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On literature and mass-market writing

Srijith and I have different interests in movies – an occasional chick flick or a romantic comedy are stuff I enjoy, while the not-so-better half is more of what I call a cine-snob: those artsy movies which make me snore after about ten minutes are more his cup of tea. After nearly ten years together, our interests are beginning to converge or rather, we have both learnt the fine art of compromise – I enjoy the occasional slow movie with the dark humor and he has agreed to watch the new Harry Potter with me this weekend (he still won’t be caught dead watching a real chick-flick)

But turn it over to books, and I would be the first one to denounce pulp (at least no compromises required there). There was a time in my life when I would have voraciously read anything, anything that I could get hold of. But then, thankfully, I grew up and became very selective about what books I choose to spend time on – after all, any serious investment of time requires some thought. I read almost exclusively by personal recommendation or trusted reviews.

Now that I have begun to think of myself as a writer, I realize that the lines are not that clear. Every time I write a romantic scene, I read it again and again and ask myself – is this more Mills & Boons or Anita Shreve? The setting I am currently working on might be called “exotic”, but I didn’t choose it because of that. I chose it because it was one of those rare places that moved me and jolted me back to the pleasures of travel, the world-weary traveler that I had started to become. And yes, it is different, if that’s what we mean by exotic these days – but that’s what makes the human story there interesting for me.

I am just a novice, and the last time I studied language for the sake of itself was about fifteen years ago. All I have, in terms of any training, is the many books I have read – some days I like to look at my bookshelf, read the authors’ names and pretend that I have apprenticed with all of them. For what is an apprenticeship if not the close observation of a master’s work? I believe love is universal, and a part of my story talks about love – how can I avoid writing about it? I believe that no matter how different the lands that people come from are, they are fundamentally the same – how can I not write about exotic lands? But how do I prevent myself from writing something I would loathe – for now, I use the simple test: Am I writing something that I would read? And if this were a movie, would it be something that I won’t watch?

I wonder, is my choice of books just a snobbishness in disguise? Is my choice of movies a lack of artistic appreciation? Or is it just a case of each to her own, no judgements appropriate. I am curious: what’s your take on it?

In related reading:

Jaideep verma , author of Local, laments about the rise of pulp fiction over at the ToI:

“This is the House Of Blue Mangoes syndrome — this month’s specials include Kardamom Kisses, The Hills Of Angheri and Bougainvillea House. It’s ludicrous because sometimes genuinely good writers are mis-slotted by this idiotic practice (like Kavery Nambisan, four of whose books are Mango Coloured Fish, The Scent Of Pepper, On Wings Of Butterflies and The Hills Of Angheri — she’s actually an honest contemporary writer who eschews exotica, but that’s not enough for her publisher).”

This blog post by felinemusings has some interesting thoughts too:

“Populist writing is like a Govinda or a Priyadarshan movie – the masses love it, the classes shrink from it; but at the end of the day slap-stick comedies and garish masala movies are the ones that rake the most moolah. And somehow, this trend is emerging in what people are reading and enjoying. With younger readers, in stiff competitive worlds, always running short of time and with stress levels bursting at the seams, we cannot deny them the pleasure of their “quick-bus-ride” or “light-after-dinner” reading material. Chic-lit and populist novels are selling like hot-cakes, pointing to the facts that many people are reading, and publishing houses are ready to experiment and cater to changing audience and reading habits”

Posted in Books on July 14, 2009


3 Responses

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  1. Divya says

    I would say “To Each Their Own”. I will not be caught dead watching chick flicks or chick lit. My movie/book tastes are quite similar, I read/watch catches my fancy and am not that selective about them (I just stop watching/reading if they don’t attract my attention after a few minutes – unless it is highly recommended by people I know).

  2. Surya says

    I still have to be more disciplined about abandoning books half way thru’. Somehow, once I start, I plod on till the end – but just last week, I gave up on a book (a well recommended one), so I am getting there! :)

  3. Divya says

    Just found this: http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/jul/24/edge-closing-the-book-on-a-bad-read/

    How to stop reading books :)



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