Sunday, September 18, 2011

WH Smith

WH Smith (Wikipedia, website) is an international retailer that also has outlets at several airports. Terminal 3 (T3) at the New Delhi Indira Gandhi International Airport has one such outlet. Apart from aesthetically pleasing arrangements of books in the store, they also have several bestseller lists. I counted at least three such lists. There is a non-fiction list, an "Airport Editions" chart, and an "Indian writing" chart. I suppose the Airport Editions list is based on the bestselling books sold across all airports in India? Or perhaps just at that store? Doesn't matter really, because if you put up anything on a list it tends to sell even more. It is the psychology of queues, applied to book sales.

Go over the list and it's quite informative and entertaining in its own right. There was a bestseller, Eat, Pray, Love, some time back. So now, obviously there is a book that borrows, so to say, liberally, from that - Eat, Pray, Eat. Some Indian authors feature prominently, with books like Rover of Smoke, Last Man In Tower, and so on... The recent bestselling phenomenon - Amish Tripathi, with his Shiva trilogy is there at the top in the Indian writing chart with his second book, The Secret of the Nagas. Arun Shourie, India's finest journalist, takes a break from his usual path to pen a book on suffering and religion, Does He Know a Mother's Heart. When you hear a book described as "nuanced and thoughtful" you know it is being damned by faint praise on the one hand and that it is sure to be controversial, perhaps deliberately so. Since I have not read this book, or any reviews, I really can't say more - Bose In Nazi Germany. On the other hand there is Siddhartha Mukherjee's outstanding debut work on cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies (, my review blog post).

Most curiously, for me, is a book on yoga and stress, that has a buxom person with much less clothes than you would care to see, or not see, on the cover of a book on yoga and stress. Hmm... the author, or publisher, or both, are evidently stressed enough about the book's sales to put a semi-nude person on the cover of a book on yoga. Maybe the book is not really intended for reading as much as for gazing?

Since people passing through airports are supposed to be knowledgeable and erudite about world affairs, and because India and China are the happening places, it is therefore required that you also sport a book on the two countries under your arm. Where China Meets India, by Thant Myin-U, is on the list. But be forewarned! This book is more about Burma (Myanmar) than India or China. But then again, this gives you an opportunity to expand the topics you can pretend to be an expert on.

In 1966, W H Smith originated a 9-digit code for uniquely referencing books, called Standard Book Numbering or SBN. It was adopted as international standard ISO 2108 in 1970, and was used until 1974, when it became the ISBN scheme. []

© 2011, Abhinav Agarwal. All rights reserved.