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So, where’s the reading tonight?

At bookshops nestled amid glitzy multiplexex, elegant lounges with celebrity readers. Lalita Iyer gets between the covers of the book reading fever.

books Updated: Jun 24, 2008 12:20 IST
Lalita Iyer

One for literature: Rahul Bose who read from Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies on Sunday night is also planning a film based on Mohsin Hamid’s Moth Smoke. He kick-started the trend of reading from books of substance.

It has been raining book readings. At cafes around the corner, swish lounge bars and resto pubs. At fancy lifestyle stores, theatres, audio-visual rooms, museums and library gardens. At bookshops nestled amid glitzy multiplexes. Some soirees are cheese-and-wine evenings amid elegant chaise lounges with celebrity readers. Others are no-nonsense the-book-is-the-thing dos. Lalita Iyer gets between the covers of the book reading fever.

Amitav Ghosh was in the city forthe reading of his much-dissed Sea of Poppies. Rahul Bose did the needful. The book has, incidentally toppled Jeffrey Archer’s A Prisoner of Birth in the fiction list. More recently, Jeffrey Archer read from his novel in six cities across India as a part of the Landmark Book tour. His name alone drew 500-1000 people at every city he toured. An average of 600-700 books were sold after every reading, says Hemu Ramaiah, founder and ex-CEO of Landmark.

A few weeks ago, the book reading of Shobhaa De’s Superstar India: From Incredible to Unstoppable was a page 3 mega-event, with Mr Amitabh Bachchan doing the honours. Never mind if some testy remarks followed in the blog sphere. Earlier, his recitals from his father Harivansh Rai Bachchan’s Madhushala have also been memorable. One such was held at NGMA over half a decade ago. Book is the thing A while ago, Karan Johar read for Shah Rukh Khan’s biography by Anupama Varma. Shyam Benegal did it for Ranjit Hoskote’s book of poetry, Vanishing Acts.

Manoj Bajpai did the read thing for Amitava Kumar’s Home Products, and Shabana Azmi for Gouri Dange’s 3 Zakiya Manzil.

Shabana Azmi supports books of substance, both in the fiction and non-fiction categories. Azmi and Javed Akhtar have been at the book releases of Meher Pestonji who has dealt with socialist issues. Azmi and Akhtar too have been keeping the memory of Kaifi Azmi alive, through readings of his works, and also from the evocative biography authored by Shaukat Azmi.

Aamir Khan has done the honours, occasionally, at an interview based book of Javed Akhtar by the London-based film chronicler Nasreen Munni Kabir.

Though opinion seems to be divided about the book events, Jerry Pinto, author of Surviving Women and Helen: The Life and Times of an H-bomb, believes, “Once you’ve got a big advance cheque or the Booker prize, like say Kiran Desai, you get the draw.. you don’t need readers. It’s only for first time novelists that the whole song and dance of the book reading becomes important.

“Getting a celebrity reader (read Bollywood star) is about getting the television cameras and news photographers there. It doesn’t really do much for the book, but once the Bollywood star is there — it means coverage,” says Pinto.

Bollywood aura
During the launch of Helen- the Life and Times of an H-bomb (which recently won the National award for the Best Book on Indian cinema) at Crossword in Bombay, Pinto was asked if he could get a movie star to read, which didn’t happen. So Pinto read himself with a few friends.

Hemu Ramaiah contends that an evening of ‘theatrics’ around the book release is important. “All writers are not good readers. Some are just shy, and would prefer others to do the reading. For example, V S Naipaul doesn’t like to read, and would rather have someone else fill in.

Usually theatre personalities make for good readers — they have great modulation and diction. In fact, when we launched Sudha Murthy’s Dollar Bahu in Chennai, a local theatre group put together a performance, enacting excerpts from the book — it really worked well.”

Point of view
According to Ramaiah, “Using film stars is debatable. It depends on how good their diction is. It can never bring in sales if the book doesn’t work in the first place. In any case any book reading does mean loss of business for the store — since a section of the store is cordoned off.

“Book readings are never about money— they are about presenting the writer to the reader.” Hemali Sodhi, General Manager, Marketing, Penguin India agrees. “We have never asked a Bollywood celebrity to read from a book just because they are famous. Sometimes, celebrities from theatre can make the reading really interesting by the added nuances they bring to it.

“If it’s a Bollywood-related book, of course it makes sense to have a film personality— it’s part of the aura and glamour that you’d expect from that book.”