Time was when books were published and used to be sold at the many bookstores all over the city. Of course, they are still published and yet sold everywhere. But there is a difference between then and now.
Then, it was a simple matter of one's writing or compiling a book and leaving distributors and bookstore owners to dispose of them. Today it is all a matter of gross publicity, with a whole country being informed that a book has been written and that it will go through what is haughtily called a launch.
But now we have these book launches, which are occasionally a chance for a writer to invite a few famous men and women in town to a small party. These individuals, who have already been given copies of the book to read before they take centre stage at the launch, are generally unwilling to do anything other than shower praises on the writer even if his work is one that should simply be flung out of the window or hurled to the floor.
A book launch is, in a number of ways, a straitjacket. It is so because it persuades the discussants on the programme as also the audience to do nothing but praise the towering wisdom of the writer even though his book may be full of inanities.
It is often an inexplicable thing, this small matter of the chief guest and other guests at a book launch standing there, looking rather helpless, with those books in their hands. Whoever invented the idea of a book launch probably did not quite realise the enormity of embarrassment it would cause, both in those book-holding individuals and discerning readers. And then there is the small matter of conceit.
How do a few individuals to whom the book has been handed out as part of the launch speak for nearly everyone else, meaning all those prospective readers across the country, as they appreciate the work? And why must the writer, assuming that he considers writing to be a serious profession where comprehensive dedication and utmost humility are the requirement, stoop to the idea of becoming an instant celebrity before all those media people?
Books are a serious matter. You read them if they cater to your tastes; and you leave them aside if they do not hold any appeal for you. There are books that bristle with banalities; and then there are the tomes you simply cannot put down. When a book sees the light of day, you make it your business to troop down to the nearest bookstore and judge its contents and quality for yourself. Of course, you may read a review of it in some newspaper or the other. But if you are a reader intent on analysing a book on your own, despite everything others might say about it, you will sift through its pages in meticulous detail.
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