Street Smart

By: Ateeb Gul  

Unlike most other parts of the world, South Asia seems to have developed the tradition of selling used books on footpaths as a cultural signature. It is a society where the written word is respected because of tradition. It is a society where the word and the concept of street bazaar are considered to be dirty and impure and heavily associated with prostitution. It is also a society in which walking on something with shoes on, or even pointing the sole of the shoe in the direction of someone else, is considered to be highly disrespectful. And yet, every day for many decades, the footpaths in a heavily crowded and historic region of the city of Lahore have been adorned with old and used books for the purposes of selling them. Every Sunday, the footpaths on the historic Mall Road are filled with used books to be collected by prospective readers. From cheap novels to textbooks, academic works to fiction, popular literature to unique and rare first editions, one can find real gems of literary masterpieces on the street - without any prior knowledge of the existence of those pieces. The joy of inadvertent discovery is a staple of this exercise. This paper analyzes the historical, cultural, and social dynamics, and significance of this decades-old practice of book selling in Lahore.

Book-selling; Used books
Books and Libraries
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Ateeb Gul

Teaching Fellow and Senior Editor, Humanities and Social Sciences, Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Pakistan

Ateeb Gul is Teaching Fellow and Senior Editor at the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Pakistan. He is a graduate of LUMS and of the Boston University Editorial Institute. A professional editor, he has worked in prominent editorial positions in academic journals, in newspapers, and at the Lahore office of Oxford University Press.