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Updated: July 10, 2012 17:25 IST

Five point revolution

Catherine Rhea Roy
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WHAT YOU READ Is what you are?
AP
WHAT YOU READ Is what you are?

Woe to the reader who has to read self-indulgent, childish claptrap in the name of light literature. Are publishing houses responsible for the dumbing down of the reader, wonders Catherine Rhea Roy

There is joy in the narrow aisles of a bookstore, the smell of fresh ink and the comfortable weight of an unwieldy book that is in its umpteenth print cycle. There is also much delight in the yellowing pages and weakened binding of an old classic that belonged to someone else and the voyeuristic thrill of somebody else’s personal message that was scrawled with a loose hand and careful thought.

“Don’t judge a book by its cover; instead judge the reader by the book. The latest trend of quick, on-the-go reading has made reading base. The beauty of reading lies in what you take away from it and what can one take away from books that read like rehashed Bollywood movie scripts?” says bibliophile, Sr. Marion, who swears she has carried a book in her bag everyday for the last 30 years, just in case.

These books are cheap, hastily put together without much thought, and target an audience that is not used to reading. “Rushdie or Byatt are not everyone’s cup of tea, so light reads are fine as long as they are grammatically correct. They don’t cause any harm since their target audience is mostly non-readers and a seasoned reader will not trip on these. Hopefully, those who start on these will eventually become more serious readers,” says Vanishree Mahesh, the owner of EasyLib.

The dumbing down of books began with the fairly intelligent and hugely successful Five Point Someone by Chetan Bhagat. The phenomenon has snowballed its way into the bookstores and has claimed for itself a whole section that publishing giant Penguin proudly calls Metro Reads. Metro Reads claim to give the readers respite from books that weigh us down, and books with complicated stories, books that don’t ask for much time and that don’t have to be lugged around.

“Penguin Metro Reads has established itself in the market as the brand for commercial fiction. The commercial fiction market has grown exponentially in the past five years, so yes, this market is sustaining itself quite well and growing,” says Vaishali Mathur, Senior Commissioning Editor at Penguin, India.

With titles like Love On The Rocks, Love Over Coffee, Losing My Virginity And Other Dumb Ideas, What Did I Ever See In Him, and brightly coloured cover art that will catch your eye, these books are packaged to attract the new reader. Vaishali explains, “While commissioning commercial books we look at the target readership and the content, and packaging is so that they find it relatable and want to read the book.” This is also a space for new authors, with publishers being more willing to take a chance on them. “Everybody is looking for that one book that sends the publishers laughing all the way to the bank. The readership is youthful and there are all kinds of new writers, some of whom are just terrible, so getting published is not as hard as it used to be 10 years ago,” says author Anita Nair.

Smita Jain concurs, “The publishing industry in India is just starting out and they are hungry for content.” The author of Piggies On The Railway calls these books “guilty pleasures”, and reads some of them from time to time. Most of these books narrate self-indulgent coming-of-age stories, which usually mirror an upwardly mobile class and lifestyle, and the genre has grown exponentially over the past decade.

Mayi Gowda, proprietor at Blossom Book House, Bangalore, says, “There is constant movement of these books that fall under light literature and they are very popular, mostly among readers who fall in the age bracket of 16 to 25 years.”

These books are lowbrow, too packaged, and lower expectations; it allows people to be satisfied and content reading formulaic writing. Anita says, “Any creative art form is supposed to make you think and extend yourself. These books don’t do that, they just fill the hours and you don’t take back anything.”

People may read for several reasons, we read to remember and we read to forget, we read to live and to grow and make our worlds more complete. And books — they can be a teacher, a companion, even become a part of you. Books can change your life if you will let them.

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"These books are cheap, hastily put together without much thought, and
target an audience that is not used to reading".
Well, isn't it better to have something instead of having nothing?!
Agreed, they do target the non-readers, but at the end of the day even
that non-reader is also reading something instead of wasting his time
in so many other activities. This can motivate him to read more and
more over all those hi-fi books are not cool anymore among the youth.
He may read the so called good literature for years but its just the
waste of time if it doesn't make any sense to him. I started with
Chetan Bhagat's five point someone and once I was done with all his
books, I moved on to Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. If I had seen this
book before reading those so called cheap books, I would not have
touched it. I can surely say that the influence made by these Indian
authors is much more than that of those hi-fi authors, NOT in a bad
way though.

from:  Shiva
Posted on: Jul 11, 2012 at 22:37 IST

Good books are defintely the place where one can find the solace even if one happen to come across right books which matches their fequency it will provide the solution to mundance problems. By reading books of eminant writers like Munshi Premachand or Tagore one can realy appreciate the life in differnt perspective and also answer the deep mysteries of human life which otherwise it will be difficult to get expereince in our short life time.
Most of the time it is not clear what one likes but curiosity will definitely take us their.

from:  Sidram
Posted on: Jul 11, 2012 at 17:38 IST

Its wrong to say that these books have no take away, one should not generalize. They have some message surely, around which the story is built. But Agree, if you are looking for enhancing your Language quotient, then they are not the ones.
I think, the onus is more on Publishers, They don't want to take risk with new authors, so simply they will ask to pay them, now which has become a business model. Unless they raise the bar, budding writers will have easy way to get it published.

from:  rakhi s
Posted on: Jul 11, 2012 at 17:08 IST

"The beauty of reading lies in what you take away from it". True. And yet so ironical. Hasn't the author or the quoted 'bibliophile' come across a book which talks about respecting others preferences/choices? If reading Joyce and Bronte fosters holier-than-thou attitude, it is a wasteful exercise on the part of reader.

from:  Prateek
Posted on: Jul 11, 2012 at 16:21 IST

If books reflect the time and society in which it is being written, then it is a very scary world out there in terms of the richness of life is considered. Today life has been reduced to gadgets and comfort. The modern day authors all haling from well to do backgrounds portray a life with rose tinted lenses. There is nothing more than narration of events, every day routine, very little philosophy to make you stop short and ponder on what the writer has written. While Bollywood is primarily producing commercial movies, there is some experimental cinema which catches your attention. A similar wave has yet to storm the literary world in Indian society.

from:  Vatsala
Posted on: Jul 11, 2012 at 15:48 IST

It's also the other way around.
Demand for such literature has also increased as "reading" has developed
into a fad for a lot of people.
And something to fill the "interests" section of one's page on social
networking sites is a huge bonus lol....

from:  Kunal
Posted on: Jul 11, 2012 at 14:59 IST

English not being the native language , the median english language proficiency is low . Partly explaining the demand of such books . They
readers in future will surely evolve , one can't read formulastic novels
for long
This is just a temporary phase and will surely pass .

from:  Ishan Nag
Posted on: Jul 11, 2012 at 12:52 IST

I whole heartedly complement ' The Hindu' for its sincere attempts to improve the minds of its readers. It is culture that distinguishes civilization from barbarism.
It is the family environment which influences children in their formative years. The parents are the role models for children to emulate.
Our modern culture which gives excessive importance to material success is not conducive to a harmonious development of the child's personality.
Our educational system should also be suitably amended so that it can produce world class scientists, authors,poets and scholars. Children should be encouraged to think for themselves and be taught to be independent at an early age. Their teachers should be able to spot the latent talent hidden in every child and allow it to be developed to its utmost capacity. Originality should be encouraged and rewarded.
There should be debating societies in every school. Primary education should be in the mother tongue with English as an optional language.

from:  Umesh Bhagwat
Posted on: Jul 11, 2012 at 12:29 IST

"Five point and their ilk" have brought down the readers intellect in
every way. I can very well say now I'm moving towards being 'dumb'.
Nowadays even sleaze has become core content. For long we did not have
'C' grade books in English, though they were omnipresent in
vernacular. These books only fill that gap.
However I do not buy into the argument that readers will start with
these and go on to become serious readers!
Those who read these types of books will remain there and there isn't
even a faint chance that they will graduate anyday!

from:  Subash
Posted on: Jul 11, 2012 at 11:46 IST

Well written. And aptly timed article.

I don't know; who are serious readers or as you might pen 'seasoned
readers'. I enjoy reading and don't look for particular reap from it.
I am not much worried about the book size,grammar or complexity .

Its true that most of the short reads are written for fun; but I've
experienced serious thought provoking in such books too. Many a times
the matter itself is not quantitative.
The reason maybe;
lack of available sources and resources,
scientific stuff are short and sweet,
reach to large audience.
Most people(including me) feel a need to have books which are written
in simple English. As u quip, these may later lead to reading serious
stuff books(where again i find myself dumb).
I am now on a search for what kind of reader am I.

nevertheless; great article; great read for me.

regards,

@jyoti rishi: True,young writers try to connect with young
readers.Again the liberty lets them choose among various subjects. And
ditto to readers.

from:  vijaykumar
Posted on: Jul 11, 2012 at 10:51 IST

This trend has started since the harry potter series to the latest
hunger games where the content is too simplistic and engages the reader
through excessive marketing campaign and hype.

from:  Arjun Nair
Posted on: Jul 11, 2012 at 10:30 IST

I totally agree.Book-reading has dissolved into the larger picture of today's fast-paced, hectic lifestyle. the so-called "metro-reads" may be a commercial success but they lack the sagacity to make a reader "think about it". Instead, these books are falling into the same rhythm of the "quick-pick-me-ups", which are meant to be downed, and thrown-up,with no remedy for the hangover. Books and Reading should play hand-in-hand like connecting the mind to the soul; to nourish, fulfil and indulge in all the pleasures, which spring therefrom

from:  Uma
Posted on: Jul 11, 2012 at 10:27 IST

This is really unfair to say "dumbing of books". Because it is these books that give an initial push and enthusiasum for a person to start reading. Infact these books have created a huge group of people who have never read novels. It is the initial stage of reading.
From here on a reading thirst develops and the person starts reading more and more, ending up with good creative books.

from:  Vignesh
Posted on: Jul 11, 2012 at 10:11 IST

What's wrong if we read so-called "childish claptrap"?! Not everybody can digest Salman Rushdie or Vikram Chandra. And nobody is forcing us to read these books, so a condescending attitude does not bode well. Atleast we are not pretentious enough to keep on reading even though we don't understand a word of what is being said!

from:  Divya
Posted on: Jul 11, 2012 at 09:26 IST

in my opinion , all forms of art is dependent on the appreciation
they recieve , indian authors are not much different in this sense and
in this process they create a faux pas which is very easily reflected
in their work . I think its actually a insult of rushdies to try to
compare these writers with the likes of Ruskin Bond or Rushdie . we
need to accept that to satisfy the palate indian public you dont need
to possess literary skills , the very same fact can also be seen in
indian movies where most of the blockbusters actually lack substantial
story , if we can accept the fact that cheap substandard movies are
accepted in our society then we should avoid the criticism of indian
authors

from:  saptarishi
Posted on: Jul 11, 2012 at 00:16 IST

A very nice article by Catherine and a very acceptable comment from
Jyoti. There's one more reason why books based on teenage emotions sell
more than mature books, the working class do not have the time to read
many books while the student generation use these as a guide to their
love-life.

from:  Rohan Gupta
Posted on: Jul 10, 2012 at 22:43 IST

Yes I second the situation. The chaos the the present generation
plants around it's life forces it to seek some support and that is
what these 'one-time-readable' stories provide. Books are, at least
for me, to take oneself in some other world and not to recreate the
same drama of which you are a part. However, the Indian writers are
not appreciating the same style; and neither the readers do. The
solace can be brightened up with happiness if the Indian writers are
able to build up a stage different from what resembles the current
society. I, as a reader, read books to delight the 'escapist-me' and
not merely to feel OK by reading some sad life-story.

from:  Guarav
Posted on: Jul 10, 2012 at 20:41 IST

I think author forgot to mention the vital decision maker for buying these books The price. i really plays a very important role anything near Rs 99, 129 and 159 is more attractive than above Rs 300.

from:  dilip
Posted on: Jul 10, 2012 at 19:14 IST

yes I agree to this story but there are many other factors.Young people
have a lot of freedom now a days and due to that they become impulsive
, impatient and go through many situations, make mistakes which they
cant share even and their mind is too young to shoulder the
responsibility of each and every action of theirs..So when they read
stories which are correlated to their lives in different ways , they
find a kind of solace in that and try to figure out the solution to
their situations.Young writers though lack in maturity of russian
classics etc yet touch young hearts.There is no scarcity of books
.People are free to choose and moreover books were always written
according to that era .Russian classics depict iindustrial revolution ,
womens condition and poverty etc ,and now a days life is too stressed
due to ever increasing competetion , break ups , freedom to take
independent decisions ..So , perhaps it wouldnt be right to criticise a
writer .

from:  jyoti rishi
Posted on: Jul 10, 2012 at 18:41 IST
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