Action-packed year for books

Controversies galore too

Dan Brown
Dan Brown

NEW DELHI: The literary scene in 2014 was vibrant going by what Indians read and wrote and there were controversies as well as the pulping of two books following objection by some quarters raising serious questions on freedom of expression of writers.

Several authors like the celebrated Dan Brown, US-based Jhumpa Lahiri and Pakistani writers Reza Aslan and Moni Mohsin visited during the year which also saw the release of a number of books that sought to target the highest echelons of power – Sanjaya Baru’s “The Accidental Prime Minister”, P C Parakh’s “Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and other Truths” and Natwar Singh’s “Yours Sincerely”.

Besides numerous autobiographies and biographies including ones by Sachin Tendulkar and Naseeruddin Shah, the year saw publishers coming out with books on business, commercial and mass market fiction, literary fiction, self help, chik-lit and culinary. There were a number of works by new and little-known authors.

In February, Penguin Books India was forced to recall and destroy all copies of US Indologist Wendy

Jhumpa Lahiri
Jhumpa Lahiri

Doniger’s “The Hindus: An Alternative History” after an organization called Shiksha Bachao Andolan Committee claimed that the book, which focuses on different aspects of Hinduism, has lot of “inaccuracies and biases” and was full of various sexual connotations and should be withdrawn.

Though the publishers said it had an obligation to respect laws even if they were “intolerant and restrictive” and a moral responsibility to protect its “employees against threats and harassment”, Doniger was quite vocal in her reaction.

“I was, of course, angry and disappointed to see this happen, and I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate,” was her response.

She said the publishers were defeated by the “true villain of this piece –
the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offence to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book”.

Reza Aslan
Reza Aslan

This development came a month after Bloomsbury had to withdraw all copies of “The Descent of Air India” by former executive director of the airline Jitendra Bhargava in which he blames ex-Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel for the near grounding of the national carrier.
A book on Abu Salem was also in the news with the mobster moving a court seeking withdrawal of “My name is Abu Salem” by S Hussain Zaidi that documents his flamboyant life.

Literary festivals

A number of literary festivals were held during the year, prominent among them were the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), Mumbai International Literary festival, Bangalore Literature Festival, Kochi International Book festival and Kolkata Literary festival.

Apart for the controversies, the year was mostly good for publishers. V K Karthika, chief editor and publisher of HarperCollins India, told PTI, “2014 was an exciting year when we launched our children’s imprint Harper Kids, we focused on publishing very different categories including politics, cinema and our spirituality imprint – Harper Element. Several books won awards across genres including fiction, non-fiction and poetry.”

lifeAdds managing editor Shantanu Ray Chaudhuri, “2014 was very good. We had a bestseller – ‘Dark Star’, a book on Rajesh Khanna by Gautam Chintamani which sold over 5,000 copies in two months. Joy Goswami was selected as the Poet Laureate of India by Tata Lit for Life. We published his collection of poetry this year.”

According to Rajdeep Mukherjee, Senior Vice president at Pan Macmillan India, 2014 gave the publishing house a “success a month with books such as ‘Cell’ by Robin Cook,’ The Finisher? by David Baldacci and ‘Fangirl’ (YA category) by Rainbow Rowell going into quick reprints in the month of the publication”.

Jeffrey Archer’s “Be Careful What You Wish For” saw Pan crossing previous sales records in the year of its publication for the other Archer titles in “The Clifton Chronicle” series.

“While Para-Olympian Oscar Pistorius’ story ‘Behind the Door’ was one of the most controversial and topical books to be brought out, some of the titles to rise up quickly on the bestseller’s lists were Oprah Winfrey’s ‘What I Know For Sure’, Ken Follet’s Edge of Eternity’ and Aroon Raman’s ‘Treasure of Kafur’,”Mukherjee says.

P C Parakh
P C Parakh

“Zia Haider Rahman’s first book ‘In the Light of What We Know’ received a brilliant sales and media response for any first time writer and the year is ending on a high note with Aatish Taseer’s biggest release in ‘The Way Things Were’,” he says.

Hachette India says the year was spectacular but one that nevertheless reminded it that silver linings notwithstanding the dark cloud that shrouds the trade publishing environment has not quite gone away.
“I mention this despite having our most successful year ever. Because it is key to recognize that trade publishing and bookselling have undergone a huge change in the past few years and that churn is still underway,” Hachette India MD Thomas Abraham told PTI.

“The bulk of our sales this year was concentrated in the last four months, thanks to an unusual build up of blockbusters. A huge chunk of the year’s success is of course attributable to the blockbuster of the year –

Tendulkar’s autobiography ‘Playing It My Way’ which smashed all adult hardback records with sales topping 220,000 copies in less than a month. We also had ‘I am Malala’ which after the Nobel logged up an exciting 70,000 copies.

“The new John Grisham ‘Gray Mountain’ expectedly moved over 50,000 copies.’Silkworm’, the new instalment from Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) sold over 25,000 copies. Donna Tartt’s much acclaimed ‘Goldfinch’, Sue Monk Kidd’s ‘The Invention of Wings’ and David Mitchell’s ‘Bone Clocks’ headed up our literary lists,” he says.

According to Abraham, there were some disappointments too.

“New children’s series ‘Deep Blue’ sold below expectations, as did one of the funniest risque books written in ‘India Gone with the Vindaloo’. Indian crime fiction seems unable to break out despite there being some great books like ‘Lethal Spice’,” he says.

For Westland Ltd., 2014 was a “good if not exceptional year”. Says Westland CEO Gautam Padmanabhan, “We had our fair share of bestsellers including Rashmi Bansal’s ‘Take Me Home’, Rujuta Diwekar’s ‘Don’t Lose Out Work’, Devdutt Pattanaik’s ‘7 Secrets of The Goddess’, Christopher C Doyle’s ‘The Mahabharat Quest: The Alexander Secret’, Ashwin Sanghi’s first non-fiction ’13 Secrets of Bloody Good Luck’, and Preeti Shenoy’s ‘It Happens for a Reason’.

“Anees Salim’s ‘The Blind Lady’s Descendants’ and Baradwaj Rangan’s ‘Dispatches From The Wall Corner’ were the highlights of our literary imprint Tranquebar. It was also a year of evolving a new strategy for the rapidly changing market, the results of which we hope will bear fruit in 2015.”

Relatively small publishing houses did reasonably good business says Bhaskar Roy, CEO of Palimpsest Publishing House based in New Delhi, “We began the year with a bang. Dr Karan Singh’s ‘Meetings with Remarkable Women’, launched on February 1, dominated the publishing scene all through the year. Noted Malayalam writer Sethu’s short-story collection, ‘A Guest for Arundhathi’, too has been well received by the market.”
For Niyogi Books, 2014 was a mix of success and failure.

“Success in that we have been awarded for our several titles and there was an improvement in sales figures (approx. 15%) but the collection and readership were negative, adding to it, certain government institutions preferring regional language publishers,” says Bikash D Niyogi, its publisher and MD.

The DSC prize for South Asian literature went to Cyrus Mistry for his book “Chronicles of a Corpse Bearer”. Pankaj Mishra was among eight writers from seven countries who won Yale University’s prestigious USD 1,50,000 Windham Campbell Literature prize in recognition of their literary achievements.

India-born British author Neel Mukherjee, who was short listed for the 2014 Booker Prize for novel “The Lives of Others” lost to Australian novelist Richard Flanagan.

Mukherjee’s novel has also been short listed for the Costa Book Awards in the UK to be announced in January. Historian Ramachandra Guha’s “Gandhi Before India” figured among 100 Notable Books of 2014 selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review so were works of five Indian-American writers – Vikram Chandra, columnist Anand Giridharadas, journalist Anand Gopal, Delhi-born Akhil Sharma and surgeon Atul Gawande.

The year began with the seventh edition of JLF which witnessed a record footfall, with close to 2.2 lakh book lovers thronging the historic Diggi palace.

The five-day festival played host to two Nobel laureates Amartya Sen and Harold Varmus, four of 2013’s listed Man Booker authors Jim Crace, Jhumpa Lahiri, Tash Aw and Alison MacLeod besides several well-known literary faces like Jonathan Franzen, Gloria Steinem, S R Faruqi, Ved Mehta, Reza Aslan and Samantha Shannon.

But unlike the past couple of years, this edition was bereft of any major controversy though on the penultimate day, activists of Jaipur-based Sri Rajput Karni Sena protested against the presence of filmmaker Ekta Kapoor, objecting to the title of her TV serial “Jodha Akbar”, which they claimed presented their culture in bad light. They were, however, pushed outside the venue.-PTI

0 - 0

Thank You For Your Vote!

Sorry You have Already Voted!