My Rite to Read

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Tuesday, December 20, 2011

IQ84 stays with you, even if you may not want to pick up the sequel

Haruki Murakami captures for me an ageless world, obsessively introspective to a T. Each of his characters,  as mystical as the other: An aspiring writer, a female late-adolescent delinquent, a policewoman, a writer like dyslexic teenager, men in power, men without power --neo-human oddballs trapped in steamy lives as close to nature, as far from order. What moves me is the restraint and controlled dialogue between characters, stemming from the author's own discipline, I began recognizing and falling in love with in his previous work of non-fiction, What I do When I talk about Running (Harvill Secker), which is of course, a stringent (but no less warm) insight into the transformation of a non-runner into a triathlete, and how this coincided with if not exactly spurred his writing journey.  

'Decent Motives don't always produce decent results. And the body is not the only target of rape. Violence does not always take visible form, and not all wounds gush blood.'

Book One traces the interconnected lives of protagonists Aomeme and Tengo who with their altar characters in their professional and private universes are living elevated lives, the base for this trilogy. This first book is not a mystery story, but the mere backdrop for a mystery which thickens around an incident or a series of incidents, in fact a massacre, or perhaps several massacres and hitherto concealed religious crimes and heinous acts of violence perpetrated by a religious commune called the Sakigake--which sounds "more like the kind of name that would be attached to a Japanese super express train than to a religion."

Daunted by their own misery memoirs, protagonists play police and criminal, adopting and stripping ethics to suit their goals, as we follow a teeny bopper dyslexic author's curve to celebrity, her academic guardian, a grandiose expansionary editor, a restrained schoolteacher and ghost novelist, and a daring woman whose only salvation is her one-sided love for a boy she has never met since she was ten which she likens to the Tibeten Wheel of the Passions--"as the wheel turns, the values and feelings on the outer rim rise and fall, shining or sinking into darkness. But true love stays fastened to the axle and doesn't move." Can one rewrite history in order to fix the present? Is there another world with two moons that has a history different from our present world with a single moon? And can only the gifted few have access to both worlds?

If George Orwell's 1984 coined the famous Big Brother gaze,  IQ84 seethes with hegemonic 'Little People' who are constantly policing the way we view history, the future. The technological awareness that graces this story, is a bit too advanced for it to be actually set in 1984. However, the violence, conversations, characters with Murakamian sex and criminal pathos, all add up to a slow, gripping read.  It sent a few chills down my spine, and had me shrieking once the lights went out. "Crime was not the responsibility of the person himself as that he was led astray by moonlight," explains the least forthcoming character in this book, after differentiating the lunatic (someone whose sanity is temporarily seized by the moon) from the insane (someone with an innate mental problem) to her boyfriend.  

This book has spiritual finesse with all the predictable leads that come from synthesis and perfection, and while I may not exactly run to pick up book 2 and book 3, I am certain of a linguistic feast and emotional retreat from the ordinary.  Moreover, Murakami's characters visit me in my sleep and waking hours: because a Murakami character has no character greater than that, ie., he/she is a Murakami.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Travelling for a bookshop, reading for a destination

I travel towards books, and if I could, I would travel for a living, towards books. This December, to get away from all the distraction offered by myriad festivities, I set about scouting book couture, in the heart of the  Scottish highlands. 

I visited Aberfeldy in Highland Perthshire last week, to stop at UK's independent bookshop of the year The Watermill. Home to three stories of books including a contemporary art studio at the top and cafe in the basement with a fireplace, the Watermill sees a daily quick turnover of travellers, readers and backpackers. Every floor churned my travelling juices. The by equal parts messily stacked and equal parts artsy decor with books overflowing from tables was attractive, when not a grim reminder of the price of estate. The ambiance was that of a gift shop's, with everyone, Christmas shopping here. There were no discounts, but more variety in books than you could imagine in all of the Scottish Highlands here. Move over Scotch and chocolate, the average European wants a warm happy read at the end of a festive supper.  
Gift Books Signature Jamie Oliver!
International titles

Tintin mania and an iron chest

Books are the gateway to a city's culture, economy, and industry. They drive a city. Bookstores in the UK I have visited so far have been mostly chains, high street retailers and the odd independent bookstore. The Watermill by far is the most picturesque and self contained store, with a gleefully sustainable turnaround of footfalls including roadside travellers, youngsters and seniors alike (although I did not notice any children and an entirely empty children's book room), book club members, working men and artistes. A large section of the bookshop's lists are devoted to travel books and unique indigenous travel books, guides and anthologies that are exciting and heartening to who wear their map on the sleeve. Titles that caught my eye separate from the Lonely Planet, Rough Guides or other commercially popular series, were travel accounts like: At the Loch of Green Corrie (Quercus), How to Climb Mont Blanc in a Skirt (One World), Map Addict (Collins) among several others. Uncluttered by festive decor, yet retaining the spirit of all season charm, this inspiring venue has been awarded 4 star badge by the Scottish Tourism Board for the Year 2011.   Run by a couple from London Kevin and Jayne Mayanje, who after sending off their children to university were hillwalking in Aberfeldy Perthshire when they stumbled upon the Grade 1 listed oatmeal mill spread over 4500 square feet, built in 1825 and were attracted by the business proposition. While the stone exteriors of the building were intact, over £330,000 worth restorations were made inside the building to make it what it is today-- a thriving functional business, where lights are run on the live functioning watermill. The couple also runs the Homer homes and Gardens,  'vintage decor' shop in Edinburgh. Some of their vintage collection items are on display and for sale in The Watermill too. For instance the Tokyo based, Mahayuna series of lights including the one (pictured below) called the Goben now priced at about £369. A complete must-visit for traveling art fans, serious tourists and bibliophiles. 

Bestsellers and prizewinners

Local Global Fare

Modern fiction and Seasons' Greeting Cards

Hearth Warming

Art Studio and Exhibition

Audio Bookshelves

Art Titles from Phaidon Press, Aperture Foundation, etc. light is sourced by the watermill in function

Crime Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Young Adults

Cafe and Bakery: food served until 16:00 and bakes and drink until 16:30. You can lounge until bookshop hours 17:00.
Goben from the Mahayuna series of Lights 

Getting there
The train from Stirling to Pitlochry is about one hour and follows the route: 
Stirling-> Bridge of Allan -> Dunblane -> Gleneagles -> Perth - > Dunkeld -> Pitlochry

Pitlochry Station: Recycled Garbage man bin not an uncommon sight in Roundabout Crossings all over Scotland

Pitlochry tracks

Walk to the bus stand on the main street in Pitlochry and wait to board 23C to Aberfeldy which includes a transfer of bus at Ballinluig . The second bus (also 23C but labelled 'Aberfeldy') takes you straight to Aberfeldy. 

Detours after Ballinluig: If, however, you want more value for your entire bus return ticket, you can get off at Grandtully from Ballinluig and arrive at Loch Tay (you'll see roadsign 'GRANDTULLY') so stay tuned to the road because the driver does not know you are unfamiliar with the route and won't stop unless you warn him in time). At Grandtully, visit the Highland Chocolatier opposite the bus stop :) and relish in the delicacies of homemade factory chocolate. 

GRANDTULLY: LOCH TAY and a Weak Bridge

Opposite Loch Tay and bus stop: Scottish Homemade Chocolate Center rolled in real fruit, spices and malts too many!

The bus from here on is infrequent, and by the hour (every 45 minutes or so), so time your hour to savor meaningful moments in the Legends Coffeehouse, or watching films on the making of cocoa and the world map of chocolate. Once done, hop back onto the bus with the same ticket and look out for the Dewar (pronounced dew-aar) Distillery. Request the driver to drop you here, and  run (the door for the tour closes  at 15:00 in the winter). Students get a whiskey tour for as cheap as 7 pounds, here, and there are more blending experiences that aren't too expensive and quite memorable. Now that you've settled in with the warm fuzziness of  malts, straighten up and bolt along the road, keep going straight (there is only one main road!) until you hit Chapel road, and continue on straight through the City Center of Aberfeldy, cross the square, and suddenly on a meandering right lane downhill you'll  spot a postcard pretty Stone dwelling, with the sign The Watermill. You have reached your destination!  

An offshoot lane from the main street, miss-able if you're not looking

Caveat: Buses are filled with locals and schoolchildren. Tourists rely less on public transport and arrive in couples or groups at the most and that too in private vehicles or group hires; but if you're solo and can sync your times with the pressure of public transport timing, you might just succeed with flying colours! People are calm and helpful if you get talking nicely, and won't bother you because they know you know your path. 

Why Stirling: I live and study in Stirling, Scotland's ancient capital.  Trapped in the love triangle with Edinburgh to the east and Glasgow to the west, all my travel is based out of this town that homes about 40000.   

An Indian city equivalent: This might sound cliched but I do sometimes see Nainital in Scotland, a country as colonially influenced, as pristine, and as fiercely independent in couture and consciousness. Uttarakhand, UK license plates are all that are missing. 

Image courtesy: The Gazetteer for Scotland (2011)

Also, even in this age of the (free) internet: Culture can never be free. Aye. So you better be sure what you want, exactly. It might very well be worth the expense. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Saltire Appointment

One of India's gameshow millionaires spent his first million, in search of a masters degree in Scotland! This was revealed to me by Cabinet Secretary of Education and Lifelong learning in the Scottish Parliament His Honorable Mike Russell, in an elegant gathering of internationally diverse Commonwealth, Saltire and Chevening Scholars. An alum of University of Edinburgh, Mr. Russell asked what my postgraduate degree was about in Stirling, and I said an MLitt in publishing studies, at which he smacked his lips, saying "perfect!" adding that he had written seven books and that he had several more in the pipeline! The stately National Museum of Scotland, was home again to its annual ceremony commemorating diversity in education on its run up to St. Andrew's Day.

Cabinet Secretary of Education and Lifelong Learning: How do you address an 'Hon'ble MP'?

Others from different universities were intrigued about my subject being publishing studies as opposed to publishing itself, at which I offered that my course was tailored around the trends and topics within publishing that involved not just publishers but also agents, book historians,  gameshow publishers,  social media scientists/artistes, book e-tailers among several other niches. 

Patrick, PhD in Sports Psychology, on the prowl for parliamentarians

Universities, like corporate houses, are integral to society, and look for huge markets like India and Africa to recruit from. In the US, efforts are usually invested at getting/targeting any or all kinds of students, be they undergraduate, postgraduate, doctoral or diploma students. But here in Scotland, I noticed a focused  effort to attract the post-graduate international student, someone who is far more capable of enhancing UK's post industrial economy with their professional skills and expertise, than nubile freshmen in cold water. This works both ways, undergraduates find greater undergraduate study-abroad opportunities in the USA, Canada and Australia, and feel more assured of post study work permits in these countries as compared to the UK which recently repealed its post study work permit program for international students (non-EU nationals). 

India and Malaysia are active hubs for recruitment for Scottish Universities and Mr. Russell himself had returned from his trips to both countries the last month. Students I met were mostly from China, Africa Canada and India. An all-male contingent of Chevening scholars were accompanied by members of the British Council. Commonwealth scholars, hailed mostly from Canada.

University officials were a friendly lot to chat up with,  them, in the habit of recruiting students on a constant basis through conversations. We were bid bye with a lot of cheers and good wishes for Hogmanaynot New Years eve, as we were reminded! I returned home the proud owner of a lovely Saltire key ring.

Visit Scotland: Gearing up for times ahead

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

When Books Don't Cost a Thing

We get told every day, BOOKS are Dying. WRITERS will die. Booksellers will die. Publishers are dead!
Man's love of  apocalypse might be older than the Mayan Calendar, but some superstition, is better than none, I say. Books will and shall continue to exist, even if we are 'addressing a demographic' that's strictly USA, the UK and certain parts of the EU, even if we're talking about 15 years from now.

Edinburgh based Electric Bookshop runs a quarterly event on book technology and literary culture at Inspaces, on Crichron Street. This time, part time literary agent and dedicated ebook publisher of crime fiction, Allan Guthrie, talked at length about his mid life professional start up Blasted Heath. Ebooks are the end of all woes for the artiste according to him, in a time where societal anxieties about culture dissipating in the claws of the internet are rampant. His basic pitch was that digital publications undercut the bureaucracy of print, long winded processes of going through middlemen and unimaginative systems that do not understand niches, and the lines between author and consumer have blurred in a way that makes e-reading, e-writing, and e-books if not profitable, at least a whole lot sustainable. Was writing ever a top paying job? No! Everyone knows that only 10% of UK's writers make enough money to do without a day job! Then why the sudden panic with the advent of ebooks, he questioned?

Allan Guthrie in Conversation
image courtsey:
Guthrie said the USP of his publishing was pulse pricing of e-books, and that price could serve as a perfect marketing strategy for products like his! That is, you take popular books, price them lower than usual, and float them at that discount for a limited period, in order to hook overwhelming sales.  Barely over a fortnight old, Blasted Heath ran its first ebook launch week offering a free ebook for download, each day! For those who missed the opportunity, 99p is the promotional price on his first line up of ebooks until the end of November. With tactics like these his group will soon make it to the Big Seven, he jokes in earnest.  The average price of an ebook should be 2 pounds less than its Hardback; the average price of the ebook online is at 9.99 pounds. 

Short stories go undervalued in print editions, and people (and publishers) judge the value of a book by the number of chapters it consists! Such value consciousness disappears in the ebook format, as customers reel with the plethora of choice in widely (and uniformly cheaply) available short stories in numerous electronic formats. 40K Books is another Italian epublishing company that has talked about the short story being the Hero of the Digital Age.

More and more conventional conglomerates and independent publishers are making eforays and acquiring e-lists and imprints to meet the increasingly fast appetites of e-consumers (and readers!). Random House's Story Cuts and  Quercus' Head of Zeus imprints are quick recent examples of the revival of short fiction in e-formats.

The points Allan covered were: 
  • Short stories (in ebooks) will sell like cupcakes on Christmas
  • Marketing of Ebooks should focus on price pulsing
  • Ebooks are author-friendly, undercuts the bureaucracy of print publishing
  • E-artistes live in hope of reaching the consumer directly, no middlemen attached
  • Will "free culture" really stimulate "paid for" culture and facilitate more paid-for content? 
  • Piracy will coexist and perhaps even boost higher sales especially in parts of the world where affordability and access affect literacy; but the internet is a sweat shop
  • No DRM on Blasted Heath books will offer easy access and readability
Allan Guthrie's own crime fiction novel "Slammer" (Polygon) is priced at 1.99GBP in The Works, and offered for 5 pounds as part of a set of three books of one's choice! I couldn't help but wonder if  there was such a thing as value for money in books? I would never buy 3 books for 5 pounds because I always know, the store is tricking me into buying more than I need. Chances are, there is always only one book you really want; and the discerning reader knows that. 

Ewan Morrison takes on the rise of Free Culture and the End of the Book
image courtsey:

The drama hiked up a notch when Ewan Morrison (pictured above) novelist and columnist famous for his predictions on the end of the book in Edinburgh's book festival earlier this year,  tackled Generation Y head on. The attending demographic was a fair mixture of males and females 95%  falling between the ages 17-35 years.

The more book events became related with technology, (like guests being welcomed on an ipad at the reception of this particular function!) the more men will gather at book related events traditionally dominated by the female demographic. Men are seen with gadgets, women are seen with books. With the advent of all things digital, something in the reading experience might be neutered. We are living in our heads, inside the prison that is the internet. Andrew Keine's documentary, says we are policing our own lives, living in mutual consent.

Morrison set up the uncanny equation of Amazon versus the highstreet as equalling 5 books produced by million people versus 1 million books created by 5 people! 80,000 books alone were sold in the past month by Amazon alone. If all books began etailing at 99p, the Big Four will have to clamp down on prices, compromise, warned Morrison. Unless you are a service provider, you will not make money! Famous for his postmarxist perspective on why free culture is killing the livelihoods of artistes, breeding an "economy of resentment," Morrisson sparked off criticisms and debate on the ills of Y culture, the irresponsible consumer, and increasingly caged netizen desperate to be somebody, if only successful

'The Shelf life of a book had fallen somewhere between that of milk and yoghurt'                                    Jason Epstein on the Amazon effect

At the event most guests had downloaded out of copyright videos on YouTube (78% of its content is pirated) in the past year. Was this going to stop? No. Was this going to push artistes out of business, by undervaluing Culture? yes. Was Generation Y guilty of killing off the gatekeepers of culture and gluttons of Free Art? Heated debate ensued. 

I am a strong believer that readers will continue to buy books; they may watch less television but they won't read less on the internet. More people surf the internet than watch television in the UK. While the Web may displace television, there is little relation between watching television and reading books, confirms Jason Epstein.

Fueled by optimism and peppered with a healthy cynicism of what has essentially become a culture less appreciated, and worse monetized, the event pulped much insight on new media and its exploding limits. 

Allan Guthrie and Ewan Morrison will continue their debate at an SYP event on 29 November 2011.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Let the Original Stand?

Stet (Granta Books) comes recommended by every publishing professor to every aspiring editor. Diana Athill, the wise nonagenarian and most legendary editor with over fifty years in the business is quick to claim her caste of "London dwelling, university educated, upper middle class English people who took over publishing towards the end of the nineteenth century from the booksellers who used to run it," in what is a slow, absorbing story of her life and times as an editor. A good book, is often decided by members of the caste Ms Athill warns you fairly early on in her narrative, and the 'god's eye view' that rides publishing, usually that of the wealthy patrician Englishman. Her memoirs of an underpaid life of zest and a mundane obsession with books and their worlds are a grounded recollection of her time in the trade. She reveals, "books have taken me so far beyond the narrow limits of own experience and have so greatly enlarged my own sense of the complexity of life: of its consuming darkness, and also thankgod of the light which continues to struggle through." The modest beginnings of her life in Oxford, or as a lighthouse keeper who toiled the midnight flame for Andre Deutsch through the thick and thin of an incestuous friendship and working  relationship, all unfold with easy progression. Diana questions and conforms with the myth of women being addicted to working for satisfaction as opposed to promotions or more money. Beneath the dust and moneymindedness of the bourgeois trade practices sparkle moments of a tough minded editor's honesty, repealed from all that gender induced politeness. The truth is simple as to what steers high sales:

'Thinking up' books on demand is one of the idlest occupations in all of publishing. If an interesting book has its origins in a head other than its author's, then it either comes in a flash as a result of compelling circumstances, or it is the result of someone's obsession which he has nursed until just the right author has turned up. Books worth  reading don't come from people saying to each other 'What a good idea!'. They come from someone knowing a great deal about something and having strong feelings about it."  

Ms Athill's memoir is a completely dressed down take of a life in publishing, with prolific connections, liasons of money, sex, heresy, etc. Prejudice flavored the intellect, if intellect was the "yeast of evolution." Diana profiles her relations with other staff,  publishers, authors, partners, patrons and other (mostly) men in suits to reveal much about her amicable personality coexisting with editorial perfection.

Part one of the book charts the beginnings of Deutsch's entrepreneurial stints with snatches of lurid exciting life from the gentlemen's world of publishing. I was unable to empathize with a narrator who cared little for the tangible or material fruits of recognition.  So understated is the memory of her own rise in a profession so mousy to its women in her time, that I am grinding my teeth hopelessly until I am thrown by surprise at the futility of my quest.

Part two of the book takes on a completely different energy, freer, perhaps because this is where she moves away from the rigid structures of office and commerce, and describes at length her interactions with her authors, detailing in other words, her actual work and what she is famous for, 'being an editor', not a publisher (as she has herself warned you in the first chapter of the book). Ms Athill's interactions with authors like Jean Rhys, Brian Moore, Alfred Chester and Mordai Richler are snapshots of rejuvenated brilliance that attire book 2, be it through nursing or midwifery with authors as mentally sick as Alfred or whimsical, mad as Naipaul. Her witness bares critical and often engaging analysis of author management with spiffy notes on editorial jurisdiction."Perhaps novelists are so often good at gossip because --like God with forgiveness - c'est leur metier," you can hear her chuckle.

The only reason I picked up Stet was for the number of times it came recommended. As a reader, I was distracted by how underpaid and exploited she remained throughout the book, as a guardian and caretaker of Andre Deusche Limited  and her stout refusal to ever back out or ever command her true price. The politics of the commercial workplace (not specific to the 40s when the company was founded), determined you remained if not a mere agent of somebody else's ideas, an ordinary pawn. Do unmarried women, bear the weight of the world more than they have to? Diana's wisdom and humor are a gentle reprieve from what is otherwise an all consuming uphill journey that Athill makes no bones about.

Embedded below is a high quality video of a photo shoot prelude to Diana's upcoming work Instead of a book.
The writing is elegant and classic, witty and learned, a testament to her times in the brave old world of ink. Her marketing nemesis may not be Alison Baverstock, who offers a slickside contemporary view of the glam (and not so glam) street in publishing biz, but the latter is often thrown up as lighter, modern day voice tweeting texts that span the present and future of books.
Seeing books as a  mass market item

The Book Marketing Bible, slightly obsolete 

P-School for Dummies or a P to Z guide to luring employers

Friday, September 30, 2011

Deciphering the 'Dude' of Gods

This August, I spoke with author Amish Tripathi in Mumbai about his Shiva Trilogy, devotional fiction set in Jambudweep or ancient India,  that has attracted a big following with devouts and atheists alike! A Vodafone Crosswords Award shortlist this year, Amish was cool enough to share insight on his novels, publishing, and the God of many hats, Shiva: 

You were an MBA graduate in a regular job, the marketing head of an insurance firm, working your way out to becoming a literary sensation overnight! Was it in the stars?

The book happened to me. I didn’t plan it. I had absolutely no creative bone in my body. I was more of a sportsman when I was young. I had written absolutely nothing prior to my first book (The Immortals of Meluha), not even a short story in school, just some bad poetry here and there. But… the trilogy started as a philosophy book. When I showed the first draft to my family they said it was boring, and asked me to convert it into fiction; to narrate an exciting story and let the philosophy come along with it. So I began writing fiction for the first time in my life. My friends and family are shocked that I made a profession out of writing. So am I!
How did you find time to write in your 9 to 5 world?

Actually, in Financial Services, it’s a 9 to 9 world! I used to write the book along my office commute. In Mumbai you have long commutes and I utilised my Mahim to Fort journey—an hour-and-a-half drive each way—sitting in the back seat of my car and typing the story on my laptop. For the second book—I had taken a holiday in Munnar, wrote 12-13 chapters in fifteen days. I am an early morning guy. I wake up by 5:30-6, do my pooja. Exercise for an hour, eat breakfast. And then write. Even during my alone time, my book plays out in my mind and I am always thinking about it. But I do need music when I’m writing. It sets the mood.
What is The Secret of the Nagas? How important is the chronology?

The Secret of the Nagas begins from the exact moment where book 1 (The Immortals of Meluha) ended. The Shiva Trilogy is one continuous story broken into three books for convenience. The three books are not independent stories by themselves. To draw a comparison with films, if you see the Godfather trilogy, you will be able to watch each independent movie, without seeing the other. But with Matrix, there is one continuous story that is broken into three analogous parts. Shiva Trilogy is like the Matrix in that sense, if you read the second book without reading the first, you could hopefully enjoy it but may not quite get the entire story.

How have you understood Shiva, in your new age trilogy? 
I have understood Shiva as He came to me. He speaks about issues that I feel strongly about. Issues like women’s emancipation, honor killings (there’s an incident of that in The Secret of the Nagas). I feel strongly about the evil of casteism — that you should be judged by who you are; not by what your ancestors did or where you were born, but by your own karma. I feel strongly about all these issues and they emerge in my books.  I have written this trilogy at 3 levels—one is at an adventure/thriller level, love story hai, tragedy hai, drama hai, it’s a good pacy read (or so I’ve been told!). Then there’s a deeper level where characters are making statements about issues that I feel strongly about: like how immigrants are treated etc. Then the third level is the core philosophies that I want to convey (remember, the book started as a philosophy treatise)—my philosophy of what is evil, why it exists and how it can be destroyed.

So what is your Argument against Evil?
The book’s philosophy was inspired by something I discovered many years back. In India, we all know that Gods are devas and demons are called asuras. What we don’t know is that for the ancient Zoroastrian Persians, their gods were called Ahuras, and their demons were named Daivas--the exact opposite! The god of the Indians would be a demon to the Persians. This made me wonder, what would happen if the ancient Indians and Persians met each other? They’d call each other evil, right? Would the Persians be right or would the Indians be right? Of course, the answer is neither. Then what would be Evil? An answer occurred to me as a philosophy. And when I began discussing this with my family they said, write about it. And so began this journey! Through the Shiva Trilogy I am trying to convey this philosophy. But philosophy by itself is a dry cake and not too appetising. So we need the icing of a story to make it more attractive.
How have you organized your research for the trilogy?
One way of looking at it is that I have done no specific research for the trilogy. Another way of looking at it is that I’ve been doing research for 25 years, because I have been reading history books, since as far back as I can remember. I am deeply passionate about history. I would have been a historian, if there was money in it. But sadly there isn’t and it is difficult to meet one’s financial responsibilities on the earnings of a historian.

Are you addressing a special target readership in your novels?

See, I wasn’t trying to be an author, there’s no strategy I came up with. And authors shouldn’t. They should stick with the purity of their story. An author shouldn’t care a damn about whether a story is saleable or not. The moments he does, he corrupts his process. Be absolutely true to your story. Once the story is complete only then should and author put on a marketing hat, and think about ‘how do I make this kahani sell’? Personally, I am very involved with every stage of my story, as it evolves into a book and after, with all the promotional activities.

Do share some  feedback you get from readers and fans?

I get 70-100 messages a day, and I try to respond to all. It’s a pleasure to read them! I get emails from old people, who used to be scared of God, and after reading my book, they say they think of God as a friend. I get emails from children as young as 12! One email said, “I used to think Shiva was my grandmother’s god, but I now I think he’s very cool, he is the ‘dude’ of the Gods, ” which I think is a very apt way of describing Lord Shiva. I get emails from women saying that Shiva is an ideal man, and that they wish they could find their own Shiva. I get emails from Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Jews, besides Hindus and that only goes to show the innate secularism of the Indian reader. We are a secular country and there is a deep respect for all religions in our tradition.

What kind of a reader are you?

Voracious. My favourite authors keep expanding as I read more. I love Ramachandra Guha’s books. But in fiction I like philosophical books like Ayn Rand, Wilbur Smith, Raymond Fiest and JRR Tolkien.

What are your thoughts on this new wave of self-publishing, and sudden spate of do-it-all writers armed with business acumen and strategy tilting the old scales of power?

I am new to publishing so I may not know all the details of this industry. But from what I know, the publishing industry looks down upon those who self-publish; they call it “vanity publishing”. I don’t agree with that at all. In my mind, a guy who is self-publishing is an entrepreneur – as they are people who put their own sweat, blood and money where their mouth is. My suggestion to authors who are rejected by publishers: If no one is backing you, you have every right (in fact a duty) to back yourself. We are a free country. We should make our voices heard. I don’t understand what the fuss is about regarding self-publishing. If a Nagesh Kukunoor can pick up a camera, make a film and release it, then why can’t an author write a book and self-publish it? Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of a democracy and every voice deserves to be heard.
So, what is going to be the challenge for Publishers going forward?

Physical distribution is going to remain solid for a while because E reading has not yet taken off in India. The e-reader, priced at Rupees 12000-14000 apiece, is expensive for Indians. I have a theory that the sales of small gadgets take off when the gadget’s price equals one month’s per capita income. E readers have to come down to that level i.e. around Rs 4000-5000. Once that happens, the markets for e-readers will explode. Once e-readers explode, then publishers will be facing severe challenges as authors will be able to reach out to consumers directly at a cheap cost. How they adapt to that change will be an interesting journey!
And, what about Book Retailers?

When you walk into a bookstore today there may be a specific book you don’t find, so you end up buying something else instead. But in the age of the e-reader, every book will be available easily off the web, and in every possible language!! However, that e-topia is still many years away and for now publishers and physical bookstores still have a lot going for them. But they must prepare for the future.
How religious are you?

I was a typical corporate person, headstrong, competitive and aggressive. All I was bothered about was the next promotion, the next increment, comparing myself to my batch-mates. Frankly, I didn’t appreciate how kind fate had been to me. However, I found that as I became more religious, I started understanding what a beautiful family I had, and started valuing my life every day. Even at my office, I became calmer, less stressed, less aggressive. Funnily enough, this coincided with the most successful tenures of my corporate life! Faith in Him did not change my world. It actually performed an even bigger miracle. It changed me.
When does one reach God?

There is a God within every single one of us. When you reach your inner self you reach god. Unfortunately, we surround our inner selves with a lot of nonsense. The answers that you are looking for are all within you. I’ve tried to convey this philosophy through the speech of Har Har Mahadev in The Immortals of Meluha. Har Har Mahadev, All of us are Mahadevs.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Misadventures of a Hungry Logophile

Dummy, dummy.'

That’s what they called me in grade school. When I came home crying as if death was imminent, my parents consoled me with their heavy European accents, “Sticks and Stones can break your bones but vords can never harm you.” Maybe Vords can’t but words do—and they did. I didn’t cry as a child from the slips and falls and bumps as much as I did from the words that so often wounded me, restrained me, emboldened me, embarrassed me—the words that shaped my life."

That words can elate and damage beyond repair is the essence of this achingly witty romp through the life and times of an interbred interfaith invincible celebrity young woman with a lexicon that has shaped her in more ways than she can repent! Aliza Davidovit offers a rich titillating read into the life of a Jewish American with Parisian roots, and strong heartstrings to family, hearth and her singlehood. The Words that shaped Aliza, could very well be the words that shape you or me in her situation. Her conversations yield from the mundane to the Wikipediac with entries like “something”, “lie” and Kakorrhaphiophobic, all in the same breath! This is more than just a single (ie., digitally single) girl’s To Do list, of Words to Conquer, Dump or Throw out the window, but the rants of a life very surmountable. Career pangs, cousin rivalries, misogyny, polygamy—every word has been treated with much observation, deliberation, and many times pomp as well! That Aliza’s lexical odyssey chronicles her lifelong battle with words that shaped her into the headstrong individual and former TV producer and editor-in-chief that she is today, is something you catch on early enough in the narrative, as she goes about prescribing words she thinks others should think about too. This non-fictive account captures the lows and highs of being a woman in different stages of her metamorphosis, and holds court on the hilarious incidents and high flying people she has met in her life from comedian Jackie Mason to Larry King to singer Michael Bolton or Oprah or Benjamin Netanyahu. While the diction is predominantly Jewish American, Yiddish-hybrid noir, it is with much surprise you are led through raunchy American slang, and a heartily promiscuous word choice. Ms. Davidovit accosts you with “Orgams, shmorgasm. I find it the biggest manipulative fraud in existence. So many mighty men and innocent women have fallen for that one moment’s bliss.” She adds with redemption, “The only thing that is ever decisively over is an orgasm.” Everything about this book smells of discomfort, and a comeuppance with one’s role and place in society as the braveheart warns: “I won't let society put me in a box - I'll be in a box when I'm dead, in this life time I won't be limited by closed minded definitions.”

Interviewing Aliza Davidovit
It was a pleasure to be in conversation with the ‘Queen of Questions,’ Aliza Davidovit, Editor in chief of WritEffect Productions, a New York based publishing company that brings out interviews with high profile individuals, histories and holocaust memoirs

Arundati: Your book is a sinful shortcut to your memoirs! Would you agree or disagree? The Idiots Guide to... Happiness? Because it is a feel good story about a regular Jewish American woman, who finds the fictional G-spot in the wicked world of words.

Aliza: That's a beautifully phrased question but I reject it in its entirety. I disagree that it is a "sinful" shortcut. For certain a near 100 thousand word book is hardly a shortcut. This book, if anything, is heartfelt journey through my pain and growth (with God as the guiding source of strength throughout my life). For a woman who never slept around, who has been too nice her whole life, who has spared many people pain by not outing them or suing them, who has walked away from hard situations as a perfect lady, I'd say it's rather Godly, not sinful at all. Not even sure how that adjective, "sinful" plays a role at all. What the memoir is however, is a very unique way of telling a story. Many people will tell their stories chronologically, others will highlight certain episodic events, etc. I used words instead as the trampolines to tell mine. It's hardly an idiot's guide to happiness because only a wise person can choose to be happy and an idiot often chooses to be "merry" there is a mammoth qualitative difference between the two. In addition only an idiot would see the idiot in it and wise man would see the wisdom. And finally to put oneself out there in such a vulnerable way for others to use my words against me is hardly hitting the fictional G-spot. It's about understanding the building blocks that structured my life, in this case those blocks are words, and about reassembling them in such a way that I can be proud of and understand to some measure the figurative house I have built for myself.

Arundati: What are your political views or how political are you? You come off as a complex conservative newswoman?

Aliza: I tend to hold conservative values but I have no problem taking issue with conservatives or democrats who behave like idiots. At the end of the day we are one humanity and even the most extreme Liberal would take a blood transfusion from a conservative to save his life and vice versa. Going back to words, I think that the vicious rhetoric from both parties is not advancing the well-being of America.

Arundati: What is your favorite dictionary? Has the internet cheapened the dictionary? Despite your humorous rant on e-words, one notices many of your footnotes reference a lot of wiki and entries.

Aliza: It's an interesting question. I read Random House Webster’s College Dictionary to write the book. Post-its are still sticking out from it like an over-hairy porcupine. I only used as a modern day tool to quickly cut and paste definitions to accommodate the quick paced life of a journalist. In addition, new words are being added to the modern lexicon all the time and the Internet dictionaries update much faster than print. This book, however, was not intended to tickle the G-spot of academics, it was meant to inspire the hearts of people and also to make people laugh and to examine things in unique ways. That being said, with the full force of my journalistic integrity and professionalism, I ensured that the book was as accurate as possible and operated with great deliberation and conscientiousness throughout. As for the Internet cheapening the dictionary? Only mankind can sanctify or cheapen the tool he finds in his hand.

Arundati: The absence of some words in your book left me floored, have to admit. Like Media, News, Incest and Democracy. Have you substituted these with lots of Yiddish phrases to offer up a more hybrid educational odyssey?

Aliza: Some will see the glass half empty, others as half full.

Arundati: Oprah and (Benjamin) Netanyahu merit separate words in your lexicon! How flattered they must be? Tell us something about your relationship with them or why they feature in the Words that shaped you?

Aliza: I think the chapters speak for themselves.

Arundati: What’s a technological invention man couldn’t do without you think?

Aliza: At one time we did without them all. Soon they can do without us.

Arundati: Should girls marry these days? Or should they just go chasing their dreams instead? There’s a place where you’ve talked about the illusion of orgasm, and how it’s simply not worth the toil, when reading your book might be a better way of spending time…IS there no place for courtship and is the world getting overawed by its own heterosexuality?

Aliza: There are many times when my book is tongue-in-cheek. Those ambiguities further lend to the dual face of words and how we can fit them into the argument we want to make. I tend to be an old-fashioned woman who believes in marriage and children. It is really all I ever wanted. But then life got in the way. Can a woman have it all? Maybe. I wasn't that blessed. But if I had to make a choice tomorrow to be the next Barbara Walters or a wife and mother, I'd pick the latter.

Arundati: “I approach every interview as a blind date and try to get to know the person deep within. (When I go out on a blind date, they always feel like they’re being interviewed.” How seriously have your interviewees taken on the role of the blind date? Would you make a good crime investigator?

Aliza: I try and get to know the person instead of the image and to go beyond the canned answers. If they have a heart, I will find it. Begins and ends there.

Arundati: What has language got to do with literacy? You speak three.

Aliza: I have a whole chapter on words and how they have advanced society and how they also mess us up.

Arundati: Who’s your favorite Millionaire and why?

Aliza: My favorite people are not measured by their financial worth.

Arundati: Aliza means Happiness. What a perfect way to celebrate selfhood by inaugurating your vocabulary with it! I am very tempted to chart my own dictionary. Where or how do I or anyone else not in your shoes and pants, begin?

Aliza: I started with a note pad and wrote down thousands of words that first just came from my heart and mind. Then I picked up the dictionary once again in my life and read it word by word paying attention to words that called out to me either because they touched a chord, sparked my imagination…

Arundati: As Editor in chief of Writ Effect publishing house, what does your workload look like? Are there special writers or projects you are supporting that are of special interest to you right now?

Aliza: Not enough hours in the day! I am working on my new book which offers inspirational and encouraging words of support based on Biblical teachings. I am also working on a "words that shaped us" book which will include many of the words you were floored not to see in this book.

Arundati: What would you want your last words to be?

Aliza: A writer never wants to have a last word but rather hopes their words are meaningful and purposeful enough to live on.