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Just who is a bestselling author today?
When was the last time you went to a bookshop, and didn't know what to buy? If you thrive on bestselling literature, the answer should be, "every time. " Not that the reader can be blamed, since he, poor thing, is sucked into a labyrinth of 'bestselling' books by countless authors whenever he approaches the section. Each of them has the blessings of some fantastic reviews that endorse the writer's creative credentials. Bafflement ensues. The reader-cum-buyer loses his way. Then arrives the moment when he finally decides on a book. Very often, it is the wrong book.
Situated in an irony-laden era - reading habits are on the decline, while more and more people are writing more and more books - today's bookshop presents the dilemma of selection to every reader of bestsellers. In the huge section featuring such fiction are usual suspects like Dan Brown and John Grisham. Such books are easy to pick, as are those by Phillip Pullman, the most-read atheist on earth. If the Harry Potter series doesn't confound us with the question of "to buy or not to buy", the same applies to Stieg Larsson's fantastically thick - and really fascinating - Millennium Trilogy.
There are times when literary works of an 'intellectually higher' genre intrude upon the list of obvious bestsellers. Even these are easily identifiable, courtesy great reviews, announcement of awards and, at times, because of their association with one controversy or the other. So, if the reader is someone who likes to balance his reading, choosing his Salman Rushdie or Mario Vargas Llosa isn't a problem either.
Where, then, does the problem begin? After picking up a Rushdie in which sublime prose is a guarantee, and a Pullman whose The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ is simply extraordinary, the reader ventures towards the zone of nebulous ambiguity. A writer named Matthew Reilly intrigues him. Who is he, the reader thinks, while taking a look at Reilly's Contest whose jacket has a good review by the Adelaide Australian. Should one pick up the book, or leave it alone? As life turns into an unsolvable puzzle, the answer remains elusive.
Part of the problem owes itself to the availability of a predictable list of fiction writers in the Indian market for a long time. The classics have always had a formidable presence, with the Bronte sisters and the Austens constantly jostling for space in bookshops. Action-intrigue-romancefilled bestsellers, on the other hand, have offered few choices for decades, with the average bookstore confining itself to stocking the Perry Masons and the Robert Ludlums of the world.
As is the case with every other sphere in modern times, the transformation in the market has been way too sudden. So, when we bump into someone like Steve Berry, it is impossible to figure out whether or not he is an actual best-selling writer whose book The Venetian Betrayal is said to have "shades of The Da Vinci Code. " Although Berry is a huge writer in his own right, very few Indians were introduced to his books till recent times. The similar who-is-he question arises as newer names continue to stare at us from the racks within bookstores.
Far from being a big name in India as yet, does Daniel Silva merit a read? Does every book that calls itself a bestseller actually belong to that exclusive club? Are the reviews honest, or are they pretending to be besotted by the writer to facilitate quick promotion? If a writer has been around for ages, why are we hearing about him or her right now? These, and many other, questions perplex the average Indian reader as one continues to make wrong choices from a long list.
Once the hugely growing book market produces less but better-informed readers of best-selling books, much confusion shall inevitably subside. As of now though, chaos is king.
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