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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The hardest part about studying reading in India

is that I cannot say what I really think about Chetan Bhagat because so many people I talk to love his books. So let me rant here. He is a miserable author. His writing is remedial. His plots suck. He is racist. His opinions of the West are not empowering to India, they are engendering nationalist sentiment that are only going to hold normal Indians back while allowing the rich Indian elite, (e.g. investment bankers like Chetan Bhag) to continue sell out India to the West (zing!). His books are big cartloads of do as I say not as I do kind of stuff. They are written as movies and Bhagat spends all his time now trying to get his books made into movies and delivering speeches to support his affluent Mumbai lifestyle. Let's be honest, he writes crappy movie scripts. Like high school level stuff. It's high school level scripts except instead of emo drama, they are full of platitudes about how you can be whoever you want to be. Note that there have a been a string of murders related to labor riots in Haryana over the last month or so, with some speculating that the violence started after some castist remarks. Okay, I am stopping now. I just wish Bhagat would too.

Okay that is not the hardest part, but every time I see someone reading Bhagat or someone gushes about how much they like Bhagat...I have to almost literally bite my tongue.

I think the most surprising thing to me, which in retrospect should not have been, that I have concluded from my research is that Indians, with regards to reading, are really not that much different than Americans. I have never studied American reading, but from remembering what I have observed from talking to friends and acquaintances in the U.S., reading reports about books and e-books, and from inspecting people's bookshelves or lack of them in their homes (disclaimer: if you let me in your house I have thoroughly inspected any book collections I could find. This isn't probably, I have. I am a shameless book snoop) it is basically the same thing.

There are some differences. Americans do read more overall, but the quality of the literature is the same. Chetan Bhagat is on par with Stephanie Meyers and any cheap romance or mystery writer. Dan Brown, Michael Chrichton, Stephen King, and Sue Grafton are perhaps of slightly better quality than the big writers of cheap fiction that Indians read in English at least, they are formulaic, over-hyped, and while perhaps important parts of English literature to study and remember, their books individually are fairly forgettable. Why am I talking about this. Oh, Americans may read more due to the wider availability of books, literacy, and the cheapness of books, but the reading and the purpose of the reading is essentially the same.

The thing that surprises me is the lack of correlation between why people read and what they choose to read. Even in the field of English books, there is a general preference for Indian authors. In fact, outside of those who legitimately read (not that everyone else does not really read; what I mean by that is people who actually do enjoy reading for a hobby and devote at least some time to for sheer pleasure), I do not think anyone mentioned a preference for Western authors. It makes sense in my mind that if you are going to favor your own nation's authors that you would then also choose books with strong messages or try to read the "classics" (whatever that might mean). I guess this is really not that surprising. I don't imagine that the "'merica" kind of people would really be capable of digesting or understanding much more than twilight or fifty shades (oh I so went there). Except the difference is the Indians do not take pride in stupidity or ignorance like the American set do. They hold traditional ideas and opinions sometimes, but they do not knowingly seek after ignorance like some Americans do.

I guess I expected that if there were a preference for Indian authors, the reading would also be to some degree political as well. But mostly I haven't really noticed it to be.

Another interesting trend is that the other popular genre for reading, motivational/business lit, it is all about the ideas. It doesn't matter if you are Rajan Tata or Bill Gates. If you have good ideas and people feel that they work, the book is popular. The most popular, or at least the most frequently mentioned seem to be Indians, or else Indians living abroad, however no one seems to discriminate against books written by Westerners in the slightest. The seven habits are frequently mentioned as good books. It seems like with literature, Indians are conscious of preserving a native tradition, but when it comes to business and success, it is a free-for-all.

I am still developing these ideas. Over the next two weeks I am setting things up to get some hopefully really good more one on one kind of stuff. Since I have generally lacked (and still lack) a target population that I could focus on getting access too, I have just been working with what comes up in conversation, what I observe, and what I overhear. Finally college is back in session, so I am going to take advantage of that. Also I have gotten much more comfortable with the people in my PG and also I have made headway in some of the clubs I have been attending. It is to the point where it isn't exactly the societal penetration I was imagining, but it will work for my project.

Ah! And I still have a draft of that entry I never finished. I need more time! I need more time for reflection and observation. I cannot draw conclusions of any kind after one short and crazy summer. Field Studies are not near long enough. I need at least a year to confidently say anything. This is crazy!..."I just met you. And this is crazy. But I've only been here three months and I'm analyzing your culture and drawing sweeping, misinformed, possibly racist and insulting conclusions, maybe." Aiyo. And I bet that (I was thinking SWEARS!) Dr. Nuckolls will just love how things turned out. Next time. You have not heard the last of me, Dr. Nuckolls, you hear that? *shakes fist* This isn't the end!

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