Recently in Books Category

I've been working on for almost 13 years now, but even the most amazing experiences come to an end. I'll be exiting in August, heading out on the very best of terms, and after years of planning to ensure that our users aren't impacted by the transition. started off as my class project in 1996. My best friend Charlie built the 486 computer that it ran on, and we teamed up in 1999 to rewrite the software and run the site as our small business. We've been together every step of the way, designing, building, and managing (and debating books and politics over lunch every day). I'm delighted to be able to pass my role on to him; the site's in incredibly good hands.

I've been planning to step back for several years now, to work on other projects, travel, and explore new opportunities. Please stay in touch:

  • via my homepage and weblog
  • via email, at anirvan (at) chatterjee (dot) not

I'm deeply grateful to the bibliophiles, booksellers, and marketplace operators I've worked with over the years. I've heard some pretty amazing stories, and I always promised myself that when I had some time, I'd try to collect and share them with others.

That's why I'm launching the Online Bookselling History Project, an effort to collect first-hand accounts of the online bookselling trade before 2000. If you were involved with the trade pre-2000, then I want your stories: bookseller BBSes, UIEE conversion nightmares, changing cataloging practices, the bricks vs. clicks debates, etc. You can help put together a patchwork history of our trade during a time of great transition. More on this soon.

P.S. Thank you to everyone who's been part of since 1996 -- Alison, Asok, Barbara, Boris, Bryan, Chaitee, Charlie, Christine, David, Fredrik, Garner, Giovanni, Hannes, Scott, Shaku, Shauna, Thomas, Tushar, Vanessa, and Wendy. I'm lucky to have friends like you.

[Now Reading: Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh]

I'm reading Naked Airport: A Cultural History of the World's Most Revolutionary Structure by Alastair Gordon. As Gordon discusses about the expansion of early American aviation businesses into Latin America, he quotes early Pan Am exec Sanford Kauffman on his experiences working in Honduras:

"Kauffman had been at his post for only a few weeks when a revolution broke out in Honduras. Rebels were flying old biplanes and dropping bombs onto his airfield. Kauffman telegraphed Miami headquarters and informed his superiors that PAA [Pan America Airways] planes should not attempt to land but should fly directly on to San Salvador. When the local manager of the United Fruit Company inquired why the mail plane hadn't arrived that day, Kauffman told him about the aerial bombardment. The manager replied: 'Why didn't you come in and let me know? We're controlling the revolution, and I'll simply tell them to stop bombing you.' United Fruit had put the president into power in the first place, but when the president hiked the tax on bananas, the company thought it best to have him replaced. 'There's a general who would love to be president,' explain the agent, 'so we're supplying him with funds to buy ammunition and equipment, [and] he'll be the next one.' Kauffman got the message and reopened the airport the next day."

There's more discussion of this fun little corporate imperial anecdote in Kauffman's book, Pan Am Pioneer, in the "Stationed In Honduras" chapter.

I'm doing my annual trip to Kolkata, India, to spend time with relatives, and attend a friend's wedding reception. A few days back, B, my aunt, and I hit Oxford Bookstore, a lovely 89-year-old bookstore in the middle of town.

I ended up buying about a dozen books. Some of the books I'll be hauling back home were already on my reading list: Aravind Adiga's White Tiger (the latest Booker winner), Amitav Ghosh's Sea of Poppies (the latest from a fave writer), and Manjula Padmanabhan's Escape (the new novel by a smart feminist Indian SF writer I've been really enjoying). Others were from novelists I've never heard of, including Devdutt Pattnaik's The Pregnant King, Indrajit Hazra's The Bioscope Man, and Nayantara Sahgal's Mistaken Identity.

Our trip to Oxford Bookstore was full of particularly acute synchronicity:

  • Earlier that day, my aunt, an Indian historian, had got the news that her latest book has gone to press, via Oxford University Press India
  • While browsing, B and I ran into acquaintances we'd met at our friend's wedding reception the night before
  • California Bengali scientist Mani Bhaumik (co-inventor of the laser) was sitting at the next table from us at the bookstore cafe, signing a new popular science book
  • We ran into Raka Ray, from UC Berkeley's Center for South Asian Studies, as she dashed into the store looking for a book; she's someone all three of us know as a friend or colleague
  • While in the checkout line, the man in front of me looked weirdly familiar; I struck up a conversation, and he turned out to be UC Berkeley economist Pranab Bardhan, in town for a few days

That Californian Bengali bibliophile connection is quite something.

I'm in Kolkata, India, for my cousin's wedding. I've been enjoying being part of a Big Fat Bengali Wedding, but I was hoping to spend the weekend at the Kolkata Book Fair, the third largest book fair in the world. This year's theme was American literature, featuring guests like Paul Theroux, Bharati Mukherjee, and a delegation of American poets; I was particularly interested in seeing what kind of reception they'd get.

Unfortunately, the event’s been cancelled at the last minute, due to a decision by the Kolkata High Court to bar the organizers from holding the event at the planned venue, due to a high likelihood of environmental damage. (The organizers had been kicked out of their previous venue the year before for the same reason, and hadn't done adequate planning to find a space capable of handling the popular event's high-intensity noise and environmental impacts.) The cancellation's been devastating to writers, bibliophiles, and book-related businesses getting ready for the biggest book fair in Asia.

So what of the American delegation? The local book community's helped the Americans reschedule many events at universities and bookstores around town, and the US Embassy assures us that all isn't lost.

Most Kolkata residents are disappointed at the turn of events; so am I, but unlike local bibliophiles, I may not get another chance to make it back to Kolkata in late January for the fair. In the meantime, I'm making do hitting up local bookstores, making my suitcase heavier, book by book.