I have done enough empty reading. Why are these books even written? The private lives of unknown, non-existent people shredded apart, tears spilt, promises made and repeatedly broken, captured on television or as cinema, money spent, plenty of precious hours wasted- this is how I’d describe pulp fiction. For that is what I feel many of these ‘bestselling’ paperbacks are. Someone in America creates a huge fuss over how ‘heart-rending, gut-wrenching and powerful’ some amorous story is and puts it on the Top Ten list of half a dozen American newspapers. Soon, it becomes a ‘must-read’, a book you cannot miss, a book that has changed people’s lives forever and will continue to do so for ages to come. The author sells 897 million copies, becomes the highest selling author in history ahead of JK Rowling and Danielle Steel (some yardstick), wins a handful of unheard of literary prizes. Then there is chick-lit- books expounding on the life and times of youngish women of urban upbringing, suitors aplenty, with a satisfying job and designer tastes. If the book is Indian, the protagonist is probably an IIT/IIM product or a software professional. With language that would send a purist to an early grave. Where have all the good books gone?
This rant is extremely unjustified to contemporary writers who produce genuinely good fiction. They are not really hard to come by, if we look carefully. The culprit here is a sense of guilt that over the past week, I spent quite a while flipping through dramatic, empty-headed books- I couldn’t resist them. That is how they are made. Tantalising and irresistible, like the forbidden piece of rich chocolate cake. Thankfully, I didn’t spend all my time on them. Sense prevailed, and the silly stories existed only on the sidelines, to be ‘read’ when the brain absolutely refused to delve or analyse or think. Part of what I’ve said, though, I do believe is true- how else could the blurb on every different author’s book call him or her the best thing ever to have happened to literature?
Going off on a tangent, can certain kinds of reading be voyeuristic? The question popped up in my head as I was reading Howards End a few weeks ago. I was extremely eager to know how Helen would act next, what would happen to Margaret, to Len…is this interest in other people’s lives, fictional though they might be, unwarranted? Or is it just that books give us the comfort of finding people in similar situations and hearing them say what we have always thought but never found the words to express? It is a wild, weird idea, indeed, to call reading voyeuristic. However, I want to know what drives this curiosity to know how a person’s life turns out, to be interested in sin, guilt, revenge, retribution and romance. Is our reading a reflection of what we really are, inside? Does it rip open the facade we unwittingly exhibit and show us our desires, ambitions and baser qualities? This is something I need to work on.