Judging the book by its author
Today, everyone seems to be reading the same new books…
READINGS BY KALA KRISHNAN RAMESH
How do you do it? Your colleagues, neighbours, family and friends, how do they all do it? “I follow my nose,” says Dan Rhodes, author of Gold, “I am always on the hunt for the next book that's going to rock my world … my favourite thing is still going into a shop and coming out with something I'd never heard of. ” But if you stand in any bookstore, you're unlikely to see many people using their noses, they just head straight for the “new” Salman Rushdie or the “latest” Chetan Bhagat or the “most recent” Shobhaa De or the “new bestseller” from Paulo Coelho: it's a matter of judging every book by its author.
I remember that in the days when I first began to buy books, almost all the people I knew were looking for one that would somehow alter the way life felt or the way they conducted themselves in life, because we believed that books could change life. Maybe that was the Catcher effect — most of us had read Catcher in the Rye and Salinger's other books in our late teens, at the same time that we were beginning to buy our own books; Salinger undid everything we had believed about writing and heroes and even about reading. So maybe when we searched long and hard in bookstores — reading page after page of the book, not content with what the flaps were saying — we were looking for something that could stand up to Catcher, a book that could make us look at what else life was about.
It doesn't seem to work that way now: readers don't seem to expect books to make them want to see around life's troubled corners, or under its rough edges, they just want to be settled into their little slice of life, and are happy to read what everyone else there is reading. You “don't want to take a risk,” as software professional Veena Rao puts it, because “What if a completely new book, by an unknown author turns out to be disappointing? What if no one else is reading it?” Vidya Veerkar of Strand Book Store, Bangalore, feels that people in Bangalore — unlike in Mumbai or Delhi — are far less willing to experiment with new books because of a lack of maturity in reading, which causes a “fear of the unknown”.
It's like old money and new money: if it's always been around you, you develop an instinct about it, else you are never sure what the done thing is and you get all clumsy and heavy-handed. Many of the people reading now are not used to books, they have not inherited a graceful way of reading, their birthday gifts were not books, they did not have stories read to them, they did not know a library and most likely, they were never told that books could change life.
Once you get used to the ways of books, you don't get dazzled by the rush of publicity, or the author's reputation, or by who else is reading it; you prefer to follow your nose, like Minakshi Achan, Executive Creative Director and Head, South Operations, Rediff. She has “always read books” and enjoys the adventure of going past front displays in bookstores to the back rows where the surprises lurk or going online and browsing till something catches her fancy and she can order it.
Beyond the obvious
If you're naïve about books, you can let yourself believe many things: you might believe that if a book is being filmed, it must be good; you might think that “controversial” books have to be exciting or that a book by an intellectual will be intellectually stimulating; you might believe that a book said to be good will be good; why, you might even believe that all books coming out of the nation's capital are good books!
Books have always had real or virtual touts; in the days before printing, the rich and powerful waited in their courts, castles and abbeys for news of books-in-the-making to be brought to them by spies or travelling scribes, and then they commissioned copies or thefts or simply kidnapped the scribe! Eons after Gutenberg put letters to the page minus the scribe and Caxton machined copies, after virtualisation took words from pages and put them nowhere, we don't need to search for news of books — it comes at us from everywhere. And maybe we can't do without this news because books are one of our most effective social tools: they not only grease the way through interviews and group discussions and provide a word-hold into page three social groupings, but they are also a way for others to identify who you are and what you might bring up in a conversation.
Talking of which, there's a whole bunch of books that I'm eternally thankful to have been given for reviewing: David Davidar's The House of Blue Mangoes, Shinie Antony's Kardamom Kisses, Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan's … the list could go on. I imagine I might never have been able to look another book in the eye had I actually paid good money and bought those home, as I well might have, because they were saying such interesting things about themselves!
Following your nose in pursuit of a good book is to stop thinking of the world as a safe little place — gridded and mapped to its last inch — and of yourself as a groupie, perpetually on tour, perpetually following.
(The Literary Review)
Lastupdate on : Fri, 29 Apr 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 29 Apr 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 30 Apr 2011 00:00:00 IST
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