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Updated: April 22, 2011 17:11 IST

World of books hardly lags behind

Meera Srinivasan
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Engrossed: Readers at a book store in Chennai on Thursday. Photo: R. Ragu.
Engrossed: Readers at a book store in Chennai on Thursday. Photo: R. Ragu.

It is not just the classics or the popular works in contemporary literature that are drawing readers. What is commonly perceived as serious literature is increasingly seeing more takers, according to those in the field of publishing and writing.

Serious literature, including non-fiction writing covering areas such as environment, health, Dalit, feminist or Leftist literature, is finding its way to the book shelves of many readers.

World Book Day

Ahead of ‘World Book Day' to be observed on Saturday, publishers and writers spoke about what seem like promising trends, particularly in Tamil literature.

V.R.J. Prabalan, proprietor, Oasis Books, stocks only those books that are often branded “serious” or “academic”. While it is not all that viable commercially, he says that his personal interest in such books drives him.

Pointing to readership trends in serious literature in English, he says: “The scene was very heartening until a few years ago. Now, there are a lot of books on various issues that are waiting to be picked up.” Observing that Leftist literature was seeing a lull, he says feminist literature has more takers, but the readership is still limited to a few academic circles and NGOs.

For young readers, accessibility of the content is an issue. T.Venkat, pursuing Ph.D, says this is where peer groups help. “A group of us reads such texts together. We find it interesting to discuss and engage with the content as a group,” he says.

Increasing cost of books, which is often attributed to the rise in price of paper and printing and the “discount culture” are challenges. Universities and libraries demand high rates of discount and publishers have begun anticipating this and increasing their price accordingly, says Mr. Prabalan.

Tamil publishing

The Tamil publishing scene seems to tell a different story. Kannan of Kalachuvadu Publications, says there is certainly a very good market for serious literature in Tamil.

He points to the success of ‘Kiruththvamum Saathiyum' (Christianity and Caste) by A.Sivasubramanian that, he observes, reads like a dissertation. It was re-printed six times. “It looks at caste clashes, court judgements or so called dry matter, but has done remarkably well in the market,” he adds.

Translations of good writing in other languages also find eager readers, Mr. Kannan says. Translations of the works by Nalini Jameela (who wrote about her experiences as a commercial sex worker) or Malayalam writer Basheer do very well.

“I don't think readers of Tamil books make the distinction between translations and originals works. ‘My name is red', the Turkish novel by Orhan Pamuk is a favourite for many. We translated the English version to Tamil.”

“Flourishing”

The success of Tamil books mirrors some larger trends in Tamil literature itself, says Sirpi Balasubramaniam, executive board member and convener of the Tamil advisory Board, Sahitya Akademi.

“The field is flourishing in terms of quality in writing and business. It is almost like another Sangam era. Classics are being reprinted. Short stories of writers such as Pudhumaipithan are seeing multiple editions. Many publishers are re-printing the works of Jayakanthan, Sa. Kandasamy and Asokamithran,” he says.

On other genres, Mr. Balasubramaniam says the patronage is equally encouraging. Dalit literature, including the works of writers such as Imayam, Azhagiya Periyavan and Bama, is building a good repository on the lives and reflections of dalits.

“There is a transition from giving accounts of one's problems to giving a perspective of a Dalit's life and relationships. There is some very powerful writing coming out,” he adds. Feminist and post-modernist literature, and poetry are seeing some valuable contributions. “Folk and Tamil Diaspora literature is enriching the Tamil vocabulary with rare usages and powerful metaphors.”

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Meera SrinivasanJune 28, 2012

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