A badass independent bookstore and formative force behind my love for reading as a young adult is the best way I can define Goobe’s Book Republic. If you love to read and believe bookstores are an important part of our culture stop by this hole-in-the-wall haven for those who feel naked without a paperback protruding out of their back pocket. I got a chance to chat with Ravi, the store’s owner, to discuss the struggle and joy of supporting an independent bookstore in today’s ever-growing digital age.
When you talk about something you love it’s hard not to sound like a pretentious douche, but I’ll risk it any day when it comes to great bookstores, especially when it comes to the Bangalore bookstore scene. Coming down from high school in Kodaikanal and grabbing a night bus to the city meant seeing my folks, mighty fine beer and staying at the now-retired Church Street Inn. The best part of the Church Street Inn was the basement bookstore Goobe’s, whose shutters are open to all book lovers . As a younger dude keen on reading I found Goobe’s subscribed (and still does) to this idealized image I had of a sort of quirky lost professor’s cabin with yellowed pages and the kitschy covers of old paperbacks overwhelming the room.
Walking down the stairs to Goobe’s meant descending into a place that would mesmerize my whole family. While dad went after George Pelicanos’ gritty crime, John Le Carre spy novels and perhaps look around for a Master And Commander novel to complete his collection, mum was flipping through a Murakami or whichever Douglas Adam’s book first caught her eye. And me, well I acted as if it was the last book sale in the world tucking everything from old comics to thick Tagore novels under my elbows. Those will always be happy memories for me, because no church, mosque, temple or (god damn) kumbaya drum circle ever paralleled that feeling of comfort and acceptance. Perhaps if reading was treated with the same wide reverence people have for religion people would understand how to interpret their own doctrine/s - a big if.
The point is, Goobe’s offers you more than a bloody vertical suggestion bar. You get to talk to people who know and love books and can turn you on to new reading paths that no algorithm can compete with.
Picking the brain of Mr. Ravi:
JM: What are some of the struggles of owning an independent bookstore?
Ravi: “Escalating commercial rent, drawing enough footfalls, competing with (funded) online behemoths, surviving long enough to develop a fanatic customer base.”
JM: Do you feel that there is a significant decline in book readers?
Ravi: “We have been running our little underground store for a little over eight years, we have been growing consistently till demonetization, the economic slowdown and major street works in the neighborhood, we are getting an upgrade, but will we survive long enough to benefit long term? That remains to be seen, we are fighting by getting out as much as possible, collaborating with curated cultural organizers, a school, a hospital, an NGO, we will go to any length to push books further.”
JM: How many people come through Goobe’s on a typical day?
Ravi: “Five to twenty, about 20-40 on weekends.”
JM: Is most of your business based on repeat customers or do you have a diverse customer base?
Ravi: “We thrive on mainly new customers, though we do have quite a big repeat customer base.”
JM: Could you explain the atmosphere of last year’s Book Crawl in a few lines?
Ravi: “Huge amount of people in a store at one point of time, a short talk about our history and an excellent amount of sales. I feel nothing but love for the organizers of the walk, we need more done, maybe even on a weekly/monthly basis. Make new acquaintances as well, one dude who was at the walk came over a couple of weeks later and brought a copy of Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon for me to read as we make it known that we LOVE Science Fiction, that is magic, connecting with people who have a kinky thing for books.”
JM: Why is the book crawl important to you?
Ravi: “Well, with the roadworks on for some time to come, footfalls have dropped and so have sales, a big group is like a busload of tourists hitting Disney world, they are primarily there for their entertainment, in this case books to feed their minds and the sales really go a long way.”
JM: Do you have any advice for independent book shops outside of Bangalore?
Ravi: “Fight the good fight, get into different verticals, grow, thrive, focus on what kind of books you like while at the same time draw a balance towards the customers reading palatte and most important of all be persistent.”
JM: We both know Goobe’s is chockablock full of great reads. Could you list off a few books and comics readers would be hardpressed to find elsewhere?
The Dog Barking - A graphic bio of UG Krishnamorthy (If you have any doubts about being and existing, this would be a great place to start).
Ringworld graphic novel based on the 1970 Hugo and Nebula award winning Ringworld novel.
V for Vendetta (may be easily accessible, but still one of my favorite graphic novels ever - it even has a musical score in it.)
The Death Note manga series is pretty sweet and bloody.
The Stars Are My Destination - Alfred Bester
Crash - JG Ballard
Invisible Libraries - Genevieve Cogman
Story Of Your Life - Ted Chiang
Snowcrash - Neil Stephenson
Any work from Aldous Huxley and HG Wells.