Taking the soul out of reading

first_imgWhen was the last time you went to a bookstore? Many book lovers today visit the online options because the collections there are vast and the prices competitive. But do you remember the time when buying a book was an experience in itself – was more than a purchase? Those were the days when a bookshop was an El Dorado of ideas, for books are nothing but the ideas of the world, both fiction and non-fiction, and any visit to a bookshop was an adventure. You would get your hands dirty with the dust on the covers of the titles at the back of the shop, or on the highest shelves. You would come into the store with one or some books in mind and spend hours looking at very different volumes that would have caught you eye after you entered. Eventually, there would come the time, that heart-breaking period, when you would have to choose what you would eventually buy and what you would keep back on the shelves for the next time, as you were sure there would be a next time – a time you were terribly sure would not be long in coming. Even the packaging of books, in recent times, had become a simple brown paper bag so that there would be no impediment to your reading the moment you came home and fished out your purchases. Also Read – ‘Playing Jojo was emotionally exhausting’With the online bookstores the tactile pleasures of holding a book in your hand disappeared totally. You would not be staggering to a corner to sort out your selections. Nor would you make a place in a relatively open space to lay out your choices. Instead, you would click on a volume and get to read a blurb and see the front cover and a flattering review which is bound to be positive, a marketing exercise only, and not a real evaluation of what you would peruse. Another drawback of online shopping is that you would have to know what you want when you come to the site. The pleasure of browsing, of tarrying at the shelves, of going from one section to the other, would be denied you. The adventure that going to the bookshop used to mean, would be no more. You were dependent on the site’s notification of “Those who browsed this book also looked at…”, and you would be sure that this was another thinly veiled marketing ploy showing off other titles available at the online store and not really an organic mapping of your personal preferences. If you knew what you wanted and would like to close the deal in minutes flat, then online shopping was just the thing. But it was not the real McCoy. Not by a long chalk. Also Read – Leslie doing new comedy special with NetflixYet, they were, still, bookshops – a little different from the real shops you would have to step into and squeeze past piles of books to enter. Giant bookstore chains are quite another thing altogether. These behemoths were built to cater to the bestseller reading clientele and writing mafia (yes, I am calling it that – the churners out of bestsellers who do not turn a hair about whether their works stand the test of time or even be considered literature in the first place. Isn’t pulp fiction the kind that eventually gets converted quite quickly to pulp?). What is worse is that our India has a desi version of these pulp writers who just cannot be shut up no matter how vitriolic the voices against them are. They manufacture a book a year and also appear on mass media to air asinine views on subjects they have no clue about. In this, they are different from their western counterparts who do not want to ever influence public opinion.Just the other day, I was passing a stationery store in one of the southern station of the Delhi Metro and was horrified to see the title of the only two rows of shelves they had in a corner. These books came under the proudly proclaimed category of “bestsellers” – as if no reader would have the indecency to want anything else. This reminded me of the heartless, characterless chain bookstore juggernauts that are mushrooming across the world and also in India, squashing out the small bookshops which used to stock books of great variety and value. These bookshops offer hundreds and hundreds of ‘non books’, bestselling trash written by ghost writers under the names of celebrities. Love of literature they have no truck with. Much of their space is given over to garish gift items and greeting cards, tasteless, over-expensive stationery and some pens that cost more than a housemaid’s monthly wages in India. Haven’t you bought a bestseller lately?The author is a writer and documentary film-maker who lives both in Delhi and in Calcuttalast_img

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