As books editor at this magazine and, more generally, as someone trying to make meaning of the Indian literary sphere, it seems to me that we’re passing through the Dickensian best of times and worst of times, an era possible to evaluate in “the superlative degree of comparison only.” More books are being published than ever before, a steady 10–12% increase in the business annually, suggesting the scope for newer kinds of literary practices and new ways of talking about them.
Instead, this potential diversity has been straitjacketed by the idea of “genre.” Genres are being created in assembly-line fashion, and are received as such by readers. (A case in point is how the many recent books on Indian cities are generally seen as belonging to a quasi-sociological genre of city literature, rather than distinctive explorations of the literary in relation to place.)
Scholarly publishing has expanded too, and is less susceptible to being ambushed by genre. But its rise has been met with the increasing suppression of books and their authors by flag-bearers of assorted political fundamentalisms, leading to fears of a scenario in which, as leading publisher Rukun Advani of Permanent Black has suggested on its blog, the best scholarly books on India are published abroad.