Publishing has come to a virtual halt because the retail shops are shut and, as result, so are the large distributors
Between 1975 and 1980 I was employed by a publishing firm. Part of my job consisted of having to visit different universities looking for possible authors and publishable manuscripts.
These trips usually lasted three weeks because as a junior employee I had to travel by trains. These travels were the best part of the job.
Just before my first trip, I was advised by a veteran from the sales department to carry a lot of books — and at least three cartons of cigarettes — because there was nothing else to do except read and smoke on the trains, and in the evenings, and on the weekends, of which there would usually be two.
On one of these trips — it was to Orissa — I suddenly found myself without any books to read. To make matters worse, it was the weekend, and I was in Cuttack where the bookshops only sold textbooks.
I also ran out of my brand of cigarettes. The cup of misery brimmed over.
My soul was so badly seared by that experience that ever since then I have always kept a stock of around 20 unread books even when I am not travelling. Squirrels do the same thing with nuts.
Till about 2002, it wasn’t easy to maintain this stocking level. I took what I got. But now, with online availability, it is no longer a problem.
However, riches always bring their own travails. Since this wretched lockdown started last March, it’s been like, well, being stranded on a weekend in Cuttack in the 1970s.
Not just that. I am confronted with a new problem now. I don’t know what to read next after finishing a book.
Spoilt for choice: Thus, as soon as I finish reading, say, the latest book by Jeffery Archer, I find myself unable to switch to the next book. If your mind is in the quick-paced Archer rhythm, how do you get out of it?
It’s like having to go from classical music to popular music, from Mallikarjun Mansur to Mikka or M D Ramanathan to Mehndi, Daler. Or from Beethoven to B B King.
The problem is compounded by the wide choice I now have. There are so many genres to choose from.
Crime fiction, spy fiction, historical fiction, hard economics, easy economics, potted history, serious history, popular science, popular mathematics, biographies, autobiographies, you name it, I have them all in stock.
So I spend hours fretting and flitting between authors. There is no worse form of indecision. I now know exactly how Buridan’s ass might have felt. He died of starvation because he was tied equidistant between two bales of hay and couldn’t decide which bale to eat from first.
The other problem is that I read every thoroughly — every word, every sentence. Sometimes I read them twice or thrice because the damned copy editor has been careless and the sentences make less sense than they should. Mentally, I often find myself deleting and adding sentences.
I know for a fact that most editors have the same problem. We edit as we read.
The end result poses another dilemma. Not only do we get fully into the rhythm of the book while reading, we also find it hard to snap out of that rhythm.
Laid low by the lockdown: After several weeks of suffering like the aforementioned ass, I figured out a way. I would review a book for whoever wanted a review.
This, I thought, would break the rhythm and it did. After all, it is one thing to read a book and edit it mentally and quite another to say something sensible about a 400-page book in 800 words. You should try it.
This worked perfectly for several months last year and till March this year. Then the second wave of the virus struck in early April.
Sure enough, what happened last year between April and October, has happened now also. Publishing has come to a virtual halt because the retail shops are shut and, as result, so are the large distributors.
My supply of reviewable books has, therefore, come to virtual halt and I am back to square one.
One easy way, I thought, would be to toss a coin between two books picked out randomly from the “To Read” shelf. But this too hasn’t worked because, as my sons say when they are asked to do something “the feel isn’t coming”.
Even as I write this, I have to find a book to read as I finished one last night. Suggestions are welcome.