Saturday, August 23, 2008

Where are the Good Books?

I have done enough empty reading. Why are these books even written? The private lives of unknown, non-existent people shredded apart, tears spilt, promises made and repeatedly broken, captured on television or as cinema, money spent, plenty of precious hours wasted- this is how I'd describe pulp fiction. For that is what I feel many of these 'bestselling' paperbacks are. Someone in America creates a huge fuss over how 'heart-rending, gut-wrenching and powerful' some amorous story is and puts it on the Top Ten list of half a dozen American newspapers. Soon, it becomes a 'must-read', a book you cannot miss, a book that has changed people's lives forever and will continue to do so for ages to come. The author sells 897 million copies, becomes the highest selling author in history ahead of JK Rowling and Danielle Steel (some yardstick), wins a handful of unheard of literary prizes. Then there is chick-lit- books expounding on the life and times of youngish women of urban upbringing, suitors aplenty, with a satisfying job and designer tastes. If the book is Indian, the protagonist is probably an IIT/IIM product or a software professional. With language that would send a purist to an early grave. Where have all the good books gone?

This rant is extremely unjustified to contemporary writers who produce genuinely good fiction. They are not really hard to come by, if we look carefully. The culprit here is a sense of guilt that over the past week, I spent quite a while flipping through dramatic, empty-headed books- I couldn't resist them. That is how they are made. Tantalising and irresistible, like the forbidden piece of rich chocolate cake. Thankfully, I didn't spend all my time on them. Sense prevailed, and the silly stories existed only on the sidelines, to be 'read' when the brain absolutely refused to delve or analyse or think. Part of what I've said, though, I do believe is true- how else could the blurb on every different author's book call him or her the best thing ever to have happened to literature?

Going off on a tangent, can certain kinds of reading be voyeuristic? The question popped up in my head as I was reading Howards End a few weeks ago. I was extremely eager to know how Helen would act next, what would happen to Margaret, to this interest in other people's lives, fictional though they might be, unwarranted? Or is it just that books give us the comfort of finding people in similar situations and hearing them say what we have always thought but never found the words to express? It is a wild, weird idea, indeed, to call reading voyeuristic. However, I want to know what drives this curiosity to know how a person's life turns out, to be interested in sin, guilt, revenge, retribution and romance. Is our reading a reflection of what we really are, inside? Does it rip open the facade we unwittingly exhibit and show us our desires, ambitions and baser qualities? This is something I need to work on.


dinesh kapur said...

An observation: Books by Tom Holt, always have a review by the Daily Mirror (I think) - 'Outrageously funny' and another line work in tandem.

I am not saying he is bad - I have enjoyed the books written by him, but yeah everyone is great going by the jackets.

Purists? Hmm ..

Are we what we read? Hmm ..

Jaya S said...

Think. Let me know. Because I'm just as confused as ever.

Ashwin Raghu said...

"is this interest in other people's lives, fictional though they might be, unwarranted?"

Why unwarranted? Isn't curiosity about other people one of the basic human qualities? What is wrong with that, or unwarranted? Is it that somewhere we are equating this kind of natural, human interest with the celebrity-esque interest and voyeurism that is all around us today? Yes that kind of voyeurism is overboard and base and spurious, but does that make curiosity itself (and voyeurism itself) bad or unwarranted? I don't think so. It is human impulse, even animal impulse, to 'look' (to 'stare') when something happens around us, maybe just someone on the road passing by. In my book that is completely natural. And finding that same curiosity, voyeurism, interest in other humans, while reading a book (just as when watching a movie or hearing a friend tell an interesting story) follows naturally.

Jaya S said...

Ashwin: I don't was just something I got thinking about one evening. Excessive curiosity, though, can be unsettling- that is perhaps where discomfort creeps in.

Uzma said...


Since am an ardent lover of books and the worlds that beckon within them.

Books, good books, however we choose to define that, are worlds in themselves. And any permeation into any world,will leave one with a taste of new life , experience and hopefully growth. It broadens the mind to horizons unknown, its creates emotions and their purgation or even enjoyment.

To me, books teach of life and learning. Making one think, what is the purpose, what is the story, what does all this ultimately culminate into?

Good books teach me, of myself; uncovering veils, of life; uncovering secrets and wisdom.

And to suggest a good book, 'Eat, Pray, Love' by Elizabeth Gilbert. From what I can make out of your writing , you will like the book very much.

Do keep writing .

Oh am also from Hyderabad. Did u go to St Francis College by any chance. I feel like I know u .


Uzma said...

Oh the question, are we what we read?

I think it works both ways.

We are what we read, and we read what we are. Sorry for the riddle but its my truth.

Lets see.. We are what we read .'in that if we choose to learn , adapt, imbibe and be effected by what we read, that books make us , so some extent.

And who are are, our interests etc is what we pursue in our choice of reading.

Books influence the young mind just as the world outside, and he then chooses to read books that interests him

Its about choice then, we choose maybe subconsciously to get effected , or to ponder over what we read, and we choose also to read a particular genre.

Ideas effect us. In books, in life.

Sorry for the rant. But let me know if u agree. Would like to know and have an interesting conversation.