On reading

There has been some buzz in the ‘books-reading’ related sites that pop up in my inbox (of course, I must have signed up at some point!) about the death of Scottish novelist Iain Banks. From these I learnt that he had lived only a few weeks following his announcement that he had cancer on his website. It was also ironic that the book he had been writing (to be published later this year) is abut a middle aged man diagnosed with cancer. He was just 59 and appeared to have been fairly well read and popular in UK. So I did a bit of looking around (not literally,  of course!) and learnt that he had been fairly prolific in his 3 decade long writing career. He wrote 2 genres of fiction – novels with an interesting twist as Iain Banks and Science fiction as Iain M Banks.

The description of his books in the Observer Obituary further fueled my interest and since Flipkart is my usual shopping destination for known books or authors (as against bookshops for the spontaneous buys) , I did a quick search. They stocked a fairly large list of his books, (listing 85 items) but was surprised to see that these were all imported ones and cost was in the range of  Rs 700+. So I looked around other online suppliers and found that Gyan Books of Daryganj had many of the titles in the 400 or so range. This got me looking around for some information on books and their publication. The statistics are quite fascinating and I felt well worth sharing. As per latest available figures, close to a million titles are published annually,  of which the Us (2010) accounts for one third, UK for about 0.2 million with China a close third. India is at 7th position after Russia,  Germany and Spain, and the last available figures are about 82 thousand in Hindi and 20,000 in English with no mention of any other language. So, if one includes the 25,000 or so published in other English speaking countries such as Canada and Australia, more than half the books published in the world are in English. These figures are very approximate, but gives a fair idea of the per capita book status and puts UK way ahead of all others in this area. India on that score is a very poor performer indeed!!

These numbers, of course, refer to books of all genres. By some convoluted logic, the figure of 100,000 has been arrived at for the number of English fiction titles published annually. There is an  increasing  productivity by Indians writing in English from across the diaspora – and these always reach us. But I suspect that  the large majority of the titles published around the world do not  reach Indian book stores. This scenario may have improved slightly with the growth of the e-book stores such as Filpkart.

We Indians  have an advantage that many titles are  locally produced and printed, allowing us to get them at prices far cheaper than their US/Europe editions. However, there must be some economics logic  involved in deciding which ones do see an Indian print!! While the Dan Browns,  Jeffrey Archers, David Baldaccis and Ken Follets are the prima donnas, the Booker and similar prizes push those who make their long and short lists into some sort of nine-day wonders!! However, since  all  these awards lists are not without some prejudice, and  as a serious reader of English fiction, I wish I had a wider access to  contemporary writing and could make some judgement for myself as to who I liked! Will Amazon in India bring in a wider selection?

Coming back to Iain Banks, from the prices at Gyan Books it seems to me that he has been published in India, but why does Flipkart have only the imported ones?  Landmark did not have them at all in their stocks. Gyan did not indicate the publisher or have a picture of the book. Anyone out there who has read Banks? (Not the sci-fi, a genre I never read) Feed back welcome!


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