Every book lover in the city knows about the Golpark book stalls. This is the biggest secondhand books area in town – College Street stalls have been full of outdated academic tomes for a long time now.
Just about anything that could be described as reading material goes on display at Golpark (and that’s what makes the browsing so interesting): old books, journals, magazines, catalogues covering every conceivable subject (English and Bengali, and even reach, German, Russian, Spanish and other European languages).
The books are stacked up in tall piles – you can easily spend several hours here browsing. So we suggest you put on a pair of comfy shoes, grab a decent-sized bag and a pocket full of notes (they only accept cash) and spend a weekend day at Golpark. Who knows what treasures you may dig up here – rare handbound hardbacks to odd volumes on needlework, drama scripts, incomplete sets of Tagore’s Rachanabali, Wodehouses or Tintins (for a steal) and whatnot.
The shops had the usual series of encyclopedias on world history. Remember to bargain at these stalls. A marvellous book on world history, chipped at spine ends was mine for just INR 300. I tend to come back home with these treasures and then look them up online. Often you will find them listed on websites (like Abe Books and eBay) that talk about rare books.
You will often stumble across personal messages, jottings, and folded letters inside these old books, which kind of add to their charm. I have found faded, pressed flowers between pages in books long undisturbed. The Tintin I picked had a message inside. And this marvelous book on needlework styles around the world had a slip of paper with a traced design and notes. The needlework book was a great find – it’s out of print and combines the “what it is” and the “how it is done” for a huge range of styles both historical and contemporary sewing, stitchery, and embroidery. For INR 600, it was a steal.
A unique thing about the Golpark stalls is the freewheeling conversations you can strike up with fellow browsers. You will always find people here, book lovers just meandering around looking for interesting finds. Go ahead and strike up a conversation with them – in Kolkata, it is pretty much the done thing to do that with total strangers (at roadside tea shacks, bookstore, buses and shared autos). Most of the time the people you come across here will be regulars who will have interesting info to share. I came across this guy, Soumik, who was looking for art books. He saw me looking at a book by French historian, biographer, and philosopher, Andre Maurois (who I had never read) and proceeded to tell me all about all his works!
This place also stocks popular titles from fiction to cooking, and psychology to poetry. I picked up this Mindy Kaling book and The Girl On The Train for INR 70 each. I like rifling around for old PG Wodehouses here with vintage covers which you cannot get any more. Their collection of crime fiction is envy-worthy (stacks of Agatha Christie, PD James, and all the Scandinavian writers) with some vintage editions nestled in. If you are looking for a 36 Clues series book (they are damn expensive), you will find it here – the YA lit collection is huge with everything from JK Rowling and Rick Riordian to the Lemony Snickett series.
Customers of secondhand booksellers are a rum lot. What kind of person spends hours wondering indecisively over whether to pick up an old copy of The Calcutta Municipal Gazette? Well, I did – for just INR 300, because it had the most marvellous black-and-white photos of Tagore and accompanying essays!
Browsing among the shelves is rewarding in a way that surfing the big book shops or Internet (read Amazon) can never be. You can lose hours just poking around here. I love the Taschen book The Silent Orgasm that I picked up for a steal at INR 400. I checked Amazon and it’s going for INR 2.900!
I was looking for a not-in-print Russian book, and came across a whole load of them here, including a Gothic fairy tales compilation from USSR days! The person who was standing next to me turned out to be somewhat of an expert on USSR books. He revealed that the book’s publisher, Raduga, had shut down after the USSR was dissolved. He also gave me the name and contact of a prolific Bengali translator of Russian books who had lived in Moscow for many years!