Action-packed year for books, controversies galore

New Delhi: The literary scene in 2014 was vibrant going by what Indians read and wrote and there were controversies as well as the pulping of two books following objection by quarters concerned raised serious questions on freedom of expression of writers.

Several authors like the celebrated Dan Brown, US-based Jhumpa Lahiri and Pakistani writers Reza Aslan and Moni Mohsin visited during the year which also saw the release of a number of books that sought to target the highest echelons of power – Sanjaya Baru’s “The Accidental Prime Minister”, P C Parakh’s “Crusader or Conspirator? Coalgate and other Truths” and Natwar Singh’s “Yours Sincerely”.

Besides numerous autobiographies and biographies including ones by Sachin Tendulkar and Naseeruddin Shah, the year saw publishers coming out with books on business, commercial and mass market fiction, literary fiction, self help, chik-lit and culinary. There were a number of works by new and little-known authors.

In February, Penguin Books India was forced to recall and destroy all copies of US Indologist Wendy Doniger’s “The Hindus: An Alternative History” after an organisation called Shiksha Bachao Andolan Committee claimed that the book, which focuses on different aspects of Hinduism, has lot of “inaccuracies and biases” and was full of various sexual connotations and should be withdrawn.

Though the publishers said it had an obligation to respect laws even if they were “intolerant and restrictive” and a moral responsibility to protect its “employees against threats and harassment”, Doniger was quite vocal in her reaction.

“I was, of course, angry and disappointed to see this happen, and I am deeply troubled by what it foretells for free speech in India in the present, and steadily worsening, political climate,” was her response.

She said the publishers were defeated by the “true villain of this piece – the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offence to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardises the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book”.

This development came a month after Bloomsbury had to withdraw all copies of “The Descent of Air India” by former executive director of the airline Jitendra Bhargava in which he blames ex-Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel for the near grounding of the national carrier. .

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“I mention this despite having our most successful year ever. Because it is key to recognize that trade publishing and bookselling have undergone a huge change in the past few years and that churn is still underway,” Hachette India MD Thomas Abraham told PTI.

“The bulk of our sales this year was concentrated in the last four months, thanks to an unusual build up of blockbusters. A huge chunk of the year’s success is of course attributable to the blockbuster of the year – Sachin

Tendulkar’s autobiography ‘Playing It My Way’ which smashed all adult hardback records with sales topping 220,000 copies in less than a month. We also had ‘I am Malala’ which after the Nobel logged up an exciting 70,000 copies.

“The new John Grisham ‘Gray Mountain’ expectedly moved over 50,000 copies. ‘Silkworm’, the new instalment from Robert Galbraith (JK Rowling) sold over 25,000 copies. Donna Tartt’s much acclaimed ‘Goldfinch’, Sue Monk Kidd’s ‘The Invention of Wings’ and David Mitchell’s ‘Bone Clocks’ headed up our literary lists,” he says.

According to Abraham, there were some disappointments too.

“New children’s series ‘Deep Blue’ sold below expectations, as did one of the funniest risque books written in ‘India Gone with the Vindaloo’. Indian crime fiction seems unable to break out despite there being some great books like ‘Lethal Spice’,” he says.

For Westland Ltd., 2014 was a “good if not exceptional year”. Says Westland CEO Gautam Padmanabhan, “We had our fair share of bestsellers including Rashmi Bansal’s ‘Take Me Home’, Rujuta Diwekar’s ‘Don’t Lose Out Work’, Devdutt Pattanaik’s ‘7 Secrets of The Goddess’, Christopher C Doyle’s ‘The Mahabharat Quest: The Alexander Secret’, Ashwin Sanghi’s first non-fiction ’13 Secrets of Bloody Good Luck’, and Preeti Shenoy’s ‘It Happens for a Reason’.

“Anees Salim’s ‘The Blind Lady’s Descendants’ and Baradwaj Rangan’s ‘Dispatches From The Wall Corner’ were the highlights of our literary imprint Tranquebar. It was also a year of evolving a new strategy for the rapidly changing market, the results of which we hope will bear fruit in 2015.”

Relatively small publishing houses did reasonably good business says Bhaskar Roy, CEO of Palimpsest Publishing House based in New Delhi, “We began the year with a bang. Dr Karan Singh’s ‘Meetings with Remarkable Women’, launched on February 1, dominated the publishing scene all through the year. Noted Malayalam writer Sethu’s short-story collection, ‘A Guest for Arundhathi’, too has been well received by the market.”