Where to get 'em
"Menon bhai," said the voice on the phone, "You are writing so much about books, but you are not telling us where we can purchase the same." The mixture of respect, the present continuous tense, and the hurt that comes from having information withheld is unique to voices on the phone following the appearance of a new Print Run column.
The themes repeat themselves: I am a coach, I want books about fast bowling; I am a student, I want to know more about Don Bradman; I am an aspiring writer, where can I get Neville Cardus?
I have been lax. To recommend the biography of Jack Hobbs by John Arlott and then not state where the book may be found is insensitive. I have only two words in my defence: the internet. All the bookshops are there, all the books you want are there. New books, rare books, autographed books, unheard-of books. There is another source too - the second-hand bookshop. But you've got to be incredibly lucky. If you have the time, the patience, and an understanding with the dealer, you can get your Cardus and your Fingleton, and Ranji's Jubilee Book of Cricket.
But potluck cannot be the basis of any collection. New books may be available in the stylish chain stores in our cities, but for those with specific interests - biographies only, or coaching manuals, or tour books - the virtual bookshops on the net are the answer. These are usually user-friendly, allow you to search for books, and sometimes have bargain sections that are worth keeping tabs on.
Not surprisingly the best books and the best deals are available in the UK. All the sites deal in back numbers of the Wisden Almanack; many claim they have the best collection.
Sportspages, the old favourite bookshop at Charing Cross, closed a few years ago, but sportspages.co.uk will still direct you to the books.
My favourite sites are JW McKenzie Cricket Books and Martin Wood's. The JW McKenzie store is in Surrey, and there is very little that escapes John McKenzie. The catalogues (each dealing with a particular aspect, like Signed Books and Memorabilia, Cricketana, Tours) are well produced, and marvellous examples of succinct product description.
Martin Wood's establishment is in Kent; the site informs potential visitors that "Callers are welcome. Directions here are simple and the coffee is hot." The bargains on offer are hot too.
Ian Dyer's books are available on cricketbooks.co.uk. Founded in the 1970s, but later than either McKenzie's or Wood's, the shop used to be run by Ian's son Robin, who opened the batting for Warwickshire in the 1980s. Michael Gauntlett, a nephew, now runs it.
That's it then. Six of the best. Guaranteed to elevate your mind and lighten your pocket.
And finally, a look at some terms used to describe books and their condition:
Mint As new (including, if required, the dust wrapper).
Fine Nearly as new, but showing very slight signs of having been read.
Very good Sound, firm, clean, but with minor marking/tearing of dust-wrapper, or slight wear to covers.
Good Sound and firm but covers marked or faded, and contents show signs of use.
Fair General wear and marking with possible weakness to hinges. Only a good "reading" copy.
Poor Generally marked and shaken - a last resort when no better copy may be found.
Chipped Minor tears/creasing of the upper or lower edges of dust-wrappers.
Deckled edges Rough/uneven edges of pages of handmade paper that has not been trimmed.
Dw Dust wrappers (or jackets). The printed paper cover which protects the cloth binding of the modern book.
Endpapers Leaves added by a publisher to the front or end of a book immediately inside the covers.
Foxing Brown/yellow spots which sometimes appear on paper that has been subjected to damp or lack of ventilation.
Limited edition Edition strictly limited to a stated number of copies, each being individually numbered and often signed.
Presentation copy Copy of a book given by the author as a gift.
Shaken Describing a book no longer tight and firm in its covers.
Suresh Menon is a writer based in Bangalore