#MeetTheJury - books, reading genres, prizes, get to know more in this conversation with Jury member Srinath Perur
I tend to read a lot of nonfiction. When I do read fiction these days it's mostly classics and books in Kannada, where I have a lot of catching up to do. I am currently reading Abhishek Choudhary's biography of Vajpayee and listening to the audiobook of Anna Karenina in the Maude translation.
I'm not too fussy about what I read, but sure, a lot of the writing I enjoy has certain qualities that matter to me. One of them is interiority, which fiction can realize particularly well. We're almost always stuck in our own heads, so it's a relief to inhabit other realities. Another is integrity, which in a book amounts to a kind of internal consistency or a faithfulness to some order of the truth, one of those things that's probably easier to identify by its absence. And I like a book that makes me laugh. I seldom read books a second or third time, but I can't say I don't revisit them. For example, there's this short story by James Baldwin called Sonny's Blues that just destroyed me when I read it years ago. I've read it twice I think, but I must have conjured up its presence dozens of times. That's true of many books that have made a deep impression on me.
Some years ago I received an award for translation. The prize money itself was negligible, but I was fawned over so profusely during the ceremony that I couldn't help feeling good despite my mistrust of all things ceremonial. No writer or translator doubts that what they do is meaningful (or they wouldn't do it), but it's nice occasionally to know that someone else thinks so too. Books take a great deal of time and effort to produce, and sometimes even good and important books get lost in the frenzy of our time. Prizes can help bring attention to such books and to the act of reading in general. The focus of prizes and writing grants also influences the kinds of books that get written and published, which does shape our cultural milieu. Of course, book prizes are subjective and any individual one can only do so much. But in the aggregate they are one of the ways in which a society shows it is interested in ideas and introspection.
I can read pretty much anywhere, but I particularly like reading on trains (when I have a confirmed ticket). It's an impersonal yet familiar space that doesn't draw attention to itself, and time seems to have more depth while in transit: all perfect for reading.