Saturday, December 03, 2011
I did a lot of aisle shopping (a la window shopping). I walked around the store (for a full one hour) – that I didn’t buy anything is another matter altogether! Fact is, I need to feel compelled to buy one; almost as if the book owned me (and not the other way). So despite all the Wodehouses, Archers, Sparks, Austens, Dickens et al vying for my attention – I walked out empty-handed.
But I was surprised to notice a whole section of ‘Indian’ authors. A section boldly proclaimed – Indian Romantic Novels. And I was dismayed at what I saw. Why? Here was a stack of books of ‘budding’ authors (mostly first-timers) and I am disillusioned by that kind. It’s because I’ve been disappointed trying to read one such ‘author’. This chap, Sumrit Shahi got published at 17 (can you imagine?) and I saw so many rave reviews (and ignored the bad ones) on Flipkart, that I was benevolent enough to give him the benefit of the doubt. I aspire to get published myself someday (me and my modest dreams!). I thought that it’s only fair that I should give a newbie a chance. And nothing best summarizes the decision of buying his debut novel ‘Just Friends…’ than this one word – regret. It is more than evident that it’s written by a 17-year old. It has a boy and a girl (how different!) and the theme is friendship/romance (no surprises there!). His style is revolting and I finished it just because I paid for it (that’s 81 bucks I’ll never see again!). Prior to trying this book, I had enrolled for a book review program at BlogAdda as well, and got a book (supposedly poetry) to review – Musings of a Wanderer by Shreya Chatterjee
Pretty much the same experience there as well. Once bitten, twice shy – they say. Not so in my case, apparently. I don’t want to generalize, but I really don’t expect much from this bunch of writers. After a certain Bhagat struck gold, hordes of IIT, IIM-grads have taken to getting published. No kidding! I checked a couple of books and it definitely had the IIT/IIM or *some B-school* tag. And it is all formulaic, especially the new crop of writers. The plot normally circles around a girl, a boy and their confused love V/s friendship relationship. There will be a bit of trials or tribulations, if at all. And a predictable ending, I guess (without reading, there’s only so much I can say!). The book itself looks tacky – poor selection of colours, fonts and layout. The typesetting is horrible – the fonts, margin, spacing et al. As for the editing and proof-reading, the less said the better. Typos are commonplace in such books and it looks as if no one took any real effort in going through the text with a fine comb. And the titles make you cringe, smirk or leave you plainly surprised.
‘Oh shit, not again’ – I said. Viji asked, ‘why what happened?’ Nothing had – I was just reading the title of a book! I read a whole host of titles, which were more like sentences – and if any of you want to amuse yourself, I’d recommend you visit the nearest bookstore.
I understand that these are not big publishing houses and they probably have their limitations; but compromising on quality on all fronts is not justified – especially the content. I feel like drawing a parallel to the film industry, where crap movies sell and if the movie makers are quizzed, they reply, ‘yehi bikta hai boss’! Some people would hold the audience responsible for the kind of movies being made. Similarly, a section would like to hold the readers accountable for the quality of books. But to me, saying ‘We make what the audience appreciates’ doesn’t hold good entirely. It is not correct to under-estimate the depth and breadth of the readers’ knowledge or awareness. There are really well-read people who constitute the general public, and under-estimating the reader is a folly in itself.
But again, that brings me to the ‘well-read’ population. I have no clue how big (or small) it is – but the real question is how many people actually read? And read a lot? Maybe part of the fault is with the audience after all; if you’ve been a frog-in-a-well all along, you would tend to believe the well is indeed the world. And that must explain why average to below-average books wear the ‘National Bestseller’ tag with pride. And given that any venture would want to reap benefits, scores of such books manage to get published.
There was a time when I thought getting published was a big deal. Maybe it still is, in many ways. But somehow seeing that any Tom, Dick or Harry is getting his book out, maybe I am losing faith in the sanctity of the printed word.
I don’t think I am going to any conclusion with this. But the way I see it, the onus is on the readers, the writers and the publishers.
• Let us be well-read, so that we may truly acknowledge and appreciate good work; and know to differentiate the good, the mediocre and the trash.
• Let the authors be challenged to say something new; or something differently. Let them be pushed to reinvent what they say and how they say it.
• Let the publishers be motivated to publish what is good; and not just what sells.