Magic-magic

A significant portion of my personal library, and my regular reading, consists of Science Fiction & Fantasy books.  This is inevitably a source of much comment from a significant portion of the people I know.

The Sci-Fi books usually pass muster, because, you know, it’s full of Science.  But the Fantasy ones?

When will you grow up?  Only kids read all this magic-magic stuff.
It’s all just talking swords and dragons and elves, isn’t it?
You know that this is just really a form of escapism, right?

It’s not really literature, is it though?

So much ughness.

Whenever some jamoora asks me any variant of the above questions, I’m tempted to launch into a full-blown rant.  I’m tempted to point out the vast number of sub-categories within the genre, from High Fantasy to Gothic to Low Magic to Humour to … oh go look it up yourself.  I’m tempted to point out that all genre-books do tend to revolve around a few basic concepts – and that’s why they’re called genres. I’m tempted to point out that those beloved classics of theirs by Dante and Swift and Poe are Fantasy.  I’m tempted to direct them to the writings of Mervyn Peake and Doris Lessing and Ursula Le Guin and Terry Pratchett and defy them to tell me that’s not literature at its finest. I’m tempted to invite them to consider that you can’t create five-book series (of 400 pages each) that go on to sell millions of copies if there wasn’t a decent plot that involved more than just flying carpets.  I’m tempted to point out that most of these books are about people, and politics, and power, and love, and betrayal, and well, all the things a standard fiction book has – just with a little sparkle-dust thrown in.  I’m tempted to point out that unlike other fiction, Fantasy has the scope to play with entire new worlds.  I’m tempted to …

Oh never mind.

I usually just end up agreeing it’s escapism.  Because, really, when there’s so much misery and trauma to be found by just opening the morning paper, why wouldn’t you want to lose yourself in other worlds and different futures? Ok, this is me, being a hedgehog and rolling up tight.  Because the other alternative is to lose my mind and burn the whole place down.

So go away, jamoora, before I wave this wand and turn you into a footstool.

Idealism

“The most hardened cynics were once the most optimistic idealists”
– Me

A lot of the time, I get a lot of grief over a lot of my views. Grumpy, they call me. Depressing, they say.  Look on the bright side, they exhort.

Well, I did look on the bright side.  Then Real Life came and flipped the lamp off.  And only in the darkness was the truth revealed.

Nobody chooses to be this dismissive, this unbelieving, this critical.  But somewhere along the line, you notice the masks and hear the unspoken words and discover the sordid secrets and face up to the truth.  And you realise the scales have been tampered with, and the standards have been faked, and we’ve all been short-changed.

And you cannot bear it, because nobody can bear the weight of broken ideals, and so you take the fragments and fuse them into a hard cloak.  And you wrap yourself deep inside, and you go forth to fight the world, one factual put-down at a time.  And the cloak gets tighter and heavier till you forget what it was like without it and you cannot contemplate living unprotected.  And so you snuggle in deeper, and make your point a little more forcefully (so that your voice can be heard through the folds).  And people look at you, and see you huddled in your cloak, and think you must be a cold, cold person.  And you let them, because it proves your point about quick to judge we are.

… but you always hope to find one thing to fully believe in.
You always hope to have some hope again.

Kitab Khana. Na na.

A new bookstore in the heart of Bombay’s historic area.  In one of the old Victorian buildings.  With claims of offering more than just the latest bestseller.  Inviting you to just sit and read for a while.  With a cosy little cafe to boot.  What more could one want?

As it turns out, a lot.

First, if you’re going for a ‘period’ look, do it properly.  Don’t mix carved columns and exposed ceiling beams with ‘warm’ wooden tones that look like an Ikea rip-off.  Get those bookshelves and staircases polished a nice, deep old-world style brown.  You know, Irani-cafe and Walkeshwar bungalow and Fort reading room brown.  The brown that’s so dark it’s almost black, that you think would feel intimidating but actually is comforting, the brown that screams old Bombay class.  That brown.  Go ahead, and don’t listen to those interior designers.  It won’t make the place look stuffy and claustrophobic – for crying out loud, you have 20-foot high ceilings and white floors, it can’t get claustrophobic.

Next, please put up big signs all over the place reminding your customers and your staff that this is a Kitab Khana, not an Awaaz Khana.  Y’know, books, not noise?  People want to go in there listen to the words in the books, not have to endure some phoren-jaunting SoBabe calling Villoo Aaaauntie to discuss her Kerala trip and how it was so green and yes it’s marketing but it is truly is godsowncountry and did she get the card and wasn’t it just hai-lair-ious.  Seriously, if you can’t instruct your staff to walk upto someone who’s bleating away on their phone in a bookshop, then put an ad out – there’s lots of cranky bawas who’ll happily donate their hours to slap such idiots silly with a mawa cake.

Oh, and while you’re at it, remind your staff that they work in a bookshop, and that while helpfulness and all is good, customers would prefer to be able to browse books without having to listen to five of them fluttering around one computer and arguing about the invoicing system or having them take calls and wander round the store loudly informing the person at the other end what books are and aren’t in stock.  There’s really no point inviting people to come and read for a while when there’s too much noise to do so peacefully.

And while we’re talking of seating space, a few more stools wouldn’t go amiss in each section, since the books are stacked all the way to the bottom and not every customer is a yogic gymnast.

And while we’re talking about stacking books, can you try not to have piles and piles of unsorted books lying in the middle of the floor?  Just because it’s on the mezzanine doesn’t mean people don’t go there. And if you just don’t have the place out-of-sight, then at least stack them tidily and put up a warning or something.

And while we’re on the mezzanine, can you please label all your sections?  Your store’s been open nearly eight months, surely you can have sorted this by now.  And if you’re reshuffling them, do your customers the courtesy of putting up a sign that says so, so that they don’t find sports books in areas marked as ‘Classics’.

And while we’re talking of sections, where’s your SF&F section?  You have a three whole shelves full of young adult stuff like Percy Jackson and Artemis Fowl, but nothing for adult readers?  Oh, it’s there, but just been mislabelled and I should ask the staff?  Again, eight months! Get it labelled already so I don’t have to keep asking people (which means more talking in a bookshop!).

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While a new bookshop is always welcome, and one that has a dedicated space for events and launches more so, right now the place feels just too pseudo-SoBo-touristy.  Just a little too … frou-frou.  Much mehness.