This image is from the book-reading session by Jaishree Misra at DC Books in Thiruvananthapuram today. Of course, this is not the first time I am attending one, there have been a few, but then, this was one of a kind. One guy was busy talking to his mother in Timbuctoo sitting in the first row right through the session. Then, the press photographers blocked my view with their ample posteriors while they jostled to get that perfect photo moment. So I found time to start thinking weird.
The Scandalous Secret (now book titles are very important if you were to find yourself in a Airport bookshop and searching for a quick read) and like JM says, scandals are cool as long as someone else plays lead honours in them. People get naturally attracted to titles like that and JM had to end up on the losing side when she and her publisher sat down to thrash out a marketable name for this quintessential chick-lit, generically known as commercial-fiction. I felt sorry right away.
Now, MFAs must be on their way out (notwithstanding the recent Orange Prize) and, increasingly, a writer is being forced to look at the business side of the craft and that might soon become the staple diet in future conditioning classes for aspiring authors. The day of the MBA with specialization in Writing is not too far away. A commissioned work of which The Scandalous Secret is the third and final part, with a fixed turnaround cycle of one book per year, has come to mean that economics will eventually decide which side of the bed a writer should get up on a particular day.
No offence meant, but somehow got the feeling that the author seemed squarely appalled by the dictating nature of market economics and, given a choice, she wanted to be rescued from the accidental mire she found herself in. Don’t worry, we all get used to it, and maybe for the memory of an ideal long dead, we can appear distressed whenever economics becomes a topic. Simply put, ‘selling out’ isn’t a bad idea anymore. Anyone at a bookshop would offer an empathetic tissue to take care of the moral crisis. Selling out is fashionable.
To make things worse, I have not read a single book by JM (but then I have not read Joyce either because I did not want to lose it, know what I mean?). This is no book review either but just a few mental notes I made while being there. Somehow the brightest star today wasn’t the writer herself but the lady professor, AG Oleena, who introduced her. She was worth a listen, drawing easy parallels between JM’s book and the advent of middle-class literature in Malayalam in the 50s, which helped Mal Lit go majorly mainstream, influencing public reading by leaps and bounds. Apparently, the language used in JM’s book is reminiscent of the middle-class writing that centered on the ample use of common lingo, sans the embroidery of literary writing. I thought the professor was a whole lot kind in her introductory appraisal. I might have wanted to call it titillating, just what commercial fiction is programmed to be, but then who cares what I think. After all, I am on a bloody aeroplane.
You might want to read it. You may not. It makes sense to the publisher if you buy it; I don’t think they care either what you do with it at 35000 feet.
Watch Jaishree Misra talk about her 3 book deal with Avon, a Harper Collins Imprint