Saturday, December 03, 2011

Book Browsing

It had been a while since I actually visited a bookstore. Flipkart ensured that the kua came to the pyaasa, instead of vice versa. And as convenient as it maybe to order books online, the charm of actually walking into a store and browsing books is irreplaceable. The joy of randomly picking a book, checking out the summary at the back cover, reading about the author, flipping the pages and judging the book by its cover (quite literally!) is a pleasure of sorts. And so, I went to Reliance TimeOut a couple of days back.


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.

Amen!

10 comments:

  1. Well said. It has become so easy to get published and anyone worth two words is a writer. but that is true about any profession. There are hordes of actors and singers. But not all are Shahrukh or Lata Mangeshkar. Similarly these books will come and go. The real ones will stay

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  2. If you value your time and your life, don't even venture towards "Oh shit not again!" So upset was I after reading it that I wrote a mail to the publishers asking them why they bring out such trash in the name of books. ANd the problem witht hat book is not so much the story as is the editing. Horrendous!!

    And ya, after CB, everyone thinks they can write a book. Actually, anyone can. Whether it is good or bad is what matters. Like I asked in my book review of 'I'm not twenty-four', will joining an MBA ensure that I'll eventually write a book, somehow or the other? I won't say CB is a bad writer. He writes for a certain section of the society, who still buy his books, whatever his critics say baout him. But like you said, he gave way to a whole bunch of people who think that they can write a book if they know even a bit of English. He created a literary Frankenstein. :/

    And I seriously miss going to bookstores and randomly browsing and buying. :( I should make a visit soon.

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  3. Yes Arju, I agree with you there. The real ones will stay. But you see - the increase of mediocre writers have cluttered this industry. At least the writing/publishing industry wasn't widely accessible/available to all. It took some amount of effort to be published. But with publishing going 'democratic', now it's anyone's choice. It's a good thing in one way, because even the good 'strugglers' get a break faster/easier than before. But bad because it has invited a whole host of uninvited guests!

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  4. Oh no Divya, not to worry. I've sworn that I'll not try any more of those kinds. I read another one (sigh, when will I learn?) - it's called 'When The Marriage is made in Comedy Circus' by Deepali Basur. This was borrowed, and so at least that's wasted only my time (and not money!). That completes my trilogy of 'bad books'. That's enough chances to 'em!

    Seriously, publishers who encourage such things should be hanged!

    C-Bag (as he's fondly called) isn't bad. Actually, I enjoyed 'Five Point Someone' a lot (the only book of his I liked). But sadly, it spawned a lot of 'me-too'writers. As you said, 'literary Frankenstein'!

    Go to a bookstore soon. There's only so much 'random' browsing one can do online. It's much more fun going to stores and doing it :)

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  5. I love going to bookstores- I think my whole family does, so it suits me just fine :D
    And so true- after Chetan Bhagat, there seems to be so many books of the same kind :/ What irks me is that a lot of people claim to be voracious readers and all they've read so far is Bhagat, hahaa!

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  6. Exactly Krishna - some people have just read him! But, if it can get people who weren't into reading to actually start, then I think it's still good enough :)
    People should go beyond him and actually explore more.

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  7. I think, the analogy between the crappy movies being churned out and the so called trashy books being fed to us is quite apt..

    Part of the reason, I think, is, there is always a tendency of following other foot steps, doing something, which has been done successfully before. New ideas, New style of writing, innovative story lines, unique presentations, experimentation is virtually nil. And part of this blame goes to both writers and the publishers. May be publishers are afraid of printing something different, unwilling to take a risk from an unknown author and in turn the author sticks to the tried and tested formula..and this viscous circle engulfs us in the form of those books. Even that said, there is no excuse of the errors present in the book, which can put off any reader.

    However, there is hope, always that someone will take the risk, someone will write a different and a true book which will be appreciated by true readers.

    :)

    P.S - I am a vociferous reader. I have no ambition of getting published. :D

    Best Wishes :)

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  8. Precisely Kunal. It's easiest to succumb to a 'formula' that works, or invest in something that's safe and guarantees returns. And I am completely with you on the errors - that's actually unpardonable. The publishers can't probably change the author's language/style. But editing/proof reading is a 'hygiene' factor, to say the least. We expect a book to free from such glaring errors.

    Yes let's hope not one, but many 'someones' will take the risk!
    Thanks for stopping by here :)

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  9. Hi Vinitha,

    Sorry to hear you haven't been having any good experiences with Indian Authors. Would you be interested in trying my debut fiction novel 'Once Upon the Tracks of Mumbai' for a book review. For more details, please visit www.rishivohra.com. You can also get back in touch with me through my website. :)

    Look forward to hearing back.

    Rishi
    www.rishivohra.com

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    Replies
    1. Sure Rishi! I'm game for it. Do let me know how you want to take this forward. And... thanks for stopping by my blog :)

      Delete

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