A cry of joy or satisfaction when one finds or discovers something.
Reading is just one part of ‘the book experience’.
By default, a book lover is a book-store lover, because as much as a beloved book tells us a story, we also love our own private stories of finding the books we love, at the stores we love.
The process is an elaborate treasure hunt, but you don’t know at the start what the treasure will look like. Your instinct alone gives you your clues, taking you from ancient China to Silicon Valley to rural Assam, or even outer space. You find as much joy in judging a book by its cover as in unexpectedly finding a book that speaks to you despite its covers.
Sometimes, you choose a book more because of who owned it before – fascinated by the scrawled message on the first page or underlined passages and notes in the margins. At others, you notice a book because of who else is pursuing it, furtively seizing it as soon as they finish their own examination.
As the clock and errands quickly fade into the background, you settle down to the task of shortlisting and finally selecting the books that will go home with you that day. Experienced book-store personnel never flinch at the fast-diminishing stack of books that will finally be paid for.
The feeling – perhaps there is a word for it – is something only a book lover who is also a book-store lover can know.
Eureka! was the perfect start for my children to start their own journey
I wanted my children to experience this entire wondrous process too, but we live in a semi-rural town with no bookstore. So far, they had only bought books online. During the lockdown, stuck at my parents’ home in Delhi, I learned that the Eureka! book store in Delhi had re-opened in the GK2 M-Block market. I remembered the book store in Delhi from Alaknanda market ages ago, and I was super-excited to see it was having a second coming.
Eureka! now is a modern children’s book store in Delhi which has all the charm and character of the wonderful bookstores of yore; complete with knowledgeable staff, cozy corners to curl up in, and a resident stray dog. It’s filled with books, and yet, airy and roomy enough for children to sprawl out with their selections.
This is one of the few book stores in Delhi with a great collection of Hindi books from established publishers such as Pratham and Tulika, as well as English books by Indian authors (something that I rarely find in many bookstores across cities, let alone online).
They are also happy to get copies of books you want but may not be in stock. The owners, Swati and Venky, have mindfully curated a wide selection of books on every possible theme, from climate change to learning math, travel, and jokes. Honestly, who needs curriculum textbooks with books like these that appeal to all your senses?
Watching the ‘book experience’ unfold at Eureka! Book Store in Delhi
Both my boys (6 and 8) have all the classic markings of an avid reader.
Like me, they read 3-4 books at any point in time, bedside tables piled high. They have a scant interest in TV. They love to read in bed first thing in the morning and last thing at night. In the middle of tidying up their room, they will 100% get side-tracked by some long-forgotten book, plonking down where they are, chores forgotten. They re-read the books they love several times and cut every pretty cardboard box that enters our home into bookmarks. See what I mean? Classic markings.
But they had never been to a real book store and had a real book-buying experience. Until Eureka Book Store in Delhi!
At first, they really didn’t know what to do as we entered the store, standing around awkwardly and pointing out books they had already read.
Luckily for me, Swati took charge. She picked out books and placed them in front of my gobsmacked boys, saying, “Here, try this” or “How about this one”…and the piles of books steadily grew around them. For them, it was no less than being in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
She left them there to ponder their stacks, and before long, they were pulling out books from shelves like pros. In a couple of hours, they had each built their own stack. Turns out they were complete naturals at the process of scanning, reading, whittling, and choosing. It was glorious to observe them: sometimes it would only take a glance, and at others, several pages before they would decide on whether a book was worthy of taking home.
In the end, they made their own selections, undeterred by either Swati or my prompts. A few hours later, as we made our way to the cash counter, each boy protectively holding on to their carefully curated stash, I instantly recognized that look on their faces. Mission accomplished!
Two bookstores for the price of one
Much as I enjoy browsing the kids’ section myself, there is also an adult book section off to one side of the store. It is not large, but the fact that it’s even there in a children’s books store in Delhi is a considerate sign on the part of the owners.
As a bonus, the Eureka! book store in Delhi shares space with the CMYK book store, which houses several stunning design and art books and coffee-table classics. The cashier patiently waited as I got sidetracked for 30 minutes or so browsing the art books, before finally getting to my bill.
At check-out, there was one last surprise awaiting the boys. Venky, as excited as us about the boys’ first ‘proper’ book-buying experience, made it even more special by giving each of them a bonus book and several bookmarks. I happily took a small discount.
Can you blame my kids for only wanting to shop books at Eureka! book store in Delhi now?
The changing world of book buying
This was just my experience, but I was curious about what Swati and Venky, having seen thousands of kids pass through their book store in Delhi over the years, had observed about how kids choose books.
While she agrees that each child is unique and the process can’t really be generalized, age is definitely a factor. “With toddlers, parents play a decisive role, and they prefer simple activity books like touch-and-feel and lift-the-flap. Nowadays, these are available in a wide range of themes and genres, from how to be a teacher, botanist or paleontologist; to racism, managing emotions, etc.”
She tells me that slightly older kids like books in series. I know this is true because my boys have now been through most Geronimo Stiltons, Magic Tree Houses, and many of the Enid Blyton series.
“Of late, we have noticed a welcome shift in the acceptance of Indian books, especially from parents; as well as mythology, Indian and non-Indian,” Swati adds. I know this is true as well – my kids have read and re-read books by Indian authors, such as Woof!, Owlet Not Out, The Humangoose Family, and the marvelous Naturalist Ruddy – all discovered at Eureka!. We would likely never have discovered these gems on Amazon.
Other patterns Swati and Venky have observed are how friends, Insta, and Booktok influence book choices of pre-teens and teens, and how fantasy continues to be a big draw. The internet also influences parents, who often walk in with lists procured online. Venky adds that though there is nothing wrong with sharing experiences and lists, it cannot replace the act of visiting a book store in Delhi and discovering the right books for oneself. The look on my kids’ faces as we went through exactly that process at Eureka! book store in Delhi validates this perfectly!
Their top tip for parents of kids starting out on their books is to avoid imposing their choices on their kids. (I’m guilty of leaving my well-preserved Russian-era books and Target magazines around the house for my boys to ‘stumble upon’, but they would have none of it).
For parents keen to get their kids reading, they add,
(My tip here is to come to stores like Eureka! with at least a few hours in hand. You can’t rush this.)
Another great tip they share is to have younger readers close – on your lap or next to you – turning over the pages together. “This simple act will help the child associate the act of reading with comfort all their life”.
Eureka! book store in Delhi has had its own long history and journey from its start in 2003. Aside from setting Eureka! book store in Delhi as India’s first specialist, independent, children’s bookstore; they have also founded India’s first children’s literature festival Bookaroo which has travelled to 16 cities with 37 editions. They also now have an online store. I ask Swati and Venky what they would do differently if you could go back in time and re-do Eureka’s! journey.
“Eureka’s focus has always been on talking directly with children, empowering them and their choices. Given a chance, we would like to spend more thought on engaging with parents and teachers as well” says Swati, “But ultimately, it’s the fact that we have been able to bring joy to children through what we do that keeps us going!”
Book lovers who are also bookstore lovers couldn’t agree more!
About Chitra Iyer
Chitra is the founder of PolymathParenting, an online resource for parents to get more involved in their child’s learning journey and help them be more effective learners. She is also a business writer who publishes articles about customer experience (CX) and marketing trends for various digital publications.
She lives somewhat off-the-grid with her husband at their farm in Punjab, where they breed racehorses, grow their own food, unschool their two sons, and read a lot of books.
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Read the story behind the Bookstores Project by Himalayan Writing Retreat HERE.