Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Write Stuff

This appeared in today's Hindustan Times. As it turns out, in the gap between writing and publication, I actually managed to read -- and even review -- some of the books mentioned below.

Some decades ago, Alvin Toffler coined the expression “information overload” to refer to the state of having too much data to go through in order to remain up-to-date. Well, given the line-up of new book releases over the next month, I’m suffering from the literary equivalent

The problem is that so many of the releases belong to the you-must-read-this category. In fiction, there’s Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth (despite the suspicion that this is another attempt at mining an exhausted seam of immigrant alienation); Salman Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence; Hanif Kureishi’s Something to Tell You; and short story collections such as Tobias Wolff’s Our Story Begins and debuts such as Aravind Adiga’s The White Tiger. In non-fiction, there’s Julian Barnes’ Nothing to Be Frightened Of and Sathnam Sangera’s If You Don’t Know Me by Now.

What makes it worse is that all these follow on the heels of so many books acquired but yet lying unread, glaring accusingly from the bookshelves: among them Charles Allen’s Kipling Sahib; Junot Diaz’s The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and Nathan Englander’s The Ministry of Special Cases. All of them hugged to one’s bosom the moment they were spotted, as books to be read right away. And don’t even remind me of the piles of books purchased much, much earlier, with spines still uncracked.

Such logorrhea is most unfair on the part of the authors concerned. Their respective Muses may well be perched on their shoulders urging them on, but surely all of them ought to get together to ration their offerings? “Sorry Salman, you had a book out two years ago, it’s my turn now.” “But Hanif, this is topical, it can’t wait.” “Both of you get in line, my debut is the fresh new voice the world is waiting for!” “Shut up Aravind, my tale of growing up in a dysfunctional family is the one that will bring succour to millions.”

Lest such exchanges degenerate into hair-pulling and ear-biting, I propose an organisation that follows the OPEC model of laying down quotas for oil supply – call it the Organisation of Literature Writing Countries -- which could allocate the number of titles published every quarter. Publishers and literary agents attempting to break the embargo could be blacklisted and exiled to the Polynesian Islands, a place where no-one has been spotted putting pen to paper since recorded history.

Of course, it’ll be a while before the literary authorities take note of this suggestion and even longer before they act on it. Meanwhile, the only recourse for the hapless is to pick up French professor Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk about Books You Haven’t Read and follow his instructions. In case any of you out there do this, could you tell me what the book contains? Of course, I haven’t read it yet.


Diviya said...

Couldn't agree with you more. Its hard to resist buying books like these, and then they just line up!

sabupaul said...

In my case the books I buy hardly get read. But I almost always finish the books I borrow from the libraries. The pressure to return them and the threat of fines keep me turning the pages.