A Book is A Book Is A Book….

Well….is it? Or is it?

Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose 
 Loveliness extreme. 
 Extra gaiters, 
 Loveliness extreme. 
 Sweetest ice-cream. 
 Pages ages page ages page ages.
- Gertude Stein

Ms. Stein, probably, didn’t know the effect she would have on literature and its idiomatic history when she wrote these lines. Till date her lines are used either as is or after replacing the noun with the user’s favourite like I have done today. She herself has used the term ‘a rose is a rose is a rose’ in her later works. What, however, misses the eye and mind most often is the last line…which, I must confess, I stumbled upon while searching for more information on the oft quoted phrase.

Pages ages page ages page ages…..

My mind drifted to these lines after an animated and enlightening conversation with a publisher friend the other day. He quite categorically mentioned that publishing is history. It’s a business that has lived its life and was in the ICU, if not in coma.

Pages….from ages….the smells and the content….the context and the emotion…..pages….pages….

His arguments as a businessman made sense. “Where are the bookshops? Most are closing down…” He didn’t sound paranoid, just matter of fact. Smart phones had reduced the attention span. Kindle taken over the physical book space. My point was — ebook still was publishing. He countered it by saying that even ebooks was not a huge market as readers themselves were dwindling.

I was not shocked…but yes, I was upset. There was no reason I should be. I was not a publisher, nor was I dependent on the industry for my bread and butter directly. But…I was upset. He sensed it. It must have shown on my face. I asked him, “What about the huge new crop of writers that was mushrooming in every corner of the country?”

“They are the rom-com variety. Chetan Bhagat, Anuja Chauhan types. And the reader is different.” I didn’t want to argue…he had a point, but I didn’t want to agree. We moved on to a different topic…but my mind was ticking. He was right somewhere. My own reading speed and capacity had reduced. Serious reading had taken a back seat. And “out of the hour and half dedicated to reading” as my publisher friend mentioned, almost “one hour was spent reading online”.

Next day, I was chatting with friend, older than me, who’s a printer. It was a telephonic conversation. An avid reader, who still, sometimes, preferred taking a print of an online story that he found interesting to read it well. He managed his online and offline reading beautifully and read about almost everything under the sun barring Bollywood gossip. “Well…once in a while, that too!”

Among other topics, he mentioned, again, that how and why he preferred to read hardcopy than online. And then the favourite common love — smell of a book! “It’s the combined smell of ink, gum and paper,” he said. Being a printer, he defined it. What about old books? “Oh, they have a different smell…”

This was something which all my book loving friends had mentioned some time or the other — smell of the books. However, quite a few had reluctantly switched to Kindle. “Don’t have space for anymore books. And I can’t really give away books….not even a Lee Child or David Balacci!” said a friend from Goa.

This was one thing I could relate to. I was finding it extremely difficult to create space for new books that I keep buying….because I can’t give away the existing books. And my collection was not just my collection. Books that have been collected by my parents and I have just inherited them.

Leather bound English and Russian classics which my Daddy had bought when he was still struggling on lot of fronts. He used to save money every month and buy one Russian and one English classic — leather bound versions. Then there are the leather bound Britannica volumes, which are possibly outdated now. Huge coffee table about Gold of Tutankhamen, books about artists….and of course the Sanskrit and Marathi encyclopedias….list could go on….

And then….the books I kept buying…self help, management, Shobhaa De, Lee Child, Rick Riordan, biographies, MJ Akbar…..and again….the list goes on….as I also buy books in Marathi and Hindi……How to create space for all this without throwing away something?

So……was my publisher friend right or the printer friend? Possibly, both in their own way. One had a businessman’s viewpoint, while the other purely an old, avid and compulsive reader’s opinion. But….if everyone’s reading…… is the publishing market really southbound?

My confusion remained. To add to this my BFF said, “I can’t possibly hold a book now. I am so used to a Kindle! And very happy with it!”

Pages ages page ages page ages…..

I have decided to disagree with my publisher friend. He’s right in his own way. But till the time world’s round, people will read….I admit they might just slow down like me or switch to virtual bookshelf. But they will read.

And a few like me and my printer friend….and a senior Marathi writer friend, whom I totally adore for the way he smells a book….. will continue to buy the hard copy!

Pages….from ages….the smells and the content….the context and the emotion…..pages….pages….pages ages ages pages…….

Thanks for reading…

Shruti Pandit — the whackier than the whackiest of them all…media professional

This first appeared on LinkedIn

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