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The 45th Chennai Book Fair, which was postponed from its usual schedule in January due to the rise in Covid-19 cases, is commencing on Wednesday evening. Chief Minister M K Stalin is inaugurating one of Chennai’s biggest events every year. Let’s take a look at what Chennai is reading.

You can purchase tickets online for the book fair at https://bapasi.com/

Unlike in English, where new books are eagerly awaited, in Tamil it’s the modern classics that are still popular. People still prefer reading Jayakanthan and Bharathiyar than seeking out the books of new authors, says Kannan from Kalachuvadu publications, whose stall features at the Chennai Book Fair every year. He says mainstream media does not promote books or authors with the same enthusiasm as it does cinema. “So, an author remains invisible till he gets a recognition like the Sahitya Akademi award,” says Kannan. “It is not like readers are waiting for new authors or books. It takes lot of time for an author to become successful.”

However, reading habits have improved significantly when compared to a few decades back. People, especially youngsters, are reading a lot, but it has not scaled up like in Kerala or turned populist, says Kannan. Author Solomon Bernard Shaw, whose book Enthaiyum Thayum Magizhthu Kulavi speaks about the Thoothukudi police firing is going to be displayed at this year’s Chennai Book Fair, also seconds this opinion. “Many youngsters are reading, especially Tamil books. And, the momentum should be kept going,” says Shaw.

Kannan from Kalachuvadu publications says mainstream media does not promote books or authors with the same enthusiasm as it does cinema. “So, an author remains invisible till he gets a recognition like the Sahitya Akademi award,” he says. “It is not like readers are waiting for new authors or books. It takes lot of time for an author to become successful.”

Renowned folklorist and author Professor A Sivasubramanian, says it is good to see that progressive literature is trending of late. Books on Periyar and associated literature have many takers nowadays. There is also a dedicated crowd looking for good Tamil novels. “Reading, especially novels, has caught up in place of chatting during long journeys or while waiting in lounges. And, novels are trending among such people,” he says.

A Krishnamurthy, Zonal Manager of New Century Book House, who puts up stalls at the Chennai Book Fair regularly, also says progressive literature is among the most sought after. “Of late, there is a good demand on Ambedkar literature too,” he says.

Nagarajan from Bharathi Puthagalayam, another regular at the Chennai Book Fair, says children’s literature has also been picking up. The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has forced parents to look for ways to keep their children occupied, especially the ones glued to mobile phones. “Books are one option to wean children off mobile phones. A rather positive change that has happened due to the lockdown is that more parents are buying books for their children,” says Nagarajan.

The problem, however, is that there is a dearth of authentic children’s literature that sees things from their perspective, says Shanmuganathan of Uyir Pathipagam, who attends the Chennai Book Fair regularly. Most of the time, we find that children’s books are written from an adult’s perspective. “We don’t have as many children’s publications as our neighbouring state Kerala. But children’s literature in Tamil is catching up. The book fair is also displaying a good number of children’s books,” he says. However, Kalachuvadu Kannan expresses doubt about whether there are many choices for children.

The pandemic and the subsequent lockdown has forced parents to look for ways to keep their children occupied, especially the ones glued to mobile phones. “Books are one option to wean children off mobile phones. A rather positive change that has happened due to the lockdown is that more parents are buying books for their children,” says Nagarajan of Bharathi Puthagalayam.

Shanmuganathan also feels that as people have been taking an interest in the environment and climate change, many are looking for books on the topic. There are a good number of books coming on environmental issues, especially with regard to third world countries, he says. “Environmental exploitation is a burning topic,” he adds.

Apart from literary trends, publishing has also been undergoing a change. ‘Print on Demand’ is a technique trending among authors and publishers of late. Unlike the conventional style of publishing books in bulk, authors now prefer to print on demand based on their requirement or as the orders come in. “It is trending among new authors and publishers because the investment is not heavy,” says Olivannan of Emerald Publishers, whose stalls are a regular feature at Chennai Book Fair. It is beneficial for new authors who struggle to make deals with major publishers.

Conventional publishers, however, are taking time to move from bulk publishing to print-on-demand. Not all are comfortable with this new method. “It is catching up fast but I feel that the quality is not up to mark,” says a publisher.


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