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.