.

The silly girl continued, “I am impressed. Let me give you the background of our interest. Gordon Foster’s SBN code was first introduced to the publishers William Collins Sons & Co Ltd. They printed about 100 copies each for a few titles. The books were then sent to the warehouse of W.H Smith group of stores in East London. Unfortunately before the h books could reach the retail outlets they perished in a fire in the warehouse. The fire was controlled before lives were lost and W.H Smith was insured for the loss of books in fire. What you have with you is one of the books from the original lot.”

“How is it possible? If all the books perished in the fire…You must be mistaken.” I said trying to curb my rising heart beats.

“It is possible. We have proofs from warehouse records which ascertain that a warehouse manager, one hmmm Mr. Cornwell, had bought the book from the warehouse itself. Employees bought goods off the warehouse as it was cheaper than from retails outlets. Talk about employee welfare in 1960’s”

Cornwell, John Christopher Cornwell. My head was whirling. I wanted to laugh. I wanted to cry. The silly girl was going on and on.

“Mr. Cornwell moved out of UK in late 70s and we were unable to trace him. Madam, are you there?”

“I am listening, it’s just overwhelming, all this information...”

“I know Madam, now listen to me carefully. What you hold is the only remaining book which contains the first SBN code of the world. It is in every right a patriarch of all ISBN books. You are now responsible for a piece of history. We are sending a team to authenticate the book .It is just a procedure although everyone in rare books section here is convinced of its authenticity. Christie’s is ready to pay you for this book.”

She named a price that silenced me with its enormity while my mind made plans,” A chunk would be mine, chunk Gwen’s and a chunk the charity’s!”

“Off course, this is only an initial judgement.Once it goes under the hammer it is all speculation.” She said before hanging up.

Did I not tell you in the beginning that every book holds within itself more stories than the one under the title? I grinned, heady with happiness, “What good did ever come from buying books? Celebrate a retirement party before you hit thirty in a villa in Spain?”

Attention readers!
This is the "story" of a book.All a figment of my imagination.Nevertheless, I do hope something nice like this would happen in my life as well.


  1. At the risk of being stoned to death let me declare that I would have recommended the kindle just like your husband. Needless to state that I wowed a thousand times through the post as you started mentioning the Christies call and the SBN part.

    Congrats on possesion of an artefact - After the auction, fly us down to Australia for a party won't you? :P

    1. Sweetheart "If" something like this happens we'll party in my villa in Spain.. :D

      The Christie part was my invention after I got a very very yellowed copy of "Bhowani Junction" by John Masters..

      I should add a P:S section..

  2. Awesome news... :)

  3. Reading on, I really thought it happened so!!! later only saw the P.S ...:-)
    great Work!! These days I wait for your posts :-) And missing you badly here in Singapore...

  4. God!! How I wish it were true - hang on in there ..... a paperback is a better bet any day... a kindle just does not natch up to the feeling of warmth that the book gives you. Sigh! Coffee, book, and my kinda music.... bliss!

  5. great narration..and greater imagination..!! lovely read...

  6. great narration...and greater imagination!! lovely read..

  7. @Hema: Thanks dear..I miss Singapore too.I miss all the sadya's at your place
    @Nirvana:Very true!I looove my Kindle but unfortunately it does not smell like books..
    @Little Princess:Thanks dear..
    @Anonymous:Thank you for dropping in...