Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Happy New Reader



From my aunt in Singapore to my nephew in Saharanpur – almost everyone is a writer. Is it because we have fallen in love with English Literature? Or is it because writing is the new cool tool of self-expression?
According to one publisher, the number of child authors has gone up by ninety percent. Let’s talk about the writers of books, and not about those writing on social media or blogs. Enthusiastic parents are spending lakhs, taking pride in creating books for kid's birthday. Some go as far as inviting the likes of Shobha De to launch their precocious prodigy.
If my kid ever writes a book, I am going to invite JK Rowling. Beat that! 


Like other instruments of fame, writing is much more than a badge of honor. When we write for an audience, unlike in our private diary, we give our best. So yes, writing is chicken soup for the brain. If you ask me, a better way to be more, is to know more - and not necessarily write more. A gifted young raconteur may possess exceptional imagination or storytelling prowess. But being a writer is also about being a reader of life, a reader of thoughts, a reader of society, and most importantly - a reader of other books.

Remember the bedtime stories so lovingly read by our parents? Irrespective of being a tedious affair, reading of bed time stories was an unspoken rule of some kind that parents indulged in. While narrating fables, the idea was to pass on the enthusiasm for reading along with doling nuggets of wisdom. Come to think of it, ‘A Thirsty Crow’ made clear how necessity is the mother of invention, ‘Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing’ taught us that appearances can be deceptive, and ‘One Eyed Doe’ put in plain words that trouble can come from the direction we least expect it to come from.
I wonder why we place an average writer on a higher intellectual pedestal than a voracious reader. In most middle-class homes with any pretense to education, being a writer of English language is considered ‘cool’. Is this because we are unable to exhibit our reading skills as easily as we can ‘show off’ our writing skills? Well, maybe. Frankly, I wish I was a better reader. I wish I had the patience to enjoy reading about art, culture, cinema, foreign affairs and a host of other topics. However, creative reading can be exhausting. Sometimes it can be more tedious than creative writing.

For a good reader has to fine-tune his wavelength with the writers pitch. He becomes one with the writer - melting into the pages, savoring words, latching on nuances, and regurgitating at leisure, if necessary. Edgy, impatient readers are, well, not the kind any writer wants. Much that is exceptional in literature remains unexplored in search of good readers.
If you think that those who write fiction are God's gift to mankind - wait. Even more powerful are those who write for newspapers and magazines. Such is the might of their keyboard that they can make or break reputations at will.
Now that you have come thus far, let me share a story.
A few months ago, I consulted a renowned doctor known for his low patience and high consultation fee. On the first visit he brushed me aside with a desultory glance, a mandatory check, and a few diagnostic tests. So the next time, I casually dropped the bit about being a freelance writer. Not only did I get preferential treatment but I actually saw admiration in his cold surgical eyes!
That said, it is not difficult to understand why writing is a new age fad. In an age of mercurial ambition and instant fame, the patience to relish gently cooked wisdom no longer exists. Then there is the pervasive social media where we want everyone to like ‘my picture’, read ‘my status message’ and re-tweet ‘my tweet’.
So, in a world full of self-obsessed adolescent writers, who is going to read or buy books?
It will be wonderful, of course, if all budding creators also become consumers. Then we will write more. And read more. Win-win.
Courtesy: Mail Today

(This piece is originally in Friday Gurgaon, 3-1-2014.)

58 comments:

  1. Incidentally I posted a status now :D haha
    but APPLAUSE on what U wrote. I nod at every point. People are thirsty for the instant fame and name
    Readership is trashed in many cases. Y books , take blogs for instance. It is the same case. Those 1-2 readers who read it fully always make me feel better

    and This piece is brilliant as always

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    1. Thank you Afshan for reading and for sharing this piece.
      :)

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  2. Aptly put Alka. And bringing up a very valid point too. And I kind of agree with Afshan here. There is this urge for instant fame. Writing just like everything else, can either reveal a one-hit wonder or a consistent deliverer. The key obviously is to ensure that people read, for only as long as there is demand, will there be supply. Lovely piece as always :)
    As for the JK Rowling bit, do send me an invite. I'd love to meet her :)

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    1. LOL Sid. Lately I find that reading requires lot more patience than writing. And I am not referring to reading magazines or blogs.

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  3. Always a treat to read your post.....loved it.

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  4. How true!! So difficult it is to be an avid reader. I am so not one. And talking about adolescent writers!! I am surrounded by many. Not that they are bad...but they are not good either. Who Am I to tell?
    And yes if only the writers became the readers too. Life would be win win indeed!

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  5. Loved your take on the scenario where the Indian writing market is flooded with authors with barely any paying readers. All the book reviews I notice are from professional book review blogs and bloggers only. Hardly anybody who is actually paying for these books, reading them and putting up a review.

    In this age of instant gratification, I guess a Twitter handle, a Facebook page proclaiming you as an author is all that people are looking for, especially the youngsters. Lovely post which clearly mirrors my views on this particular topic.

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    1. Glad you echo my thoughts. However, I honestly feel you have a flair for fiction.

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  6. If you were a lawyer, you'd have won this case and created a wider base for writers to have more involved readers that would include the writers too.

    Arvind Passey
    www.passey.info

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    1. Isn't that ideal?

      Not many have the patience, time or focus to read Literature, Spirituality, Art or Culture. But almost everyone wants to write and publish a book.

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  7. So very true, Alka! Now a writer has become a very vast domain that encompasses bloggers and published authors. And these days anyone can publish themselves with self and e-publishing options. That is bound to see an almost mad rush to publish. Frankly, I would love to read a lot more but can't due to lack of time. But when it comes to my own writing, I am in no hurry to write. I prefer to write when I can do some quality writing. And so much of the published stuff is really terrible. I can count on my fingers the few good books I've read in the last year. Is it a problem of the plenty or a problem of mediocrity? Happy that your surgeon treated you well. My experience is that everyone calls themselves a freelance writer and thus hardly anyone takes them seriously. Pertinent post!

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    1. Rachna, I am in awe of those who read a variety of books on Spirituality, Culture, Economics etc. They absorb so much more.
      They know more than several young writers who are in a hurry to publish their book. Lately, I am guilty of not reading enough. After reading blogs, newspapers and magazines, I have no patience or energy left for serious reading.

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  8. Agree with what everyone has said here...along with you. The online market and self-publishing has done the damage. Though it has opened up possibilities, the quality suffers.
    Well said.

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    1. Glad you echo my thoughts Janaki.
      So good to see you here.

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  9. Not sure how you get ideas to write phrases such as "the patience to relish gently cooked wisdom no longer exists". Great writing. Unfortunately, I do not fall into either category - of a reader or a writer.

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    1. You fall in the category of a brilliant photographer!
      A pleasure to see you here.

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  10. Very true! There was a time when publishing quality content was within reach only for reputed publishers and authors. With the advent of social media, content has become king and every other person on the street a writer, more so a publisher! I often wonder when I see the amount of published work around.. who reads it? If you think about it we ourselves find it tough to read all blogs that come our way. And yes, there is a dearth of good readers around but as Rachna says more often than not it is due to the current lifestyles and lack of time.

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    1. Lack of time and patience, yes. Reading ain't easy. Sometimes creative reading can be more demanding than creative writing.

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  11. My god! I had been thinking about this for a while when I could not write for a long time since last month. I convinced myself with "it's important to learn more" all throught these days.
    Wonderful post Alka!

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    1. Thank you Vaishnavi. Glad we think alike.

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  12. Your essay really makes one think. You are right when you say that what we need today are Happy Readers. I would take that further to say that Happy Readers make Passionate Readers. Then, Informed Readers. And, ultimately, Exacting Readers. Impatient for action, demanding improvement within themselves and in the world around us.
    Clearly, much of the ills of our country, even the world, can be resolved if the first step of producing a vibrant generation of Happy Readers is achieved.
    As always, a great post.

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    1. I am in awe of those who can chew and assimilate anything - economics, world affairs, art, culture. After reading newspapers and blogs I don't have the patience or time to read serious stuff. And when I see more and more young adults wanting to write stories, I feel we lack good readers. Hence this post.

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  13. Very well written Alka. I love your incisive words and clarity of thought in every post. Today it has become passe to be a published author and with everyone getting published, who is reading anymore? I am now catching up with my reading since reading books is less of a strain than reading online, so I can say,'not guilty'!

    Wish you a very happy 2014!

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    1. And I respect you for that! And more.
      So so good to see you here Zephyr. Missed your presence. More often than not, you read my mind better than my words are able express.
      Thank you for the wishes. I wish you the same.

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  14. If youngsters are taking up to writing, its a good sign. They have to understand that, to be a good writer one has to even a better reader.

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  15. Writing is tough job. Or at least, it used to be before Internet and Social platforms made it mainstream. Now, anybody who knows how to type can write. New publishers are springing up each passing day. The advent of self publishing has given another opportunity to anyone who has been refused by all publishers.
    The problem with reading in this current generation is that we cannot judge until we actually read it, and not everything we read is or rather, was, worth it. Reading has become a more difficult task, discerning good from bad when every second person thinks to be a 'good' writer (isn't that what we all crave? Gratification?).

    Regards,
    Blasphemous Aesthete

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    1. For a writer there is instant gratification in terms of comments and recognition but for an avid reader the gratification is more personal. It is rarely exhibited.

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  16. I have never considered myself to be a writer.Istarted to write by a historical accident.
    But,it is true that if one gets recognition,one does feel good.
    Harleena wrote a blog on this international men's day on thirty men's bloggers.
    I was one of them.I would be lying if I say I wasn't excited.

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    1. Some write for recognition, some for gratification, some for expression and some for all three. And more. For a good reader the joy is personal. An avid reader is unable to exhibit reading skills unlike a writer. Teens and adolescents cannot be good writers without being good readers.
      Congratulations on being featured in the list of powerful bloggers. Well deserved.

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  17. I was terribly disappointed to discover that Reliance Time Out at Ambi has closed down. Why just Gurgaon, so many of the much loved bookstores at Khan have shut shop! So, if India is seeing a boom of first time writers, who the hell is reading those books?

    Btw, a wonderfully penned write-up.

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    1. Much that is excellent in literature remains unexplored in search of good readers. Personally I hold an avid reader on a higher pedestal compared to an average writer.
      Thanks.

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  18. I agree completely Alka. But in hindsight, its just another manifestation of a society which is too much engrossed with itself - too much of absorption with personal self interests to ever truly 'listen' to what somebody else is saying. Writing, blogging is all about that. Its hard to find truly good readers, truly good listeners because in all probability they are the most knowledgeable of all.

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  19. Very well said, Alka. We need more readers and if those readers are writers too then it is an ideal combination. Self-publishing has reduced the monopoly of the established publishing houses and given more options to the creative minds. I love both reading and writing and the joy of reading a good book is indescribable.

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    1. You are so right Sulekha.
      A pleasure to see you here. Thanks.

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  20. There are times when I read blogs, newspapers, magazines or books and wonder if the writer ever read a book in his/her life! That being said, I prefer reading things that are "dil se" and not cooked up for a particular kind of readership. Well said Alka. I love the way you summed it up in the last line. :)

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  21. Very true..though i have not been an avid reader..i read newspaper editorials religiously..
    Indeed, u have good ideas, only if u assimilate good ideas..cheers!

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  22. This post has been selected for the Spicy Saturday Picks this week. Thank You for an amazing post! Cheers! Keep Blogging :)

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  23. Well we can't control who writes what but we certainly can control what we read. I totally agree with you Alka and while self-publishing has been damaging to the overall quality of the books but there are some gems that have come out which probably would have remained hidden if not for self-publishing. Another train of thought I have is that knowledge and the pleasure of reading books should not be elitist so if someone writes something that might not be my kind of literature but strikes a chord with someone else who doesn't get the classics and the neo-lit then good for them I say!

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    1. Agree with your thought. The trigger for this post was the fact that we render too much social importance on writing, whereas, good reading is equally valuable.

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  24. Hi Alka,
    Nice to be here again.
    A very timely piece,
    Yes, the writing is more
    and the reading is less.
    You said it all in the concluding para
    Yes,
    "if all budding creators also become consumers.
    Then we will write more. And read more. Win-win."
    Well said and well written.
    Keep informed.
    Philip Ariel

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  25. Alka, just returned back from a holiday and read this post that could come only from someone as well read as you! I too agree that a lot of reading and keeping eyes and ears open is the only way to express better:)

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    1. I wish I had the patience and the time to read more. Unfortunately, I am writing more than I am reading. And I am not proud of it at all.

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  26. Any day, I would like to be called a voracious reader than an average writer. The joy of reading new books, new plots new characters, new mysteries can never be matched. And as someone who can never write fiction and admire those who write stories, if there ever comes a day when I have to choose between writing and reading, I'd happily ditch writing. :-)

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    1. Respect. And thanks for spending time here.

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  27. wonderful post and blog...glad to visit

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  28. a fabulous post. It is definitely reading first.. The school times and college times are best to develop this habit as one might have more access(library, ebook) and can read extensively...

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