Years ago when I was in school, I discovered books from the Soviet Union available in select bookstores at unbelievably inexpensive prices. For around 5 Indian Rupees ( a little less than quarter of a US dollar, in those days ) one could buy a collection of short stories by Leo Tolstoy. The bulk of these books came from MIR publishers, and the subjects ranged over a wide array of topics, literature and science being my favorite picks.
I knew little about political science to understand the reason for the difference in prices of books from the western countries ( mainly US ) and the Soviet Union. To me, these books were simply a source of joy since they offered a luxury I never could dream of while still in school : buying books. The little scraps of currency notes I managed to save went into these books, some of which were too advanced for me to read in that stage of mental development. Two of my earliest books were “Entertaining Electronics” and “Diseases of the Ear Nose and Throat”; I bought these when I was only 11 years old, in a book exhibition held at the boarding school I was studying in. The rationale behind the purchase, as I can remember it now, was that these were books from the most likely streams of study I would choose later ( engineering and medicine ), so it was an investment for a future I believed I would be a part of.
With the break up of the Soviet Union, the source of these books ceased to exist. Bookstores which stocked books only from the erstwhile Soviet Union had to shift their product line completely, or face shutdown. The stores that managed to survive went through a phase where they had books from the Soviet Union juxtaposed with their counterparts from the western world. In such a setting, the difference in prices appeared more unreal, especially to someone who was oblivious to the past.
As late as 1997, I was able to visit such a store in Bangalore and pick up a full set of short stories by Chekov – the set of six books cost me around 100 Rupees. Needless to say, I was thrilled.
These thoughts, about a past long gone, came back to me while I was reading The business of books. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in books, since it delves into a matter vital to the future of this medium. The book is compact; it makes its points directly and offers a few anecdotes here and there – it does not go over the same point again and again : a malaise that is so very common in books related to management and business.
I discuss the book at length in my new section.