The basic thrust of my research on The Hindu Literary Review has been to look at the ways books have been reviewed in it primarily over the period July 2001 to January 2006. I have also looked at some of the earlier issues, from1995 to 1997, of The Hindu Literary Review in my effort to establish and examine the main changes that have been happening in various aspects of the book trade in India.
While my aim has been to make this research as comprehensive as possible, there have been some logistical problems that I have encountered in the process. To begin with, the Internet only provided archives from 2001 onwards. For archives of an earlier date, the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library seemed a good place to begin. But here too, the holdings of The Hindu ended with microfilmed issues of the newspaper only till March 1998, because the issues later than March 1998 were in the process of being microfilmed (1). Further, I was on the look out for some fact-and-figure data about circulation, readership patterns, town- and-city- wise distribution which would have proved immensely useful for giving me a clearer understanding about the reach and influence of the newspaper, but I have not been able to address these questions to any resource person willing to answer them for me either inside or outside The Hindu establishment.
Issues of The Hindu Literary Review between 1995 and 1997: Some observations
From the randomly viewed issues of The Hindu Literary Review between 1995 and 1997 the following could be deduced:
Firstly, at this stage The Literary Review comes as part of The Magazine on Sundays, and roughly twice a month, although the frequency of appearance is not fixed. Secondly, since it comes as part of The Magazineon Sundays, the pagination is continuous. (The page numbering of the The Hindu Magazine and The Hindu Literary Review is done in Roman Numerals). Thirdly, on an average, The Literary Review section contains 6 – 7 pages, and around 10 – 15 books are reviewed on an average.
At this point the most visible publishers, that is, those publishers whose books are frequently reviewed are either foreign university presses or prominent Indian publishers such as Penguin and Rupa. The other publishers are relatively new entrants in the market: A ‘n’ B, Kali for Women, Goel, Affiliated East-West Press.
The books most reviewed are reference books (dictionaries, encyclopaedias), books on academic subjects and professional books.. The fiction that is reviewed, even if written by Indians, is more or less always that which has been published abroad initially and subsequently circulated as reprints in a small number.
The other noteworthy point about The Hindu Literary Review of this period is the large number of articles that appear in The Hindu Literary Review. The articles report seminars, take the shape of extracts from books; discuss Indian English and regional language authors and expound upon literary movements and genres. Also seen in The Hindu Literary Review of this period are a large number of advertisements that feature on almost every page, and in some cases cover more than half the page.
Finally, the collaboration of The Hindu Literary Review with the Indian Review of Books and the Times Literary Supplement is evident from the number of articles that The Hindu Literary Review prints from these journals. The collaboration with the Times Literary Supplement still holds , though the collaboration with the Indian Review of Books ended after the Indian Review of Books wound up.
Issues of The Hindu Literary Review between 2001 and 2006: Tracking some shifts and developments
For the period 2001-2005, my research has been of a more detailed nature. The research has involved cataloguing the books that have been reviewed, especially those that fall into the ambit of our project on Contemporary Indian Writing in English .These include poetry , drama , fiction and academic writing about literary , cultural , and social matters. When compared to the situation in 1997, in 2001 a clear difference is to be noticed in many areas. Notably , the number of the books reviewed has increased. Now, about 20-25 books are reviewed every month in the The Hindu Literary Review (a regular feature just on every first Sunday of the month), and this is not counting the number of books that are often reviewed in The Hindu Magazine(brought out every Sunday).Also, The Hindu Literary Review is now a separate 6 page pull-out (with an independent numbering) and no longer an appendage to The Hindu Magazine section, as it used to be earlier.
A brief generic classification of books reviewed during this period would help to give a overall picture:
Fiction (including Short Stories and Translations): 49.21%
Academic output: 21.9%
Prose (Auto/biographies, memoirs, travelogues, lifestyle and cartoons): 10.8%
Poetry and Drama (including translated pieces): 9.5%
Translations alone: 7.5%
As is clearly evident The Hindu Literary Review uses most of its space to review fiction that is currently being produced. Space is used efficiently for the purposes of reviewing. Among the shortest of reviews occur in the column called the “Eye-Catchers”, in which three to four book-covers are reproduced along with a line or two of description about each book. Books are reviewed too in another specific column called, “First Impressions”, in which around four to six books are reviewed with about 80 to 120 words being devoted to each review. These reviews serve to give the reader a very brief outline of the substance, and usually a one-line judgement about each book. It is in this column that first time authors’ books are usually highlighted. Another interesting column is the “Classics Revisited” column . Here books published years ago , which have been reprinted recently by other publishers, are brought into focus again. A hallmark of this review column is that it tries to foreground the contemporary relevance of the books that are chosen for review..
The other columns in The Hindu Literary Review are 700-1000 word columns, each of which is utilised for an extended review of a book.. Here substantial information about the book being reviewed is given. Generally, translations, criticism and traditional literary texts are reviewed. Each of these columns has a title derived from the subject of the book that is being reviewed. The number of books thus reviewed can vary as the other important components of the The Hindu Literary Review are interviews with and essays on the lives and works of authors and publishers. But what emerges as a conspicuous aspect of The Hindu Literary Review, and has been clearly visible in the last year or so , is the fact that most of the work being reviewed falls under the category of “Indian Literature in English”.
As far as the publishers of books are concerned, a huge array of publishers seem to be represented by their products as showcased in The Hindu Literary Review. Therefore, specialization and niche publishing is seen in far more advanced proportions than earlier. A ready-and-rough account of the proportion in which publishers are allocated attention in The Hindu Literary Review is provided below:
Harper Collins: 2.8%
Permanent Black: 1.7%
Tulika, Kali for Women, Women Unlimited, Zubaan: 1.5%
Academic publishers (Permanent Black, Macmillan, OUP): 11.8%
Fiction and other prose (Penguin, Roli, Seagull, Harper Collins, Katha, Rupa, Picador): 50.2%
Two conclusions may be derived from the data thus recorded Firstly, that The Hindu Literary Review chooses to review fiction more than any other literary genres, and this maybe owing to the fact that it is , after all , a segment of a mass-circulation newspaper. Secondly, with the increase in the number of publishers in the market, there seems to be a larger opportunity for authors to get their books published today as never before.
We conclude then that there has been a steady growth in the market for publishers and authors and books in India ,especially in the specific context of Indian writing in English (2). On a more speculative note , I think the role of a journal such as The Hindu Literary Review in the said context is crucial and needs to be seen as important in offering a forum to the book-market that is unique to the Indian newspaper scene. Often people subscribe to The Hindu only on Sundays for the two pull-outs – The Hindu Magazine and The Hindu Literary Review, but at the same time the crucial role of the newspaper itself to which these are attached is to increase the visibility of books, and at times even to act as an advertisement for them.
(1) The archives of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, Delhi are generally known to be the best available anywhere in India. I would like to thank the staff of the archive section for the help they provided me in getting the relevant data for this project.
(2) The “lesson learnt” refers to the suggestion that there is no “boom” in the Indian publishing scene, but rather a verifiably steady increase. This was reiterated by many speakers in the workshop on all three days.