A tale of two second-hand books

Second-hand books can be strange. Often it is the affectionately handwritten dedications on the title page that give me a start. Occasionally, all sorts of things tumble out of them - old movie tickets, grocery bills, postcards, handwritten notes - the works.


A book that was a Christmas present for someone in London in the 1930s somehow makes it to a second-hand bookstore in Bangalore and almost finds itself on my bookshelf. Surely it must have an interesting story to tell - apart from the one printed in it.

Here is another remarkable coincidence that happend this week. I picked up an old copy of Oliver Twist along with a copy of The 1982 Annual World’s Best SF. The 1964 edition of a 19th century Dickens novel shouldn’t ordinarily be related in any way to a compilation of science fiction short stories from 1982. But to my surprise the latter begins with Dickens’ famous lines from A Tale of Two Cities. Let me reproduce the first paragraph here:

It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” That was Dickens’ comment on the crisis of the 18th Century. It could apply now to the outlook for many periods of the 20th. There were the times just before the great wars - and just after. There were the times before the economic crisis that have racked this century… the times of ideological debate, of fog and confusion… times confronting the advent of surprising new scientific achievements.


January 30, 2010