Category Archives: About Books

Less people are reading e-books than expected

E-Books Or Paper Books

My wife and I constantly discourage our daughter from using gadgets such as her iPad or our mobile phones, especially for reading books. We prefer that she reads paper books.

On my blog I have written multiple times in favour of e-books and I myself am a great fan of e-books. Almost all the books that I read these days are either on my Kindle reader or my Android tablet.

I don’t know if it is real or rumour, Steve Jobs, when he was alive, didn’t allow his kids to use either the iPad or the iPhone. Again, I don’t know if it is real or rumour, most of the CEOs (and people in similar positions) send their kids to schools with minimal use of computers. Somewhere, somehow they understand, the conventional way of acquiring knowledge and facilitating intellectual growth is much more effective than technology-supported. Besides, there are no comprehensive studies regarding how these gadgets affect our minds when we use them on an ongoing basis. But that’s another issue.

Just like any other technology, whenever new gadgets hit the market, and if that gadget is good like your average e-book reader, there is a rush to buy it. People want to be seen whether it. People want to experience it. It is a novelty.

Besides, people like me want to know how this particular gadget improves the overall experience as well as make achieving a particular task more effective. My primary support for e-books and e-book readers is that it is extremely convenient for me to read books. Books come in different textures. Some books are very thick. Some are very thin. Some you can open easily. Some are hard to open. Then, I can just carry a single book with me if I’m going somewhere on my wheelchair.

On my Kindle reader or on my tablet, there is no such limit. There must be hundreds of books on my Kindle reader. When a carry the device, I carry the entire gamut of my collection with me. What happens in case I lose my Kindle reader or my tablet? No worries; all my books are saved in the cloud and they will be there just like they are once I log into my account from another device.

Recently someone commented on Twitter (I have forgotten the name of the person) that with e-readers, it is just convenience and the act of reading and nothing else. There is no experience. There is no environment. There is no feel. I agree. The sort of feeling that you get while reading a paper book you don’t get while reading an e-book. It’s still like using a gadget or a toy. But personally for me, the advantages outweigh the small sentimental snags that come with e-books.

This article states that the sale of e-readers is drastically reducing. Less and less people are purchasing e-readers these days and the dwindling sales of paper books seem to be picking up. There was a time when people had started thinking the time of paper books has gone. Now they think it is coming back. Conventional publishers have something to cheer for. The article quotes an expert:

Now, there are signs that some e-book adopters are returning to print, or becoming hybrid readers, who juggle devices and paper. E-book sales fell by 10 percent in the first five months of this year, according to the Association of American Publishers, which collects data from nearly 1,200 publishers. Digital books accounted last year for around 20 percent of the market, roughly the same as they did a few years ago.

E-books’ declining popularity may signal that publishing, while not immune to technological upheaval, will weather the tidal wave of digital technology better than other forms of media, like music and television.

I think it is not right to compare music and television industry with book reading. Book reading has been here for centuries whereas television and music industry in its current form has just been here for a few decades. Books are more personal. Reading a book is normally a personal activity unless it is being read in a group or in front of kids. So other trends may come and go, I think books are going to remain in demand in one form or another.

Why is it happening? If e-book readers are so convenient, why don’t people enjoy reading books on the e-readers rather than paper books? One reason can be that there wasn’t a shift anyway. People wanted to try out a new technology. It happens whenever a new technology or trend is introduced into the market. Everybody wants to buy it (those who can). People want to be seen with new gadgets. Being seen with the latest gadget becomes a status symbol. But when everybody seems to be using it, the interest begins to ebb and people begin to think that well, it’s no big deal flaunting a Kindle reader.

Another reason is that people are getting wary of constantly using gadgets. While I’m constantly discouraging my daughter from using her iPad, how can I sit in front of her using my Kindle reader even if it is being used merely to read a book and not to browse the Internet or watch videos? Although she knows that nothing much can be done with a Kindle reader aside from reading books and hence, it is different from other gadgets, I sometimes sit in front of her with my paper book just to let her know that reading paper books is a normal activity.

There is a global shift of attitude regarding adaptation of technology; whenever possible, people try to distance themselves from the gadgets they have so gotten used to having all the time. So a move away from e-readers and towards paper books might not much have to do with people’s perception towards e-readers, but their general disenchantment with technology overdose.

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Bookstores, yeah, but…

Congested bookshop

I have always loved bookstores. How it feels to be among hundreds, if not thousands or millions (as in very big stores) of books arranged inside various stacks, waiting to be picked. There is a magical dimness and smell between the racks that can only be felt by the real lover of books. When I was in college I used to spend a major chunk of my time in the library, although during those days the only books I used contained mathematical problems. Now that I think of it, it’s a pity that I never really, actually, used my college library to enhance my literary reading. But then, now that I think of it, I wouldn’t have been able to access literature books because they were on the first and second floors and the only way up was the stairwell which I couldn’t use.

This is a major problem for me when it comes to wandering around books in a bookstore or library. In my college days I used to walk with my crutches and it was still possible to squeeze through the confined spaces between racks and almirahs, in the library, but when it came to visiting bookstores, even then it was a problem because there is normally very little space between facing racks and normally there are books spread across the floor. Now that I am on power wheelchair, sometimes it becomes difficult even to enter a bookstore, forget about going through the books.

This is a reason why, contrary to what is suggested in this article, I prefer to buy all my books from either Amazon.com (when I’m buying Kindle books) or Flipkart (when I’m buying paperbacks and hardcovers) because all you have to do is use the search box, find the book that you want, add it to the cart, use your credit card to pay, and there you have it. When it comes to Kindle books, you can start reading your book, literally, within a couple of minutes. This is not possible if you go to a physical bookstore.

Not being able to visit a bookstore does not mean I’m totally against the concept of having bookstores, although it is more emotional and less practical considering how many trees we might be saving by opting for digital books rather than paper books. Even the space. So much space is taken by physical libraries. Instead, all the digital versions of the books can be stored in a publicly accessible server. Great libraries have been destroyed by invading armies because it was so easy to burn them down; had they been digitised their various copies would have been available all over the world. Right now, given the technological constraints, I know this is not possible for everyone to access digital books just the way people can access physical books, but if it can be done, it should be done. There are many books for which there is no other option than reading the physical books because our handheld devices are not as flexible as normal books. For instance, books containing lots of maps and images are normally rendered useless in a typical Kindle reader. They may look good in an iPad or a larger tablet, but I haven’t had first-hand experience in that. It’s no fun going through something like an Atlas on a PC, although it is more interactive and easier to use.

Another aspect is, reading a book doesn’t just entail absorbing its contents, it’s a complete experience. Your environment, your physical position, you’re bent of mind at that time, they all become a part of your reading experience. Even purchasing a book in itself is a different experience when you do it through a conventional bookstore. So many people at the same time are browsing various titles and their common intention is to find the book of their desire, whether they want to gift it or read it. This common feeling certainly has a bearing over the atmosphere of the bookstore.

I’m pretty sure, although I haven’t tabulated my experiences, the way I read a paper book must be quite different from the way I read a Kindle book. Again, personally for me reading a Kindle book is easier compared to reading a paperback or hardcover because I can easily place my device in front of me without having to hold it, which is absolutely the case with a normal book. Perhaps this is the reason why I’m reading more books these days compared to the days when I neither had a tablet nor a Kindle reader.

Rest in peace, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, really

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Death often catches you unguarded – I’m not talking about the people who die because I think (unless the death happens due to murder or accident) they have an inkling beforehand – I’m talking about people who are left behind. There I was worrying about what article to write, where should I send another pitch and where I should do a follow-up, which single-page websites I should set up for Steve, how to spend some time with my daughter, and then suddenly, I saw this message on my Twitter timeline “R.I.P Garcia”.

Which Garcia? I thought. It can’t be THAT Garcia. It took me some time and a quick search on the Internet to find that Gabriel Garcia Marquez is dead.

While looking at his picture on my computer monitor my daughter came in my room, looked at the photo and asked, “Who is he?”

When I tried to tell her, I couldn’t. I realised I was choking. I rapidly swallowed the lump that was rising in my throat and blinked my eyes to hold back my tears and then explained to her that he was my favourite living writer and he just died so I’m feeling very sad. When I told her how old he was, she tenderly touched my shoulder and said, “That’s all right, old people die, even I will die when I grow old.”

It hit me how fast time flies. Many years ago I had taken a resolve that I would meet him in person someday, and then forgot about that resolve, and now, he is dead. With every passing day, with every passing week, with every passing month, life goes by and then one day you realise, there were so many things that you wanted to do, and you just got distracted by the world around you.

Love in the Time of Cholera was accidentally left behind by my cousin who was visiting us from Canada. I remember she was one day pointing at the book and telling me that if I read books, I must read that one but sadly, she said, she had to take it back.

English books those days were not easily available especially when I couldn’t physically scour through various bookshops and had to solely depend on my mother and other people to visit bookshops for me and then use their own discretion. So my exposure was the British classics of Charles Dickens and Emily Brontë types, or Russian books that you would get in the book fair at Pragati Maidan. Love in the Time of Cholera with explicit sex was a totally new experience for me, especially the protagonist Florentino Ariza having wild sex with his teenage niece at the ripe old age of 75 (if I’m not forgetting). But then, only Garcia could pull off a love affair that spanned decades while remaining, sort of unrequited.

“I have waited for this opportunity for more than half a century, to repeat to you once again my vow of eternal fidelity and everlasting love.”

You can’t imagine how many nights I must had spent trying to think how Fermina Daza looked.

Whether one agrees with the inherent value system represented in the book (and in his other books), the extraordinary writing style made a deep impression on me and I desperately wanted to read more from him. I’m pretty sure that my best writing (literary, not professional) came under his influence. I don’t remember how I came across One Hundred Years of Solitude but this is a book that I have read thrice, although, initially I didn’t want to read it because, what sort of book would it be that starts with an execution?

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”

Those days – the time between the college and trying to set up my own business – I had no concept of magical realism. I realised that his characters existed in the realms of reality and unreality and there were many things happening in his books that you couldn’t pinpoint weather they were real worldly or supernatural. As a young boy he spent lots of time with his grandmother and she used to tell him all sorts of fantastical tales and many of her characters were a mix of real and unreal.

Later I found many writers, including Salman Rushdie adopted magical realism to create captivating narratives.

My wife often says that it’s very easy to create unreal characters and then weave stories around them and it is very difficult to weave stories on real-life characters. For some time I had started believing that because I had forgotten how Garcia wrote. I think when you write well, you just write well, it doesn’t matter if you are writing stories around surrealistic characters or some rickshaw puller dying of hunger.

That was the way he wrote. I have read a few Nobel prize winning writers and I firmly believe that in contemporary times Gabriel Garcia Marquez was the most deserving. He never wrote to receive awards and you can clearly see that in his writings. Even if he wrote one word, it genuinely came from him and not from some aspiration to prove something. That was his strength.

His death has given me a small jolt today. In the flurry of everyday activities you begin to believe that life is infinite. While growing old, somehow you forget that your idols are also getting old. People whom you would like to meet one day are also getting old and if you don’t hurry, they may die before you meet them.

You saw lots of turbulence Gabriel Garcia Marquez, physical, intellectual, emotional and worldly. Rest in peace. Thanks for enriching our lives with your beautiful words. Thanks for making solitude charming. You have left the world richer.

The fundamental difference between Wendy Doniger and Joe D’Cruz censorship

Cruz Doniger

A couple of months ago Penguin India decided to pulp all the copies of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus. The contents of the book were deemed highly contentious by some people and a person named Dina Nath Batra had challenged the book in the court and in order to avoid legal complications the publishing house decided to pulp all the copies of the book. Clearly the multinational publishing house couldn’t stand behind the book confidently.

Another publishing company Navayana who is known to publish Dalit works has decided not to publish the Sahitya Akademi awardee Joe D’Cruz’s English version of the Tamil novel “Aazhi Soozh Ulagu” (Ocean Ringed World) because of the writer’s open support for Narendra Modi.

The readers of this blog will note that while highly objecting to the contents of The Hindus I have never recommended the banning of the book or pulping it. My recommendation was to counter it with another book or with another paper. This is how works of art, works of intellect must be met with if you don’t agree. Or you can simply ignore it hoping that not many people read it.

Navayana and the person who did the English translation haven’t rejected the book for its content, in fact they say that the content is superb and well-researched. Their problem is the writer’s support for Narendra Modi. This is how the English translator V. Geetha justifies the publisher’s stand:

“I was terribly distressed when I read Joe D’Cruz’s statement of support for Modi. He is entitled to his political opinion, but I don’t want to be associated with anyone or anything linked to Modi. We can’t forget Gujarat 2002-no one must be allowed to, either. I still stand by his novel, which I think is a fantastic saga of fisher life, and I am sorry Joe has decided to trade his considerable gifts as a novelist for a politics that is fascist and dangerous. I have, therefore, decided to withdraw my translation.”

I think she’s making a fair statement (not the “fascist and dangerous” part because here she is simply propagating divisiveness). You don’t want to associate with a person you don’t agree with. This is a highly polarised political atmosphere and the stakes are quite high on different ends of the spectrum. Extreme reactions are bound to happen. But that’s a different issue.

People who were trying to put the plight of both the authors in the same box are missing a big point. Wendy’s problem was intellectual dishonesty, Joe’s problem is his political stand. You may not agree with me, but the sole purpose of Wendy’s book was to denigrate the Hindu religion in every possible way. Her personal biases and agendas had percolated her work.

In Joe’s case he is not spreading his propaganda through his work. He is simply telling the story of the fishermen who live on the coastal areas of Tamil Nadu. It is a story that in no way propagates a particular religious or political philosophy. Whatever might be the author’s political views he has not allowed his views to eclipse his intellectual articulation, which, sadly, Wendy allowed. By not publishing his book, the publisher is not harming Joe (there are plenty of publishers available these days and besides, you can always publish on your own), the publisher is harming the story and worse, the publisher is harming the seafaring community whose story can reach a wider audience with an English translation.

Perhaps they were planning to recruit an ideological author into their fold and when they realised that just because the author is writing about an issue they can relate to it doesn’t mean that politically they stand on the same line, they got jittery.

You will actually be able to consume books

Book Capsules

Recently I came across an article (I’ve lost the link) that talked about the near-future possibility of you being able to “swallow” information, such as books, theories, research papers, and even stories and novels, as pills and capsules, instead of having to go through them page by page.

It may seem quite far-fetched at this moment, but in terms of biology there is nothing extraordinary in this possibility. Brain, after all, stores information by arranging and rearranging brain cells and imprinting electro-magnetic impulses. There are already hellucinogenic drugs that can alter out perception of reality. What if the information can be sent through our blood streams instead of using sensory inputs? Artificial limbs can already tell whether the fingers are touching different temperature and different sensations. People can reach orgasm via cyber sex. This is not the issue.

I’m just wondering, do we read books for the experience, or get the information into our brains? Is knowledge just about knowing, or is it a collection of our physical and emotional expepriences that we go through while acquiring that knowledge?

The article said you will be able to learn a language by popping a capsule or you will be able to read War and Peace by simply taking a pill. This basically means that along with printed and digital versions, you may also get “capsule” versions of the books.

Of course people have different notions of what an experience is. More and more people are preferring digital books (Kindle, Nook, Play Books) despite the fact we all miss that feel of holding an actual book, feeling and smelling its pages. You can carry an entire library in your palm and I’m pretty sure within the foreseable future the concept of visiting libraries and scouring through books is going to be a thing of the past and in fact, we may no longer have the book shelves in our homes and offices. This is natural, evolutionary process, whether we like it or not.

People read books for two reasons: to entertain themselves, and to educate or inform themselves. You can’t entertain yourself by suddenly coming to know of the contents of an entertaining book. Suddenly knowing Mcbeth isn’t the same as reading its lines individually, halting for thinking, engaging in mental debate and feeling the anguish of the characters. The Mcbeth capsule may simply reveal the story to you, it even may make it easier to recall certain pessages and dialogs, but it doesn’t make you a part of the story, which is why we normally read stories. We develop an empathy, or an aversion towards characters and circumstances when we need a novel or a play, that won’t be there is we simply swallow it.