Bestseller lists are notoriously unreliable. But this one is from the publisher’s own records, and points to the hardly edifying reading habits of Indians. When Bibliofile asked Penguin India to give us a list of their top 10 books in the last 15 years, here’s what they came up with: Lajja by Taslima Nasreen; India’s Struggle for Independence by Bipan Chandra et al; May You Be the Mother of a Hundred Sons by Elizabeth Bumiller; History of India—Vol 1 by Romila Thapar, Hindu Names by Maneka Gandhi; No Full Stops in India by Mark Tully; Delhi by Khushwant Singh; Starry Nights by Shobha De, A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth, Unveiling India by Anees Jung. (N.B. Not counting the books that are prescribed reading for tourists and college students, the book that outsells most others is a list of Hindu names!)
Judging by this list, the invention of that ingenious marketing idea called the Book Launch has done little to boost book sales. Perhaps they need to take some lessons from an NRI writer who has done the next to impossible: climbed up into America’s bestseller list. Readers attending one of her book launches say it’s a spiritual experience—not the reading from her works but the incense smoke and sarod and sitar music that accompanies the reading.