fiction or fact

Here’s the formula for the future of the book: Become a TV discussion

Depth, nuance, and complexity must give way to loud arguments and fodder for tweets if books are to find readers.

A couple of weeks ago I was absently flipping through books at Blossoms in Bangalore, trying to decide on a worthy enough read for a five-hour plane trip. Milan Kundera’s Festival of Insignificance called out to me at first. Then there was a new creepy collection by Stephen King.

But at that moment my subconscious decided to be a party pooper and reminded me that I’d bought Open Veins Latin America a month ago and had not read past Page 10. I walked out bookless. That familiar dependable bookstore cocaine rush had failed to make an appearance. It fizzled and burnt out without as much as a whimper.

Bah. I felt what every self-respecting reading Indian feels at such a moment – utter failure. I had become one of them.

“Them” being a non-specific group of people who read, or might read, only if you give them something newfangled, trending, and quick enough. “Them” are the people who have no time to either invest in the geopolitics of Latin America or join Kundera on his next existential crises. No. We – they? – need something loud, brash and quickly forgotton.

We want books to allow us to pop out titles, names and topics, and then get into a testy match of viewpoints with very little to substantiate our high-decibel opinions. Opinions which happen to be slightly edited versions of the most impressive sentences that were written solely to fuel such socialisation.

To us, literature as people knew it is dead. No CPR or miracle drug will cure a nation with five-second attention spans and the lust to be the one who made the most compelling point. So I present to you the five things the New Indian Book needs in order to survive the apocalypse of the nuanced and subtle brain.

Let the title stroke the ego of the imaginary intellectual

We still want to tell ourselves we are cerebral people. Let the title be vague, but have a tagline that is pointed enough for us to pick it up. It’s the title that will allow us to sound arty enough in certain groups. In other groups we will refer to the tagline – we’re savvy like that. Dissect the book into easy-to-understand segments and make sure you throw in some difficult words in there, we’re not brain dead yet.

Shorten the suitability of the boy and dumb down a fine balance

Because good books that experimented with length and societal introspection have no business hanging out in 2015. Think White Tiger on steroids. We want to be in the know. The thing is, we need to make opinions and shove them out at Chinese factory scale.

Authors, please note we need to fling the FB trend of the month so hard that our networks won’t know what hit them. There’s also the matter of forming multiple opinions on the same topic, POVs if you will. We understand that our perception is narrow, but we’re worldly enough to understand and make up the perceptions of other groups too.

We got it, we know everything, if someone would just care to read and highlight our tweets more often. Help us do this by making books that give us paint-by-number ideas that are easily diluted into quick snappy retorts – those trolls out there are nasty and something must be done.

Give us more of talking heads

Listen, you don’t need to prove you are an expert. Let’s get philosophical – I mean, what’s an expert really? If you articulate your point sharply enough, wear something quixotic, and walk around with that deep expression on your face, then you are one. It’s that simple.

We need experts talking about very specific topics. Bonus points if you can get us riled up into two square oppositional groups that toss around counter-attacks at the speed of, um, really fast broadband.

Pick topics like the current administration, movies, film stars, and murderous mothers.  We also enjoy predictions. Economic, technological and political predictions in particular. It would be genius if the book mashed up all these topics to come up with some startling dystopia that we can all talk about.

The trick is to leave some room for us to create corollary predictions that emerge from the book’s main predictions. See? We’re still using that main mantra all decent literary artists employ – show, don’t tell.

Set the stories in Mumbai, US

We love those books where everything seems to be happening in a western country, even though they’re actually set in Delhi or Mumbai. If it weren’t for the cleverly placed names like Rahul and Aisha we would have no idea that Aisha’s stressful job with her bitch-ass boss wasn’t happening in New York. And we’d think rich boy Rahul’s Audi was cruising the streets of London.

We love those books – they make you think India really is kind of like America, provided you look at one micro-section of society and concentrate on building your scenes exclusively in restaurants, offices, malls, and cars. And ignore the Karva Chauth stuff.
If the ending must be sad, let there be a death – we don’t want to bother with the other complexities of human emotions that lead to people not making it as a couple.

Newhour it

The book that will survive this era will be a 9 pm TV debate. Come in with an agenda, make it roar and talk over everything. Make a point, make five. Come back full circle to the same issue and roar again.

Create friction. Identify a scapegoat and contextualise things with irrelevant mini-celebrities. Understand that this nation at its core comprises movie-going whistle blowers. We need a show with lights and dance. We need a lasting buzz with no tangible results.

We want to scream out your words, but not really come to a solid conclusion or solution because we are a tolerant nation after all, and we wouldn’t want anyone else to feel like they can’t have their share of say. Dangle a carrot, let the vegetable sway – our eyes must dance with it.

So where did this leave me? How did I figure out what to do with that five-hour flight? I haven’t caved and bought one of these books yet. I am dancing a fine line.

My Open Veins Latin America stares at me from the dining table, I stare back. We know what will happen eventually. Until my inner demons have figured it out, I must compromise. I diplomatically reach out for the inflight magazine and find myself agreeing to the appeal of a short day trip to Macau.

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