A few days ago, I came across these two posts by Jai Arjun. Both are rather old posts, but the issues raised in them are still pertinent, especially in the context of the reading bug that has bitten me since the beginning of the year. Now, I am not expert in literature, but I do read rather a lot. My taste in reading ranges from Jeffrey Archer to Salman Rushdie to Paulo Coelho, and I don’t mind experimenting with books. Jai Arjun’s posts set me thinking on what books are deemed read-worthy and what are not. Personally, I would, as I admitted read any book once. If I like the genre and find the author even remotely interesting, I’ll probably read the second or the third. The first link is on the end of pretension in publishing. While discussing the democratization of publishing in India, he says that literary critics often tend to lose sight of the possible directions Indian Writing in English could take in the coming years. I agree that literary critics, especially those who critic for a living tend to be rather partial to what might be termed as literary works. But, beyond the obvious definition of literature to most lay minds as serious, even boring writing, the second post on literature being often considered as “pseudo-intellectual” provided much food for thought.
As a student of literature, I tend to agree that much of what we considered worthy of being classified as literature is serious writing. Rarely, if ever, is any book on the recommended reading list of a literature student unless it wins some sort of award. I also distinctly remember cribbing that Midnight’s Children was eminently unreadable despite having won the Booker of Bookers. I also remember telling a friend that no matter how interesting the style, it just did not cut it for me because it did not manage to hold my attention the way a lot of serious literary works have in the past. I also plead guilty to considering books by Chetan Bhagat and the likes of him (referred to by Jai Arjun as dude-lit fiction) as nothing more than pulp fiction. While I enjoy the occasional chick-lit, Devil wears Prada-type fiction, I really wouldn’t consider adding it to my must-read list. I suppose the authors Jai Arjun interviews would consider me a bit of an intellectual snob! And I plead guilty. While I don’t belong to that group of people who wouldn’t go near a Chetan Bhagat book with a ten-foot barge pole, I also don’t think he is worth discussing or taking seriously by anyone who really loves books. The other extreme that Jai Arjun talks of is even more interesting. This equating of literary fiction with pseudo-intellectual and therefore boring, is also something that I disagree with. A lot of literature is extremely interesting. One of my favourite books is not even a novel: it is a play. Andromache by Jean Racine is the one book I have read again and again over the past 5 years and it is not even in modern French. It belongs to the 17th Century and there is something so appealing about it that even 300 years later, there is someone who finds it interesting.
What I find intriguing, and perhaps even a wee bit distressing, is that authors would want their books to be priced low because it shouldn’t eat into the going-out-with-girlfriend-to-coffee-day-budget! And even more distressing is the intention behind writing easy-to-read books: sells thousands of copies, make a lot of money! I agree that a lot of people do not read because they find it too boring to read. I also agree that the likes of Chetan Bhagat have brought the reading habit to people who wouldn’t have touched a book in their lives without a gun held to their heads. But, this trend of writing books just to make a quick buck is something I will never be able to understand or empathize with. I want to write a book some day. I don’t know if this is going to be fiction or non-fiction, humorous or serious, literary or pulp fiction. But, I do know that when that happens, how many copies my book sells will be the last thing on my mind. Much like writing a blogpost, I will be happy if just one other person in this world (apart from my publisher and editor of course) took the trouble to read the book and give me feedback. Maybe because, for some of us, writing is not a profession, it is a passion. Pardon me if I am being ranting right now because the idea of equating books to cup of coffee with girlfriend, as some of the writers themselves seem to be doing, is too much for me to take. And yes, if I have a thousand extra bucks to spend, I’ll probably spend it on books rather than on coffee….unless am having coffee with someone like Ameen Merchant! 😀