March Book Haul

My self-imposed book buying ban came to a crashing halt in March. It all started with going in to my local bookstore to redeem a gift voucher. I went in with the noblest of intentions, and ended up spending more than the voucher was worth.

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From Kitab Khana, Mumbai

Then of course, I went on a trip to celebrate my birthday, which is always a dangerous proposition. I love visiting new bookstores when I’m away from home and almost always manage to spot something I need. The only way to remedy this problem is to merely peek at the books in a detached manner and just admire the store as a physical space. (Not going to the stores is not an option). But I happened to visit the first bookstore in Bangalore with friends who shamelessly encouraged breaking my ban. “Oh, come on! You have to buy that book,” they said. And, well, I did. Along with four others.

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From Blossom Book House, Bangalore

The actual birthday was spent in wonderful Fort Kochi, which is a ridiculously tiny corner of Kerala but still manages to support three independent bookstores. Three! I think very highly of a place that takes its books seriously. So of course I had to visit all three stores. And of course I had to buy books from every one. What better souvenir than a book right? Or, as the case turned out to be, six books.

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From Walton’s Book Shop, Fort Kochi

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From Idiom Bookshop, Fort Kochi

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From Kochi Books, Fort Kochi

Then it was back to Bangalore where I dropped by a bookstore recommended by a friend. Only to look, you understand. With absolutely no intention of buying anything. But then I stumbled upon something that is notoriously difficult to find in bookstores – a collection of Charles Bukowski’s poetry. His prose is easier to find, but I’ve been hunting for a poetry book, any poetry book by him since 3 years. And there it was! Sitting inconspicuously on a shelf. So I added three more books for good measure, ended up having an hour-long conversation with the delightful owner and walked out with a far emptier wallet, a guilty heart but a spring in my step.

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From Bookstop, Bangalore

And then, of course, came the books that were very kindly gifted to me.

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I know this entire post makes me sound like a hopeless addict. But would an addict be able to stave off the urge to buy books for two whole months?*

*Quite possibly. I’m trying abstinence now.

Book an Experience: Hunt for Cave Art

Book an Experience is a new feature that matches experiences, events and/or activities with the perfect book. 

When I stumbled upon this fascinating article in National Geographic detailing the origins of prehistoric art, I could instantly think of just the book to go with it.

It is as if we are walking into the throat of an enormous animal. The tongue of a metal path arcs up and then drops downward into the blackness below. The ceiling closes in, and in some places the heavy cave walls crowd close enough to touch my shoulders. Then the flanks of the limestone open up, and we enter the belly of an expansive chamber.

This is where the cave lions are.

And the woolly rhinos, mammoths, and bison, a menagerie of ancient creatures, stampeding, battling, stalking in total silence. Outside the cave, where the real world is, they are all gone now. But this is not the real world. Here they remain alive on the shadowed and creviced walls.

Around 36,000 years ago, someone living in a time incomprehensibly different from ours walked from the original mouth of this cave to the chamber where we stand and, by flickering firelight, began to draw on its bare walls: profiles of cave lions, herds of rhinos and mammoths, a magnificent bison off to the right, and a chimeric creature—part bison, part woman—conjured from an enormous cone of overhanging rock. Other chambers harbor horses, ibex, and aurochs; an owl shaped out of mud by a single finger on a rock wall; an immense bison formed from ocher-soaked handprints; and cave bears walking casually, as if in search of a spot for a long winter’s nap. The works are often drawn with nothing more than a single and perfect continuous line.

This is the Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc in southern France, and a quick image search on Google brings up the most beautiful examples of ancient art.

Image courtesy here

Image courtesy here

These paintings belong to humanity’s very first artists, and are around 36,000 years old.

Image courtesy here

Image courtesy here

In his book La Préhistoire du Cinéma, filmmaker and archaeologist Marc Azéma argues that some of these ancient artists were the world’s first animators, and that the artists’ superimposed images combined with flickering firelight in the pitch-black caves to create the illusion that the paintings were moving. “They wanted to make these images lifelike,” says Azéma.

Azéma’s interpretation fits with that of eminent prehistorian Jean Clottes—the first scientist to enter Chauvet, only days after its discovery. Clottes believes the images in the cave were intended to be experienced much the way we view movies, theater, or even religious ceremonies today—a departure from the real world that transfixed its audience and bound it in a powerful shared experience. “It was a show!” says Clottes.

If leaving for southern France is a bit impractical at the moment, just engage in some armchair travel with the Nat Geo article. Pair it with this book for children, Cave Art: The First Paintings, written by Vishaka Chanchani and published by Tulika Publishers as a part of their Looking at Art series.

cave art the first paintings

How did art begin? Where did colour come from, before paints in tubes and bottles? Taking a long step back in history, this book explores how the world’s first artists may have tried their hand on the very first canvases — the walls of rocks and caves. Arising more from artistic imagination than archaeology, this story of art unfolds with photographs of the ancient paintings at the Bhimbetka Caves in Madhya Pradesh alongside creative reproductions of rock art.

You can read more about the book in this Saffron Tree review. Happy hunting!