Top critical review
this feels more like a few blog posts cobbled together
23 March 2017
A few years ago, I was at an art gallery on a late summer afternoon. Most of the paintings there were on sale and one of them really caught my eye. It was a charcoal caricature of a bearded man, standing naked. At first sight I thought, 'Well, here's something that I can reproduce very easily'. But what got my attention was the price tag. That simple drawing was priced at a hefty rupees fourteen lakhs. Yes! That simple charcoal scribble on cold-pressed cartridge paper was adorned by a tag of Rs.14 lakhs! Curious, I looked for the artist's name. It was none other than M.F.Hussain, a man who won more notoriety than fame with his 'nudes'.
Coming back to the painting, I am sure all of us would agree that the price was more for the name of the artist than for any aesthetic value of that drawing. While MFH would have produced truly worthy works of art, oftentimes, even a simple doodle scribbled by such eminent artists on a piece of paper napkin tends to fetch lavish accolades.
This book, er... booklet by Jhumpa Lahiri is a classic example of publishers cashing in on the prevailing popularity of the creators. Bluntly put, it is called as 'making hay while the Sun shines' in lay terms.
This booklet is nothing but the print version of a keynote lecture delivered by Ms.Lahiri for a literary foundation. At 72 pages, this feels more like a few blog posts cobbled together, inside a decent looking hardcover package to give it a semblance of a book. For, if this were to be published as paperback, it would resemble a product brochure or at best a political pamphlet. It’s truly disappointing to see such crass commercialization on the part of the publishers, and of course, the author too.
Having said that, I need to admit that the contents of the book don't disappoint completely though. It is the second non-fiction work by Jhumpa Lahiri and just like the first one, this is a different kind of attempt, a niche book as the author herself calls it.
The author talks about the role and relationship of a cover to the book, and does so in her usual eloquent style. From discussing about how a cover could lure a prospective reader to fetch a book, to the aesthetic and commercial value addition of a cover to the book, to her indulgences with regard to the covers of her own books, Jhumpa deals with all that one could think about book covers. Also, it seems that she has continued with her experiment of writing in Italian and translating it into English. A commendable effort I would say.
A little redundant but of usual eloquence, this book will make for a light read, and a very light read at that. Hardly 72 pages of spacious text, this can be finished in one sitting. As for me, I found this to be a delectable dessert, having just suffered the intellectual indigestion caused by reading Søren Kierkegaard's 'Fear and Trembling'.
Read it if you must. Else you can skip it with the satisfaction of not having fallen into the commercialization traps of the wily publishers.