Tuesday, December 07, 2004


A deluge of mediocrity has permeated our world and is suffocating us in the process. The thing is, not all stories are meant to be told or read.

THERE is a novel in every one of us. Yes, we have heard that one before. And if we keep it that way, we'll save a lot of trees. The fact of the matter is, most of the books that are published today are pure trash and a waste of trees. (Can you imagine how much ancient forests--as in Lapland--are being sacrificed for paper?) And a waste of one's life and time, really. I can smell a bad book a mile away. You can't imagine the amount of bad manuscripts that are being published today for a variety of lame reasons. According to a source, more than a million titles will be published in 2005. So, how do you pick a good book when a mind-boggling 4,000 titles are published each day all over the world. One publisher told me that he publishes trash because trash sells. If they want trash, we will give them trash. And he is right, sad to say. He says he is not bothered about the quality of books nor the future of literature. Not exactly the sort of guest I would invite to grace my fantasy literary dinner, I'm afraid. I wouldn't want him at the dinner with me. Imagine how sad the state of the world is today, considering the ethical and moral bankruptcy of contemporary society. Bad books are a dime a dozen. They saturate an already overcrowded market with bland, generic books. Serious readers will have to learn to be more discerning. I dare say that 90 per cent of the books published today do not deserve to be published at all. I wonder what other editors and publishers think?

Alas, the editing process never ends, especially when you most want it to. But books have deadlines and must be at the bookshops on time. And so the editing rolls to a halt, whether you like it or not. Not all books are worth your time editing, really. But edit you must until the next best thing comes along. Sad to say, I have had my share of editing excruciatingly bad manuscripts through the years. I especially hate editing those autobiographies or biographies where the subject of the biography finances the deal himself and praises himself to the skies. (We are, after all, living in an age where self-promotion has become the norm.) In fact, I have had enough of these self-aggrandising biographies to last me many, many lifetimes.

Good books, however, are a pleasure to edit. And indeed a delight to read. They expand your mind and put into perspective your life experiences, and you get to listen to voices that you normally wouldn't have a chance to listen to. Diana Athill says that a novel has to be tremendously good for her to really want to read it. With such books, you tend to take something from them. Sadly, you don't get many of these books. In a world full of enticing distractions, many of us still choose to read because it fulfils a craving that only a good book can satisfy.


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