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Readers are getting smarter, books too

brunch Updated: Dec 29, 2012 18:27 IST
Indrajit Hazra
Indrajit Hazra
Hindustan Times
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Reading is an act of telepathy. What the reader does is essentially follow another person’s train of thought, catch the images, dialogues and situations cooked (up) in someone else’s head: the writer’s.

In that sense, it’s a date between two people separated by distance and time across the pages of a book. The publisher is really a dating service.

But if over the last few years English language readers in India had developed a taste for variety – something that non-English language readers across the country have been familiar with for decades – going beyond the two ‘extremes’ of fun, lightweight campus stories or revved-up mythologicals and serious, crafted literary fiction, then 2013 will see readers getting engaging, as well as quality fiction ‘minds’ to read.

Publishers are no Sunday school teachers whose job is to proselytise good literature. But going by some forthcoming titles the coming year, one can see that a growing number of readers are demanding more nuanced, less run-of-the-mill books that are more than either time-pass or heavy reading. Enter accessible quality fiction. biggest Jenny off the block, Penguin India, for instance, has Pakistani writer Mohsin Hamid’s new novel How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia – the title itself a grin at the kind of DIY/self-help books that top the book charts – out next year.

Riding on the interest of Mira Nair’s film based on Hamid’s previous book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, that’s now playing in cinemas, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, is a story of a young boy’s journey from slums to entrepreneurship.

There’s a flirtation with militancy in between and a love for a childhood sweetheart, and it’s perfect reading for an intelligent, hungry reader demanding entertainment marinated in thoughtfulness.

HarperCollins India, already hoping to catch new readers of JRR Tolkien’s masterful The Hobbit as a tie-in with Peter Jackson’s cinematic spectacle, has French comic book writer Nicolas Wild’s Kabul Disco 2: How I Did Not Become An Opium Addict in Afghanistan in the pipeline.

The sequel to his graphic account of an expat’s life in a conflict zone, this reportage-diary narrative is funny and illuminating, with readers more ready for this kind of book now than they perhaps were a couple of years ago.

Publishers known primarily for focusing on ‘literary’ books are also responding to the demands of the new reader by underlining the page-turning powers of their writers. Take Bloomsbury India.

Apart from the multi-generational Afghan saga And the Mountains Echoed, a new novel by The Kite Runner writer Khaled Hosseini, the Indo-Canadian writer Jaspreet Singh’s time-shifting novel centred around the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, Helium, will be set on the table., even with its focus on non-fiction (full disclosure: I happen to be writing a book as part of Aleph’s writers-on-cities series scheduled for next year), will be publishing Shashi Deshpande’s new novel. Going by the sheer accessibility of the Sahitya Akademi Award-winning author’s writings in the past, 2013 should be when readers at large finally discover the joys of reading this underrated and under-noticed writer.

Readers are not as shy of reading interesting novels or even short stories any longer. If people had grown frightfully bored of ‘beautiful’ stories with diasporic characters flashbacking ‘home’ and dealing with life in a foreign land, or historical novels dealing with languorous prose and domestic snapshots, wonderfully written and crackling page-turners such a Mohammed Hanif’s Our Lady of Alice Bhatti, Manu Joseph’s The Illicit Happiness of Other People and Jerry Pinto’s Em and the Big Hoom have shown that high-quality writing can be far from boring. And ‘popular’ no longer has to be a euphemism for crap prose. are more meeting points as well as more kinds of meeting points for readers and writers these days. So even though you will have those How to Lose 20 Kilos in Two Days, Love in the Time of Facebook and The Curse of Shani still flying off the shelves, 2013 will see a more discerning, inquisitive, wanting-to-think-and-be-entertained bunch of readers sitting on the other side of the page reading the minds of more discerning, inquisitive, wanting-to-think-and-entertain writers.

Books and brains
1. Khaled Hosseini’s multi-generational Afghan saga And the Mountains Echoed
2. Courtesy the film, there may be new readers of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit
3. Mohsin Hamid’s How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia
4. Jaspreet Singh’s Helium is centred around the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi
5. Readers are more ready for a book like Nicolas Wild’s Kabul Disco 2 than they were a couple of years ago

Indrajit Hazra: The novelist and journalist’s last book, The Bioscope Man, was published in 2008. He writes the Sunday column Red Herring in The Hindustan Times and is consultant editor with the paper.

From HT Brunch, December 30

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