Print Edition - 2014-09-20  |  On Saturday

Starting conversations, selling books

  • The success of book fairs is a positive development for writers and readers alike. But the surge does not necessarily signal a growth in quality
- Chahana Sigdel
Starting conversations, selling books

Sep 19, 2014-

Being aware of a book’s existence is one thing. Reading it is a different thing altogether.  

“Today, when a book comes out, people will have heard of it, due in part to social media or other platforms, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that they are reading it,” says Amod Bhattarai, author of Chapters, which was translated from Nepali to English last year.

“And this is where book festivals come in. Festivals help writers penetrate readership, stir conversations and generate interest,” adds Bhattarai.    

“They provide a platform for writers to network, have face-to-face conversations with people and propagate reading culture,” he further notes.  

The Ncell Nepal Literature Festival, which features six foreign and more than 140 Nepali writers this year, is such a platform. Over the years, the festival has become a huge affair for Nepali readers and writers. From an audience of 5,000 during its year of inception, the number of attendees reached 25,000 last year.

“Reading and publishing culture has flourished in the last ten years,” says the festival’s director, Ajit Baral. But Baral, who is also the managing director of Fine Print, thinks the equation works the other way around as well: he holds that book sales in Nepal have been boosted by the festival.

Or festivals, to be precise. While the Capital is abuzz regarding the fourth iteration of the Ncell festival, another book fair cum literary festival is taking place at Bhrikutimandap.

According to Kamal Dhakal, one of the organisers of the ten-day Brihat Rastriya Pustak Pradarsani Tatha Sahityik  Yatra Mahotsav, theirs is the first time any publisher attempted a full-fledged book fair along with simultaneous talk sessions by authors and literary figures. “When there are book exhibitions, people attend them for the sole purpose of buying books, but with talks they get a sense of interaction and it seems to be working,” he says.

The exhibition features over 22,000 titles, which mostly includes popular English novels and recent Nepali bestsellers, and they are also conducting two or three interaction sessions per day. The festival concludes on September 21, but the organisers, Yamburi Book Point and Ghost Writing Nepal, say they will be venturing into four regions of the country later in the year. As of Friday, their sales figures have already crossed Rs 6,000,000.

The growth of reading culture in Nepal can be attributed to a host of factors. Nepal’s literary landscape changed dramatically with the explosion of the media after 1990, and the publishing industry benefitted from this boom. Private schools mushroomed, opening up a huge market where for-profit publishers could carve out their niche. And over the years, publishing houses, with their own areas of specialisation, emerged—focusing on genres such as literature, social sciences and academic subjects.

Post conflict, things got even better. Narayan Wagle’s Palpasa Café broke sales records and was widely discussed on various forums. Ever since, a handful of works, by both literary and non-literary writers, have been widely publicised. Memoirs by public figures have garnered newspaper headlines, been debated on talk shows and triggered interesting conversations on Twitter.

But not every book can start out by creating national headlines. For many such books, the point of entry could be literary festivals, which provide an opportunity for their writers to connect with potential readers. In that vein, says Dhakal, his fest will see the launch of at least eight books over the course of the festival.

But there are some who feel that these festivals are merely promo venues for mainstream writers. “The problem here is that everything works within a closed nexus,” says a young writer, who prefers to remain unnamed.

In every literature festival which she has attended over the years, she says it is really difficult to break into that closed circuit formed by the respective groups.

“Good books do stand out,” she says. “But there are also books that make it big solely due to the massive advertisement campaigns. And the book fairs have merely become extensions of that campaign. This is unhealthy. In world literature, festivals are there to improve literature, but here in Nepal, it exists only to make some writers popular.”

Basanta Thapa of National Booksellers and Publications Nepal, which has over 60 members, agrees that the debate over quality cannot be ignored. But, he says, the success of such festivals and the improvements Nepali publishers have made in the areas of copy editing, layout and design do not necessarily mean that there has been a concurrent improvement in the one area that really matters. “The rise in quantity is inevitable, but the quality is still questionable,” he says.

Amod Bhattarai too concedes that this ‘wave’ of publishing and selling is something that cannot be stopped. In a free market, he says, certain businesses will flourish more than others. Literary and non-literary works will continue to cascade.  Works of fiction will be written. Memoirs will be penned. Testimonials will be given. Fairs held.  Books sold.

But how many books will really survive the test of time?

“In the long run, we remember things of quality, and the ones that strive for excellence will be th e ones we’ll be talking about in years to come,” he says.

Published: 20-09-2014 08:39

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