Reviewing readers instead of books

In today’s age, everyone’s a critic. It’s time to turn the tables and review not just books, but also the way people read them

April 03, 2021 / 07:35 AM IST
The reader who re-reads is a fully-realised tour de force, nuanced and sweeping in scope.

The reader who re-reads is a fully-realised tour de force, nuanced and sweeping in scope.


Despite the state of journalism in general and shrinking coverage of the arts in particular, book reviews haven’t disappeared. Most major publications carry more than a few every week. Significantly, there are also several online sites devoted to book coverage and reviews, ranging from the informed to the slapdash.

However, while books continue to be discussed, dismissed or acclaimed, there’s little emphasis on the way that people read them. To correct this imbalance, here’s an attempt at critiquing different types of readers. All written in the style of book reviews themselves.

The reader in bed after midnight.

A lyrical and luminous work, with a touching devotion to the subject. Clear, single-minded and focused on reaching the end without subplots or other diversions. Rewarding and highly recommended.

The reader on the train who misses her station.

Poignant and affecting, with a plot twist that is surprisingly effective. An artist working at the height of her powers. The work is riveting from beginning to end, and sets up expectations for the sequel which reportedly takes place on a bus.

The reader on her smartphone app.

A jittery performance marked by diversions and distractions. Though it’s a commendable attempt to reflect the way we live today, the inclusion of too many styles and modes makes it ultimately unsatisfying. One can only hope for more dedication in the next endeavour.

Close
The reader in the bathroom.

Up to a point, this is a vivid high-wire act. Halfway through, though, there’s a lack of focus, and attention shifts to what appears to be the label of a shampoo bottle. This is rather unfortunate, because perseverance would have paid dividends.

The reader who gives up after the first 50 pages.

A disappointing venture, marked by an inability to stay the course. From the beginning, it seemed evident that it was a half-hearted attempt. This suspicion was confirmed when topics were barely touched upon, if not skimmed altogether.

The reader who browses and leaves the bookshop without a purchase.

Another example of lack of commitment leading to an unfinished work. Lasting accomplishments require time, patience and dedication, none of which are evident here. The sudden conclusion is both unsatisfying and inept.

The reader who reads with one eye on a to-be-read pile.

There is no lack of ambition on display here. Alas, the work fails to live up to the initial promise. What could have been a triumph of the human spirit is let down by undue urgency in execution. It also suffers by having the shadow of others fall upon it.

The reader who spends too much time on social media instead.

An unacceptable effort marked by several interruptions that make one wonder if there is any serious intention or consistent thread to the whole. A great pity that there should be so much industry and so little to show for it.

The reader who only pretends to have read a book.

One can see through this attempt from the start. A lack of originality is immediately apparent, even though there is a surface appeal that some may find engaging. Overall, a deeply flawed venture.

The reader who picks up the book only after watching the movie version.

A distressing instance of jumping on a trend only after everyone else is already talking about it. An unoriginal routine, though it must be said that it is relatable and not without flashes of skill in execution.

The reader who re-reads.

A fully-realised tour de force, nuanced as well as sweeping in scope. Time past is brought to life in this haunting mosaic of memories. What could have been indulgent in lesser hands is relevant and thought-provoking in this case.

The reader who can’t stop recommending books to others.This is a ground-breaking achievement that deserves praise and recognition. Ambitious and gripping, it’s an unflinching saga of the quest to spread inspiration in the face of ignorance and indifference.
Sanjay Sipahimalani is a Mumbai-based writer and reviewer.
first published: Apr 3, 2021 07:35 am

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