It is that time of the year again; when I find myself on the hunt across the book fair in my city. Visiting the fair has been a tradition in my family ever since my mom took me there as a kid. Over the years, as books have become accessible online, my visits have evolved into a search for those rare editions, the older print copies of my favorite books and the occasional new find that catches my eye.
This year the plan was no different. The idea was to go to the book fair as soon as it opened (around 11 am) and get ahead of the crowd that always gathers up as the day goes by, being a Sunday and all. However, this morning, it seemed I would have to take a literal rain check and that my plan was dead in the water. But I was resolute and decided to make it to the fair, one way or another, expecting to leverage the drop in the footfall because of rain.
I was pleasantly surprised when I found that not only was the book fair in full swing, but that the number of people visiting had not reduced. I got my ticket and made my start at the first stall walking through my ceremonious circuit across the 8 lanes setup with over 800 stalls. My logic is simple: I look for the stalls offering books at discounted prices as they tended to have a range of older collections of books. When I did come across such stalls, I would then do a quick browse of the collection to see if it held some gems apart from the usual range of romance, thriller and fiction novels.
I was almost at the end of my circuit today, when at the 2nd last lane, I walked across one of the discounted book stalls. This stall had an assorted collection of books, featuring fiction, non-fiction and a number of guides arranged in racks arranged around the 3 sides. Two tables were placed in the middle of the stall with a little gap to walk in between. The tables had a collection of kids books placed in stacks.
I skimmed through the books across the stall and found a few titles on the right that caught my eye. Both the entry on the left and exit on the right of the stall were blocked by people browsing the books on the shelves. So, I entered in through the middle of the tables and turned to the shelves on the right looking for the books that caught my eye.
There was a girl in front of me, who was also looking at the same shelf. She made to grab a small hardbound book with sketches from the second row, just as my eyes fell on the same book. It had sketches on the cover and I caught the title "Beijing" just before she opened it and started browsing through the pages covered with illustrations.
I waited for her to keep it back on the shelf, but was disappointed to find her hold on to it without a second thought. I had lost my opportunity to get the book. As I was wallowing in my regret, the girl had made her way out to the billing table. For a moment, I hoped she would leave it on the table, but she paid for the book and proceeded to keep it in her bag.
I rushed to the table and excused myself to the girl asking her if I could take a photo of the book. It would be good to have a photo to get it later on Amazon. She took the book out of her bag and held it with the cover facing me stating that it was such a cute book and she understood why I would want it.
The stall owner at the billing table looked on at this interaction with curiosity. He then stated that there were more copies and looked at the girl asking her if she had seen another copy on the same shelf. She shook her head and proceeded to walk away. I looked at the owner and stated that I had not seen another book on the same shelf and asked him if there was any extra. He replied that there had been two copies that morning and that maybe the other had been sold. I held out hope as I went back into the stall and started browsing through the shelves with renewed vigor.
I looked for a short hardbound book in similar form across the collection of books. I had almost given up hope when 3 shelves down tucked away in between the books was a copy of "Singapore". As I took the book out of the shelf, I could see that it was illustrated in a similar fashion to the other book and it looked like another book in the series.
I had found a copy!
I was overjoyed and excited. This copy was shrink wrapped and in mint condition. I had not found the same book, but it was good to be able to get a copy that was from the series. I later learned that the book was part of "Travel Sketches - A Journal" illustrated by the artist Tan Ping. Through his art and illustrations, he takes the reader on a journey along Asia's capital cities, exploring life, traditions and delights of the locals. What a find!
There are more books in his collection and each one of them seem to be a hard find.
Apart from this one listing on carousell, where someone was selling the above 4 books, I have been hard pressed to find a copy of "Beijing" online. I also made the mistake of not taking a photo of the back cover, which had the ISBN and the Image searches on both Google and Amazon have not yielded positive results. I am even more happy now to have at least acquired one of the books of Tan Ping's collection.
Every visit to the book fair in the past has had a fair share of browse and search. And every year, I find there are one or two books that make it all magical like those 3 copies of Inkheart that one year or the collected works of Shakespeare or the hardbound copy of Dr. Zhivago. I always seem to least expect it when I end up with what I find.
This year, I would say "Singapore" was a very worthy find with its illustrated storytelling from an artist's viewpoint. There were a few other books I picked up today that I would chalk up as a decent haul, but those are stories for another day.