A history of curiosity

BUYING BOOM

A history of curiosity

The Da Vinci Effect is continuing to raise a storm and sweeping books off the stores. But it isn’t Dan Brown this time. More than a week after the furore, bibliophiles are grabbing copies of Jinnah: India-Partition Independence for reasons other than an interest in history. The publisher, meanwhile, seems to be smiling all the way to the bank. 

And while the dust is yet to settle in, almost all bookstores in the City are trying to cater to the huge demand. “We have a few copies across the country and are trying to get it for the customers. Most of the readers want the book to be delivered home,” informs Shivaraman Balakrishnan, Deputy Manager (Marketing), Crossword.

The truth is it’s not just ideas and plots that are selling at stores but controversies too. It always had, without any dearth for takers. Madhu M, Head (Merchandise), Landmark, remembers how Jaswant Singh’s earlier book A Call to Honour also had an impressive sale.

He says, “That too had some revelations to make. But Jinnah... has been the biggest hit in the last three to four weeks. In fact, it is bigger than what the publisher expected, the book is going in for a reprint,” he adds. 

Looks like, if the book is controversial, you need to have it on your shelf. In almost every case, the books end up flying off the stores more than what is anticipated.

Author Anita Nair subscribes it to “human behaviour wanting to know the ‘why and what’ of any controversy. Naturally, any book that is the subject of speculation tends to see a sudden surge in popularity,” she says.

But some voracious readers like Reshma Ravikanth do not go by popular choice nor by controversy. “Basically, we are gossip hungry and have an appetite for voyeurism. I am least interested in this particular book purely because I feel it was written for personal-political benefits.”

While that may be the case for a few, politics have been making strange ‘book-fellows’ in recent times and the authors finding profit in the bargain. “L K Advani’s My Country, My Life had seen this kind of a sale for about first 45 days,” says Shivaraman.
“After which it stabilised. However, history has always been the dominant section at our store. And yes, controversy helps sell. However, as a retailer, I did not expect this kind of huge response for Jinnah...,” he adds.

Jinnah may go thus far and no more, that only time will tell, but books courting controversies have a long history. Since the beginning, written words have been burnt, banned, censored in the name of politics, religion, language and racial overtones.
The classics in the genre included Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Uncle Tom’s Cabin and more recently like Satanic Verses, The Da Vinci Code and the Harry Potter series.

But Rowling’s charm worked magic and how. It inspired an entire generation to pick up a book again. “The controversy around Harry Potter was more of an attack on Rowling because her works were bearing fruits. Da Vinci Code, on the other hand, invited trouble by touching religious sentiments,” says Reshma.

The challenges posed to these literary works have, nevertheless, only broadened their appeal, political reasons or blasphemy. Anita goes on to say, “I don’t think bibliophiles actually set out to include controversial books in their collections. Sometimes, the book is just a fine piece of writing and so it becomes part of a personal library,” while pointing out that her favourite controversial book is Nabakov’s Lolita.
Authors, who break convention, have been challenged and will continue to be so. But their books will leap into the readers’ hands, for they dared to be different.

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