Of Books and Bookstores

The naive unbridled passion for books is often too strong a provocation for starry-eyed bibliophiles to assume that the well-oiled machinery of the publishing industry runs solely on the fuel of enthusiasm for books. Seized by the charm of books, we often wonder at one who hasn’t found himself lost amidst books in the idyllic spaces of a bookstore or a library. This utopian bubble of romanticized and somewhat clichéd notion of an industry being sustained and propelled by the sheer emotional force of men trailed no further with me than the first day of our initiation into the world of publishing at Seagull School. Figures, numbers, policies, pricing, marketing, commissioning, et al encroached upon my innocent romance of books!

Reality Check!

All those romanticized imaginations, honed further by my tutoring in literature that clouded my mind vaporized completely. The introductory classes helped me gain insight into the pressing questions of sustenance, economics, growth and innovations that are inextricably linked to the organic whole of the publishing process. However, just as I was ready to plunge head-on, having steered clear of all charms and idealisms, into the mechanics of publishing, Seagull School caught us off guard! I was incredibly surprised when Seagull School presented us a marvellously magical week of meeting principal figures of the publishing world—eminent authors, booksellers and translators. This momentous opportunity that Seagull provided us helped me to formulate a more coherent idea of the publishing world, besides preventing me from completely abandoning my quixotic imaginations.

While the sessions with authors and translators enabled me to take a microscopic view of the creative process that entails publishing, the conversations with booksellers Rick Simonson and Paul Yamazaki, of Elliott Bay Book Company and City Lights Bookstore respectively, provided a thorough understanding of the journey of books from warehouses to bookstores and libraries. Rick and Paul and their bookstores, which have become cultural landmarks, having beaten the odds of time were a reassuring hope to me. Their uninhibited confession of the primacy that their passion for books has in their business, in their choice of selecting and buying books for their bookstores; their affirmed faith in relationships than on window displays and mad marketing was heartening and it somewhat restored vitality to my sunken enthusiasm.

However, at present what ails the publishing industry most is the formidable threat that technological advancements, in the form of ebooks, ereaders and online stores, pose to the tangible form of the book. But what revived my optimism was Rick’s nonchalant reply, ‘Oh! But we do have an online store and we also provide books to other stores!’ By the end of it, not only was I revitalized and my beliefs fine-tuned but I also gained a more lucid understanding of the publishing world.

The one word that my mind conjures at once in defining the publishing industry is ‘dichotomy’. This tête-a-tête of invaluable significance assisted me to perceive the incredulous dichotomy that is embedded deep within the publishing industry. As an industry, like all other, it is involved in commerce and economics whose finished products certainly, however, are the products of fervent creativity and ardent love for books. It is on this harmonized mix of the paradoxes of emotion and intellect, romance and rational that the industry survives. This fine balance of passion and pragmatism was adroitly driven to us by the Seagull School and by Rick and Paul!

Sayani Manna