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Monday, July 9, 2012

Book Club

This past Saturday I finally was able to go to a meeting for the book club I signed up for. It went really well, actually. We met at Costa Coffee in Connaught Place. I suppose as a little background, Connaught Place was designed as the centerpiece of New Delhi when the British rebuilt it after they, uh, ahem, leveled the previous city to punish India for the 1857 rebellion. Basically it is a business/shopping district thing. Anyhow, on the back end of L block, we met in a coffee shop to discuss books. Four people besides myself came. I was hoping for a few more people, but still, it was really one of the best research moments I have had thus far directly concerning my project.

I was actually kind of surprised who came. I was expecting the club to be some former liberal arts majors, maybe some sort of professor, or house wives or something like that. The four people who came were all unmarried men in their twenty and thirties. One was an IT professional. There was a business man, someone who worked for some sort of contractor, and an engineer. I was not expecting them to be the ones expressing interest in books. Also, the kinds of books they are interested in was somewhat surprising.

I think I have mentioned it before, but my findings so far have been that Indians generally speaking do not read. If they do almost universally they read quick easy reads like Chetan Bhagat, spiritual material, and self-help books. I have kind of been discouraged by the seemingly complete hegemony of these three things. I keep hoping I will randomly run into someone who reads something else or mentions a preference for classics or literary fiction or something other than, well, to be blunt, trashy novels and flavorless inspirational literature.

The people I met with actually expressed different ideas. One of them specifically noted that they really only like books written by Indians set in India. They mentioned that they liked the Catcher in the Rye, one of the first western novels they ever read, but after that never really found anything else they liked.

It seemed like there was a general preference for Indian novels with a mix of history and what they called "fantasy." From what I gathered, I think what they mean by fantasy is what we in the West would more commonly call magical realism. They kept talking about the fantasy elements of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children and there are not really very many elves or dragons in that. The other thing that they seemed to like were again the self-help books, although their taste in them was much more refined. They differentiated them into two types: those that focus on doing and those that focus on just giving inspirational messages. One of them called these those that work and those that do not.

It was so awesome to talk to people about books like this. It was so great just to talk to people in general on a level like this. It was not perfect. I consciously restricted how much I expressed my opinion. It was a titanic effort, but I had to keep reminding myself that I was not here to argue about truth or correct their misconceptions. There were so many times when I knew they were completely off base or at least had an extremely limited perspective that may have been accurate, but did not factor in so many different perspectives and ideas. They specifically panned Japanese authors for being ridiculous, which is sad, because I am passionately in love with Japanese literature.

The issue of translation also came up. They made some good points, but concluded that translation was always a bad idea. Again, so much I wanted to say, but I just let it lie. I learned a lot though. If I could just have a few more meetings like that with people my project would be amazingly rounded out. I wish I had the ability to talk to people like that on a regular basis. Every day would be freaking amazing and it would only require an hour or two each day. I would have more material than I know what to do with.

Also, they discussed and shared the best ways to get around India's bit torrent firewalls to download e-books illegally. I was so torn. On the one hand, it is piracy and it definitely negatively affects the publishing world and the future availability of books, but on the other hand, it is so important for people to read and for these ideas to get out there. Books here are prohibitively expensive. I have actually been surprised. Until prices drop or incomes rise, books are definitely a luxury good here in India. Which has tremendous implications and opens up a huge discussion on reading and literature and ideas and stuff. I just found it all quite funny and kept my mouth shut.

Not to get into it too much now, but it may be that in India books, like internet and telephones, will skip the hard phase and go straight to the mobile, wireless route through e-books. That makes me so sad to some degree, but it makes sense. The developing world may actually play a bigger role in the demise of the physical book in favor of the e-book than the book addicted west when a mind-blowingly enormous reader market opens up as China, India, and other places as they develop enough to where they have the disposable income and the free time to make reading as a pastime feasible.

I think that is one of the most frustrating things about this project. It has been an amazing experience, but the biggest things I am learning are how to set up a project better in the future. Not just in project structure. I am actually fairly happy with my project as I outlined it. Rather I am learning so much about how to properly plan a project for actual implementation. I know so much more about the necessity of contacts and what kind of contacts to have, timing, location. Actually I am just going to make this another post. Screw academic professionalism. I am an English major. I declare this stream of consciousness writing. It is now legitimate and cannot be criticized.

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