Getting caught in the act

Pop-Lit


R

ecently, a familiar looking book caught my eye on a relative’s bookshelf. Shopoholic and Sister, said the title. I grinned as I remembered reading the entire Shopoholic series during college, curled up on one of the comfy leather sofas in a Crossword bookstore. I went straight from that relative’s house to the nearest bookstore and bought the entire series, glaring defiantly at the people in the checkout line who were looking at me like I had committed a crime.

“Hope you enjoy reading this Madam, this is one of our fastest selling items,” the cashier told me, with a knowing grin. Blushing a little, I bought them anyway. And read them. And thoroughly enjoyed them. Becky Bloomwood provided me with so much entertainment, that I forgot my miseries for an entire week.

So why are books like the Shopoholic series, the Twilight vampire series and others so popular? You can blame it on the media, that tells us what to read, blame it on the beautifully illustrated and designed book covers, or you could blame it on the movies that are based on these fairytale books. Whatever, the reason, the simple truth is that people are reading again, and in no small measure due to such books.  

There is a simple reason I go back to these books. Mostly, when reading Shopoholic or Twilight, or any other similar genre, I feel overdosed on happiness. Becky Bloomwood, fights against all the odds and defeats the evil credit card addiction, to live happily ever after with her one true love. This, to me, is a satisfying book.  

Stephanie Meyer brings a The Wheel of Time meets Sweet Valley High type world into our hands, where Isabella Swan battles the forces of the dark in high school, while somehow managing to juggle her love life and friendships along the way. Go Isabella!

I like to trace my ‘Junk’ reading habit back to my school days, when I graduated from Sweet Valley High to Danielle Steele and from Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie, Sidney Sheldon, and eventually Sherlock Holmes.

Addicted to Danielle Steele on the one hand and Sherlock Holmes on the other, I would spend the hours before bedtime with a book in hand, finally falling asleep with the lights on and the blankets off. Maybe, it has something to do with following events in the lives of a particular character. Hence, Sherlock Holmes and his eccentricities kept me company through my latter school years. I read his adventures over and over again. So many times that now, I even buy books not written by Arthur Conan Doyle about the character Holmes, in the hope that someone has managed to re-create the magic of the adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Maybe, that’s how authors manage to sell books based on characters that they didn’t create?

Though this does not necessarily apply to authors like Danielle Steele, a certain consistency in the protagonist’s character allows readers to identify with the main characters in all her books. The heroine is necessarily a strong, yet vulnerable woman. She encounters, during the course of her golden years, approximately 3-4 strong, handsome men. Her family troubles her, her children trouble her but eventually, everything turns out alright and she lives happily ever after!

The Agatha Christie fixation is also extremely familiar to me. Through Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, I learnt about Belgians and Frenchmen, not to mention the British nobility, from her books. Mysterious characters and murders abound, making them a fast paced, quick-fix for an adrenaline rush. Say what you will, I still love the blood, gore, poisons and suffocations that make up a typical Agatha Christie thriller.  

In recent years, I happened to read The GameWorld Trilogy by Samit Basu. Wondering whether the hype was justified (in my mind, it usually isn’t), I bought the first book, The Simoqin Prophecies, which got me hooked from the first page. Any book that has an adventurous, travel writing rabbit is worth it, in my opinion. A sly dig at all the fantasy series ever written, the books have an individuality and humour which is purely the authors’ own. The Indian overtones are also enjoyable. Maybe, it is the Indian-ness of a humourous fantasy series, hitherto an unknown phenomenon, that made them so popular. Strange, considering the fact that Indian mythology is our gift to the world, and that epics like the Mahabharata and the Ramayana can give any fantasy series a run for their money, and definitely emerge unbeaten.

So, should we sit up and take notice, when a Henry James occupies the shelf next to Sidney Sheldon, and both disappear off the racks faster than you can see? Should we worry, when we ask someone if they liked Lord of the Rings, the reply is “Yeah, I loved the movie! I also loved The Devil wears Prada?” Should we mind that the likes of Kazuo Ishiguro, Haruki Murakami and Milan Kundera are not as popular as we would like them to be? Or should we be grateful that people are once again flocking to well stocked bookstores instead of lying on their couches in front of the idiot-box?

For me, when I see a father and his teenage daughter standing together in the checkout line of a bookstore, waiting to buy Amitav Ghosh and Stephanie Meyer (and obviously J K Rowling), I feel contented and secure, in the knowledge that people are reading again.

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