Self-published books are not my choice of reading material. In fact, I would prefer not to read them at all as my experience of reading such books has not been a very happy one. I know it sounds like a sweeping statement, not to mention prejudiced, but…
Now consider this scenario. A fellow blogger and a friend, Suresh Chandrasekaran, whose writing I admire and like very much, comes out with a self-published book. This leads to a dilemma or what can even be called a “situation”: I really want to read the book, but the self-published tag is a big deterrent of sorts. While I am mulling over this, Suresh (who I think is aware of my views on self-published books) requests for my feedback on the book. I agree, buy the book, read it and one afternoon over a long FB chat give him feedback on the book. This happened about 6 months back.
Recently, I participated in an excellent discussion on “Self-Published Books” (do click on the link to read more about the discussion) at The Sunday Book Club (TSBC). It was an enlightening discussion and one that spurred me to to convert the feedback I gave Suresh on the book, Sirens Spell Danger, into a full-fledged book review.
Sirens Spell Danger (2013, Amazon eBook) is a collection of three longish short stories edited by Suresh. As the title suggests, all the stories in the book have women or “sirens’ as the pivot.
The sirens are not necessarily the protagonists of the stories; instead, they are characters without whom there would have been no story in the first place.
The first story in the book is “Femme Fatale” by Suresh and the “siren” in the story is Tanya. One look at her in a bar at Bangalore and Vikram’s, the protagonist’s, life changes for ever. The opening lines of the story set the tone for the story to follow:
How could I have known that merely turning to ogle at a lovely girl would lead me into so much danger?
It’s a fast paced story with a murder, a set-up, RAW agents, the ISI, a time-bomb, a politician, bike rides, gun shots, and what not. However improbable it sounds, I liked the plot and the way the story is written, particularly the parts where the author’s trademark wry, self-deprecating humour came through. I felt that this story could have done with some editing as unnecessary phrases like “frenzy of hurry” have come through. In my opinion and the context in which the author has used them, the words mean the same.
The second story is “Bella Donna” and is written by Radha Sawana. This is a story of serial killings, of puzzling clues left by the killer, of exploitation and revenge, of atropine and cyanide, and a “siren” called Aakriti. Bella Donna is a good story and easily has the best plot among the three stories in the book. It could also have been my favourite story of the lot, but for two things:
(i) Every chapter begins with an italicised part, which has no bearing with the section that immediately follows. Sure, it adds a hint of mystery, but does nothing for the story per se. In my opinion, such things work only if they add to the story from the beginning and not leave me wondering about it till the end. I found the whole thing quite unnecessary.
(ii) Too much of stuff like this:
The LD50 value of cyanide was 8.40 mg/kg. However the LD50 value of cyanide was significantly increased 1.5-fold when atropine (32 mg/kg) was injected… Furthermore, the combined administration of atropine (32 mg/kg), Ca2+ (500 mg/kg), sodium thiosulphate (1 mg/kg) tremendously increased the LD50 value by 5.6-fold…
While it is nice to have technical stuff and all in books, it should never make the reader’s eyes glaze over as mine did. While I appreciate the research carried out by the author, good research, like good writing should seem effortless
“Bellary” by Karthik L. is the third and last story in the book and has two “sirens”, Shenaya and Ruksana. A story of a missing CBI agent, gang wars in Bellary, a roadside brawl, a fight in the train, local superstitions, imprisonment, paranormal activity, human sacrifice, reincarnation… it is quite a heady mix, and the twists and turns are engrossing. Yet, this was the story I liked the least.
In my opinion, the story could have done without Shenaya’s character altogether and the story re-written without her in the picture. “Bellary” is also weighed down by unnecessary descriptions like that of Shenaya’s outfits, airplane in-flight announcements, and what not, none of which contribute to the story. I like my stories, especially short stories, to be crisp. If this story had been cut down by 1,000 words or so, it would have read much better and made a greater impact on me.
It is a good thing that I don’t judge a book by its cover for I would never have read Sirens Spell Danger otherwise. The cover design by Vetrikumaran is terrible. Not only are the colours too dark, the combination of red and green does not work for a colour blind person. One of my colleagues, who is colour blind, could not pick out the red lettering in the green background of the book. Also, the particular shades of green and red are not browser friendly colours, something that is very important for an e-book.
When I finished reading the book (and it was in one sitting !), I admit to feeling a little cheated. With just 3 stories in the collection, I had just about warmed up and settled in, when the book got over. My biggest grouse with the book is that there should have been more stories to give it some body and add to the variety.
Overall, I liked the book very much and in spite of the little issues I had with each of the stories, they did make for a good read. The book is error free, well-edited, offers variety, and left me asking for more stories. In fact, I would say that this book is far better than many of the books I have read recently and which have been published by traditional publishers.
And herein, I come back to the topic of self-published books. I have read a few of them in the last 6 months or so (in fact, I’m now reading an excellent self-published book — a translation of a classic). Some of the books have been good and some not-so good. Just like books published by traditional publishers. Many self-published books are nothing more than vanity publishing for the sake of seeing your name in print, but then there are an equal number of books published by traditional publishers that follow a set formula and promote only famous authors, never mind the quality of the book. It is a level
playing reading field out there
Reading this book, and then the discussion on TSBC led to an important realisation that ultimately it is about books. And it shouldn’t matter if it is a self-published or a traditionally published book. What matters is that feeling that you get after reading a good book. Like the one I got after reading this one. 🙂