Sunday, May 2, 2010

Really, Time magazine? The most influential writers?

Time, that mecca of list making, has come up with their annual one of 100 most influential people in the world. I went through the list to see how many authors and writers of any kind made the list. The results, to put it mildly, were surprising.

Now, I have to grant upfront that slicing the Top 100 list by any further criterion (like 'sportsmen') is probably destined to yield somewhat spotty results. That is clearly not their intent. But try stopping me!

There are three professionals on the list who are also well known writers. All three happen to be Brick and Rope favorites, so I am thrilled to see them on Time's list. First up, there is
Michael Pollan. The author of The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food has certainly had an influence on my life. As I mentioned in my earlier post about In Defense of Food - Pollan's seven word mantra is as good a slogan as any you are going to find about good eating - Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants.

The second professional-cum-writer on the list is Indian born Nobel prize winning economist
Amartya Sen. The article on Sen is written by Niall Ferguson, himself a learned scholar and the author of The Ascent of Money, which I reviewed to much satisfaction here. Amartya Sen is the cerebral man's rock star. His books are tough reading, but immensely satisfying nonetheless.

The third professional-who-also-writes on Time's list is perennial Brick and Rope favorite - Atul Gawande. Now this man has the touch. He writes with heart, with passion, with a delicate touch that hits me harder than a sledgehammer. Complications was on my list of
Best 5 books I read in 2008. I loved Better. And I am keen to read The Checklist Manifesto too. Atul Gawande is a successful surgeon, phenomenal author, and massively influential healthcare policy wonk. I guess he is a great lover too. Yeah, life is fair.

Talking about life being fair: There is only one person on Time's list who is there purely as a writer. Only one full time writer on the list of 100 most influential people in the world. The writer?
Chetan Bhagat. In two years of writing Brick and Rope, I have assiduously avoided writing about Mr. Bhagat or his books. It hasn't been easy. But Time has left no wriggle room here.

The phenomenon of rising English readership in India is not news. The Guardian wrote an interesting if somewhat over-the-top
article about it earlier this year. Chetan Bhagat is the master surfer of this tide. As the Guardian articles states -

In a recent survey the four most popular books in India were all by Chetan Bhagat, a former investment banker turned author who has sales totalling more than 3m in the last five years and whose most recent work, Two States, has shifted a million copies in under four months.

Writing about the lives of India's aspirant middle class young, Bhagat has "pan-Indian, pan-age group" appeal, said Kapish Mehra, the managing director of his publisher, Rupa. The author himself explained that one key to his success was the "huge aspiration for the English language".

"This is not like the mature English literature market. Instead it needs an English that is highly accessible, simple, and with stories that are still interesting and relevant," Bhagat said.

The sales of both Mills & Boon books and those by Bhagat are helped by the fact that each book costs between 95 and 125 rupees – between £1.25 and £1.80.

Read that last sentence again, if you will: The sales of both Mills and Boon books and those by Bhagat are helped by the fact that ...

Enough said.