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Dirty hands


Accumulating the opening stock of books for Dāsa was not an easy task. It took lots of time, patience, and yes, money. Mostly it involved weekly trips to secondhand book bins and markets around Bangkok. I also picked up a few things during trips to Laos, Cambodia, and Pattaya (seemingly a foreign country in its own right!). The book hunting required that I spend hours each time combing through disorganized piles of dusty books, hoping to find good titles that weren’t battered and mildewed beyond repair. It was hot and dirty work, but also fascinating.


Once I had all the books back in my apartment (and at one point I somehow managed to cram nearly 6,000 of them in various corners of my studio pad), the process of cleaning, pricing and dividing them into sections began. Having previously run bookshops in both Florida and Cambodia, I thought I knew a lot about books, but getting the stock arranged for the store in Bangkok was truly an education. I learned much more about genres such as Romance, Espionage, Self-Help and Children’s Books than I ever could have imagined. I began to pick out “favorite unread authors,” basing my choice on either the cover artwork or the titles (I still love “Killer Pancake” by Diane Mott Davidson – have to read it sometime!). Predictably, I found tons of skeletons and ghosts amidst the Horror titles, a few too many airplanes and submarines in the Spy section, a slew of dead bodies and blood in Mystery, a bevy of wizards and aliens in Science Fiction, and plenty of busty women embraced by long-haired dudes (with wigs borrowed from Cher?) in the Romance category.


I was especially amazed at the variety of contraband that I found tucked inside the pages of the books; bookmarks (of course), airline boarding passes, baseball cards, postcards (“Greetings from Costa Rica!”), lecture notes, photos (no, nothing kinky), concert ticket stubs, shopping lists (there was even one list in Spanish – someone in Colombia had to get a pair of “zapatos” for Marta), and more than a few dead insects. But alas, there was no money, other than a 1,000 kip note from Laos. Not worth much at all. Many books had stamps from other secondhand shops, indicating their previous city of origin. Not surprisingly, more than a few different countries and continents were represented. There were also some library books (never returned or just discarded, I wonder?) and some pre-published proofs. Some of the books appeared as though they had been stored in a dusty warehouse for the past 20 years. Far from dog-eared but caked with several sedimentary layers of dirt. Others looked like they’d never been read; totally pristine.


Rummaging through these books was a sheer joy. Seeing long-lost favorites reminded me of good times, good friends and good reading. I had forgotten how about “Norwood” by Charles Portis and how much it made me laugh, or the crazy “Wilt” books by Tom Sharpe, or Ken Kesey’s great “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (which I read before seeing the movie), or the terrific catalog of titles by Anne Tyler. Not a dud in the bunch. Oh, I could go on for pages and pages.


Meanwhile, come on by Dāsa Book Café and check out what we have in stock. Maybe there are a few titles that will make you smile!

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