13 June 2014

Outlook Bibliofile 16 June 2014

What is a critic but one who reads quickly, arrogantly, but never wisely? 

David Mitchell, writing in Cloud Atlas

For a few years I wrote a weekly book column for Sunday Mid-day, Bombay’s most wonderful tabloid. It was one of the most enjoyable assignments I’ve ever had. The perks included a never-ending supply of new books, and junkets to the Jaipur Literature Festival (that Disneyland for the reader).
Among the negatives was horror at the growing number of mediocre books that the combination of new technology and a lack of discernment were conspiring to produce. Another problem I had was that readers quite often complained that they didn’t enjoy my reviews, because, they said, I only ever praised books. Apparently, mean, nasty reviews are much more fun to read than positive ones, and one can build a much more attractive reputation as a reviewer if your reviews are dripping with wit and sarcasm. Sometimes people even asked me whether authors and publishers paid me to write good things about their books. So I would explain (trying to hide my indignation) that they did not, but that I saw no point in writing about books that I hadn’t enjoyed reading.
I hardly ever condemn a book, even if I hate it, because there’s no accounting for tastes and something I dislike could well be liked, enjoyed, and may even be admired by someone else. There’s only one book on this blog with a ‘burn’ rating – Culture Shock! India, and it is in fact a popular book which scores of hapless visitors to India refer to, perhaps even with deference.