Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Where are the book critics gone? Where are the book lovers?

Where are the book critics gone? Where are the book lovers?

Jeet Thayil, author of the recently acclaimed novel Narcopolis, recently derided Indian book critics saying that book critics didn't read a novel, instead they read other critics and if the general consensus is unsatisfactory then they also write a nasty piece. This is not book criticism, but book gossip and copycat journalism. 

Call it whatever you may, but the days of discerning critic of the past, who used to protect the reader and certain moral standards in artistic works is gone. The Times of India doesn't have a books critic or editor, instead they publish books themselves. Most newspapers don't have books editors, even if they have, they are themselves authors (or people with aspirations) who would gladly pillory a book, just because they see the writer as a threat. 

In this context it is difficult to believe that New York Times has a different supplement altogether for books and the arts. The Times of London has a Times Literary Review and the Boston Globe has a literary section. 

Newspapers in India that have been kind to books are few and far between. Mint does feature reviews, so does DNA (I have not been getting DNA for some days.) The Sunday edition of DNA had 4 pages of book reviews and I pored over these delicious offerings with greed. Outlook is the magazine to watch for book reviews and publishing trends in general. Certainly, the editor and the books editor should be appreciated for this.

Newspapers that don't feature books reviews are slowly wringing the neck of the hen that lays golden eggs. At least, that's what I think. Books may be difficult to handle, will clutter the well-laid office space, and may look incongruous perched on untidy desks. (Clean desk, eh?) But they also promote the reading habit and spread ideas and engender discourse which is crucial for a newspaper's development. Without books intellectual development isn't possible. The reason why most Indian youth don't read books of any kind is because they were not introduced to books through book reviews and discussions. Today, persuading a teenager to read when there is television and internet, is a nightmarish exercise. I tried to persuade my son to read, but the books are put away after a few pages with the excuse that they aren't interesting. Reading a book requires patience and perseverance and sometimes authors take a long time to establish characters and come to the point. 

Our public libraries are also dying: for funds, for patronage, for lack of interest. Most college libraries maintain their books under lock and key and if you want a certain book forms have to be filled up and reasons stated. The US takes pride in the number of libraries they have and how well they are maintained and run.

I was a member of the American Centre and British Council libraries till they shifted to various other places to which access is difficult. American Centre library functions from Bandra-Kurla Complex while British Council Library is situated in Lower Parel where walking on the street is a nightmare. May be, because they were so popular they decided to locate them in remote locations, at least, I feel that way. 

John is @johnwriter on Twitter and John.Matthew on Facebook. He blogs here. His Youtube Channel Page. His novel Mr. Bandookwala, M.B.A., Harvard.

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