December 11, 2019
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How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got In gives a new NRI twist to chicklit, but how did The Scent of Wet Earth in August make it to the NYT bestseller list?

This is probably the first time a publisher is waiting for an author to finish her school exams before throwing her open to press interviews. But Indian-born 18-year-old Harvard undergrad Kaavya Viswanathan has scored enough firsts in publishing history to make her publicists euphoric: at 17, even before she joined Harvard to study how to become an investment banker, she became one of the youngest authors when a book she'd written as a timepass was auctioned to America's most prestigious publisher, Little, Brown (now part of Time Warner); she bagged the highest advance it had ever paid a debut novelist: $500,000; her book, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got In gives a new, NRI twist to chicklit and is already heading for the bestseller lists, having already sold film rights.

Talking of bestseller lists, status-conscious authors are no longer satisfied with figuring on the dozen or more bestseller lists published in the Indian media. Everyone knows how easy it is to make it into the Indian bestseller lists, especially when they're not forced to reveal how many copies are actually sold: 50 or 5. One can understand the temptation to lie under these trying circumstances, as Pakistani novelist Feryal Ali Gauhar did at the Neemrana litfest. She bragged to anyone who'd listen that she made it to the NYT bestseller list. Exactly how her book, The Scent of Wet Earth in August, published in India by Penguin to lukewarm response, had found its way to the American bestseller list she couldn't explain.

We've had book launches for readers who refuse to read, but this must be the first time a book has been launched by a person who confessed he's never read a book in his life. Actor Akshay Kumar did the honours for Ritu Beri's self-published book Firefly: A Fairytale. According to Beri, the book's about everything from architecture to women to her stint in Paris. But we'll have to take her word for it because the book is beyond most readers' budget: Rs 1 lakh.

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