Saturday, February 12, 2005

Call me books editor

Blogging’s been tapering off...have been busy with other things, including other types of writing, which I might elaborate on sometime (no Samit, not writing a novel). But a quick update. There’s been a promising professional development - I’ve become the books-in-charge for our newspaper. One of our longest-serving senior editors left recently and one of her side-responsibilities was handling the book reviews that go on the weekday Oped pages. Everyone here knows I’m a dedicated “bookie” so my name must’ve come up when tasks were being re-assigned.

It’s a prestigious job - one gets to prepare weekly lists, hound publishers for the latest titles, allocate books to senior people (cabin-dweller types), wag a finger at them and speak sentences like “I need 950 words on this by the 22nd, and where the hell’s that short you were supposed to give me today?” I’ve been handling the books section for our lifestyle magazine Gateway for over a year now, but this is definitely more weighty. Whether it’ll be as much fun though remains to be seen. I doubt it, for a couple of reasons. One, attractive (and megalomania-inducing) as the prospect of receiving 4-5 couriered books in your name every day is, around 80 per cent of these are business/economy/politics-related, given the profile of our newspaper. So all I have to do is pass them around, get suggestions on who I should send them to for review, fix deadline dates etc. And of the general-interest books that make up the remaining 20 per cent, a large number are trash. Lots and lots of sifting required.

Two, naturally I don’t have the luxury of going overboard and featuring reviews only of the kind of books I like, because there has to be a reasonable balance of topics. So if one features a full-length review of, let’s say, Romantic Short Stories Penned by Incarcerated Serial Killers Who Think They’re Jesus, one must repent by carrying reviews of titles like Analysis of Policies for Developing Countries over the next three days.

Three, and this is what worries me most, experience tells me that once you take over a job like this, you tend to have very little time to do reviews yourself. That was certainly the case with the senior editor who’s just left - she’s a fine reviewer and a (seriously) voracious reader but I don’t think I saw her byline in that space more than a couple of times in the past year.

But lest it should seem I’m complaining as ever, I am enthusiastic about this on the whole - it’s easily one of the better things to have happened in the last few weeks and, well, it could facilitate more interesting developments on this beat. Now I’m off to read Andrea Levy’s Small Island, which I’ve just finger-waggingly allocated to myself with a two-week deadline.

8 comments:

  1. Congratulations.I think you'll enjoy it.

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  2. Dude! Congratulations. And break a nib, or whatever the appropriate non-jinxed greeting is for journos.

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  3. Can't think of a better person for the job...was books ed at various places eons ago and one of the perks was this: while Other Journos received large, impressive, painfully written reports that they had to slog through to find the one para of import, my work consisted of putting my feet up and saying, oh, that's nice, the first proof copy of An Equal Music has just arrived.
    You'll do a great job. But promise you won't follow KD's example and keep your byline off the section. We want the genuine JAS take, okay?

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  4. Many thanks for the kind words, all. But a quick clarification before someone from office reads this and I get fired: I’m not officially books editor (there’s no such designation out here), I’m just handling the reviews section in addition to my existing work. The Powers figured it was an extra responsibility I’d be happy to take on, and they were right.

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  5. congratulations. i really think you deserve this :)

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  6. congratulations, jai arjun. i look forward to a lot more writing from you.

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  7. Hey, great going man. See, I always believe a lot of good(ies) comes to those who are generous in lending books. Which reminds me, your Sawhney's Spitoon is probaly lying with me still. All the best for the new (I hope dream) job!

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