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Thursday, April 27

Books for all - II

i.e. the other side of the coin.

If you ever get some time, try to find out if there is an office of "Publication Division" in your city and pay it a visit. I bet, you would be surprized. I was when I first went to the Bangalore office in Kendriya Sadan. The whole place is full of books. Some of them are on display while most of them lie in bundles all around, on the top of shelves, in every corner, covered in layers of dust.

Among those books, there aren't many titles that would attract an average reader but there are some which you won't find anywhere else. They publish a series of biographies called "Builders of Modern India". It has biographies of every famous person you may have heard of and some more. They publish a series called "Builders of Modern Indian Literature" in which I found titles like Banbhatt and Bhavbhuti. There are books on famous forts of India, handicrafts of India. There are books on various communities of India. Bounded volumes of speeches of all the Prime Ministers and Presidents of India are also there.

And those books are rotting lying there. Their bindings have gone loose, their pages are yellow. Most of the people don't want to buy them, those who do, don't even know that they exist. Those books are a treasure trove for anybody interested in India and its culture. What's more they sell of peanuts and when I say peanuts, I mean peanuts. I have bought books from the biography series for as low as Rs. 5 and going as high as Rs. 50 max. I have bought the full set of Pt Nehru's speeches spanning 5 thick volumes for Rs 500 (that was at 50% discount).

I am not sure why I am pitching this against the backdrop of the last post. But the fact is that there is very good readable material available within affordable limits but that hardly gets any readership. Some how I also think, english language and high prices and the race to be trendy (refer to the last article) are related. Even apart from Publication division, most of the hindi literature is available within affordable range. The sad thing is there is little contemporary good writing in hindi. Most of what is being written is just an attempt to copy the successful ideas in english. And so the readership in hindi and other languages is going down.

So the idea is that if you keep your eyes and mind open, it is possible to find 10000 (again refer to the article in last post) good, readable books well within your means.

Thus ends the rant !

Tuesday, April 25

Books for all are going to be late !

Books for all - II will come a little later. Meanwhile you can read the article "Drowning in words" from Hindu.

On a note related to Books for all - I, consider the strategic pricing of Chetan Bhagat's books, just below 100, ideally suited for the crowd he is trying to reach. This is one thing I must give him credit for.

Monday, April 24

Books for all - I

I am an avid buyer of books however I happen to be quite price conscious. So many times I have looked at nice lovely books and let out a sigh! My problem is not one of affordability. I can afford much more than what I let myself buy.

For me, price of a book reflects directly on the author (and publisher) of the book. Buying and reading a book is not a simple business transaction of giving money and getting the book. It is much more than that. The process of reading is the process of connecting with the author at an emotional level and trying to live and feel what he would have felt while writing the book. There are books for which this may not be entirely correct but even there, the words of the book are supposed to be thought over and understood.

And when I look at a thin, big font, one inch margin on each side book priced at 300 Rs. , the first question that comes to my mind is whether the author has written the book for me or for my money? And even if I can afford it, the question is there is a large section of the society that cannot afford it. What does writer think about them? All the books that talk about improving your life, getting more happiness and all the other self help crap, aren't they most accessible to those who are already in somewhat "better" conditions? Is it really worth going to such books for inspiration?

And leave aside self help books; I have seen very good books, based on years of research, having content that begs to reach to masses, priced so high that most of the masses can't even think of buying them. Why would somebody put in so much hard work into creating something and then make it so difficult to access?

The other side of the coin is that even authors are human beings and they need money to survive. They have aspirations and those aspirations ask for money. Why would somebody put in so much effort and just let everybody have it for peanuts? I think the following excerpt from the preface of a book whose author decided to give it away free on the net, is quite relevant:

"Why would an author give away an unlimited number of copies of her book for free?

That's a good question. When `Underground’s researcher, Julian Assange, first suggested releasing an electronic version of the book on the Net for free, I had to stop and think about just that question.

I'd spent nearly three years researching, writing and editing the nearly 500 pages of `Underground'. Julian had worked thousands of hours doing painstaking research; discovering and cultivating sources, digging with great resourcefulness into obscure databases and legal papers, not to mention providing valuable editorial advice. So why would I give away this carefully ripened fruit for free?

Because part of the joy of creating a piece of art is in knowing that many people can - and are - enjoying it. Particularly people who can't otherwise afford to pay $11 USD for a book."

-- Suelette Dreyfus

Writing a book is a profession but more than that it is the satisfaction of writing that motivates the author. Or at least those are the kind of authors, I want to read.

However, there is another side to this story.

Tuesday, April 4

The problem is choice !

It is said that any situation that can occur in this world finds a mention in Mahabharat. With its countless stories, characters and huge timeline, you are bound to find something that fits what you are facing. I sometimes get the same feeling for The Matrix triology. Always, without fail, I can find something said somewhere in the movie that can so adequately say what's on my mind.

"..Which brings us at last to the moment of truth, wherein the fundamental flaw is ultimately expressed, and the anomaly revealed as both beginning, and end. There are two doors. The door to your right leads to the source, and the salvation of Zion. The door to the left leads back to the matrix, to her, and to the end of your species. As you adequately put, the problem is choice. But we already know what you're going to do, don't we?" - The Architect, Matrix Reloaded