For me, this was a week full of books, reading about books, and headlines about publishing. A new publishing house, called Juggernaut Books, was launched in India with unusual fanfare. There is much promise, albeit not much detail made public yet, of revolutionising publishing using the magic of tech. The business is of interest to me as someone who reads, “techs”, is interested in business model innovation and financing of new business models, and watches women in leadership roles in creating such innovation.
Over here in London, the first volume of Niall Fergusson’s two-part book about Kissinger was finally delivered. In hardback. I am sure I will only ever read it at home because it is so heavy.
A personal pattern however is becoming evident. My recent purchases have all been paper. I have company. Digital books have stopped evolving, but why? The rational argument about closed ecosystems resonates with many of us, perhaps, but most of us are committed (read: locked-in) to one or the other closed ecosystems.
In other words, digital books and the ecosystem in which they live are software, and software feels most alive and trustworthy when it is actively evolving with the best interests of users in mind. An open stack is not strictly necessary for this, but it certainly helps.
But the main, and I think the real, reason for some of us falling back into the arms of physical books is emotive.
The object – a dense, felled tree, wrapped in royal blue cloth – requires two hands to hold. The inner volume swooshes from its slipcase. And then the thing opens like some blessed walking path into intricate endpages, heavystock half-titles, and multi-page die-cuts, shepherding you towards the table of contents. Behbehani utilitises all the qualities of print to create a procession. By the time you arrive at chapter one, you are entranced.
This was the week that celebrated Urvashi Butalia, founder and publisher of Zubaan Books, for her path-breaking contributions to publishing women’s and other marginalised voices.
Concerns over the growing acceptability of violence against women – in their homes, in workplaces and public spaces, in conflict zones, by fundamentalist and communal forces – fed directly into today’s ongoing debates on women’s freedoms and the attempts to truncate those freedoms in the name of safety.
Through these tumultuous times, Zubaan and Kali for Women functioned also as archivists and as participants in the organically evolving network of disparate groups that formed the Indian women’s movement.
“We’re putting together an archive of the interviews we’ve recorded with authors, organisers, women on the front lines,” Urvashi says.
Recorded over the decades, these will be an invaluable oral history of Indian women, many of them far more focused on getting the job done in any given moment than on chronicling their thoughts.
A recurrent theme in conversations with my erudite women friends is about frivolity. Or at least perceived frivolity. Can feminists be interested in fashion and style and clothes and jewellery? “Yes, they can and they should,” is my answer. If for not much else, then to redress this.
But can feminists enjoy romance novels? Sure, they can, argues this piece.
‘I am of the opinion that a genre that is written by women, for women, about women, about the female experience, even if that experience is codified and structured within patriarchal, established boundaries, is inherently feminist,’ says Sarah Wendell, co-founder of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, a US-based website devoted to reviewing romance novels through a critical lens.
Wendell grants readers of all socioeconomic and educational backgrounds permission to enjoy their fantasies – be they feminist, sadomasochistic, paranormal, or male-on-male. For Wendell, this permission is the genre’s beating heart. ‘With romance, you are placing a centrepiece, a focus, on women’s sexuality as a healthy and important thing,’ she said. ‘Her orgasm is important! And so is her security, and so is her ability to access birth control.’
The eagle-eyed amongst you have noticed there are only 3 links here. There is a fourth link embedded in the text which is my sneaky way of making it good on the promise of the post.