Do you know the idiom “how the sausage is made”? It is meant to signify that there are some things you’re better off not knowing, and is widely (and perhaps mistakenly) attributed to Otto von Bismarck. The complete quote goes, “Laws are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made.” But in this age of transparency — not to mention organic eating — I think people increasingly want to peep behind the curtain, regardless of what they might find. There were days when you could get away with leaving large parts of a map marked off with “Here Be Dragons”, but now everyone wants to see the dragon, as well as take a selfie with it. This week, I looked at the sausage-making process in three fields related to writing — publishing, journalism, and academia.
Now, as authors, we always assume that our publishers are having way more fun than they ever admit while pulling long faces about the state of the industry. A new commercial fiction book confirms it. It Must’ve Been Something He Wrote by Nikita Deshpande is a thinly veiled story about a young marketing professional in a large publishing house (called PH) who falls in love despite herself with a male writer with loads of fans and, um, dimples in both his cheeks. Besides people-spotting behind the pseudonyms, there’s also fun to be had by finding real-life names (Hi, Nilanjana Roy and Janice Pariat!) as well as a whole description of partying at the Udaipur Literature Festival. It has been a while since I’ve read a true romp of a novel, and this is just that, the romance even believable by the end. The only sour note for me was my lack of love — or even like — for young Ruta, the protagonist, who seems to evolve only through other people’s changes and not her own, a dismal trait for a female character in this day and age. On the other hand, she is only twenty, and that is a pretty believable trait for that age. It certainly didn’t stop me from rooting for Ruta. Pick it up the next time you are looking for something frothy and cool, even if you have no idea who any of the people involved are supposed to be.
There has been a lot of discussion these days about fake news and the future of journalism, so I went to the roots for a serious investigative look at what might be going on with reporting these days. Flat Earth News , by Nick Davies, comes with a massive subtitle that promises to be good.
Ready? It is ‘An Award-winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media’. It does live up to the name, though — as I read it, I found myself nodding furiously along. Davies outlines the problems with the media, from how reporters are pressed for time and do not fact-check, how PR stories are running as news without any opposing points of view, how journalists never leave the newsroom any more, and do not even talk to that many people, because of the aforementioned lack of time. This was written pre-Twitter, but it must be so much worse now, with papers and websites just yanking stuff off the internet and not even calling people for a quote. When fact-checking is the exception and not the norm, you know the industry is in deep trouble. It is a depressing, but mandatory read.
A serendipitous discovery on my to-be-read shelf that magically tied in to the theme of this column as well. When I told friends I was reading AS Byatt’s tour de force of a novel, Possession , it turned out that a lot more people had read the book than I thought. And universally, they all loved it.
What was the magic behind this book, I wondered, having just read the first two chapters, which are dense with academic reference and poetry? But as I sunk my teeth truly into the book, which is at once a mystery novel about finding out what two famous poets were to each other, a love story about the academics trying to reveal the mystery as well as a classic good-versus-evil battle as the money-minded museum collector gets wind of all this and chases after our heroes, I realised that if anyone were to mention to me that they were reading this book, I too would say, “Oh, I loved that so much!” I loved it so much, even though I might have only picked it up because my copy is a gorgeous all-purple one. Read, if you haven’t already, and re-read if you have.