The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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The best of texts to woo book buffs
- Calcutta litmus test for national launch of rare European classics collection

Gustave Flaubert’s Memoirs of a Madman, Alexander Pope’s Scriblerus, Mark Twain’s The Diary of Adam and Eve, Giovanni Boccaccio’s Life of Dante or Anton Chekhov’s The Story of a Nobody… Rare treats for book-lovers all and now showing in a bookstore near you. And only if it’s lapped up by the Calcutta reader, will the “priceless collection” travel to the other metros.

Emami Landmark, a leading book retailer in the city, has tied up with Hesperus to bring to Calcuttans a “never-before” wealth of classic texts, barely known to English-speaking readers, either since they have never been translated, or because the only available translations are “unsatisfactory or old-fashioned”.

“The Hesperus Press list brings to this city a wonderful array of classic titles, mostly from mainland Europe. This is not the first time that Calcutta has seen the national launch of such rare publications. Whether it’s a new author, or a forgotten book, Calcutta is always the preferred launch pad for testing waters,” says Hemu Ramaiah, managing director, Emami Landmark. Ramaiah, a pioneer in India’s book trade with interests in publishing, import, retail and wholesale, feels Calcutta is the ultimate litmus test any new release has to pass before going national. “The market is very big and aware here and every time we tie up with a new publisher, we send the first consignment to Calcutta to find out which way the wind blows,” she adds.

The Hesperus list, which also covers the unavailable works of authors like Edgar Allan Poe, Daniel Defoe, Victor Hugo and Joseph Conrad, promises to “make classic texts accessible in high-quality editions at an affordable price”. Earlier this year, House of Stratus, too, chose the city for its Indian release of out-of-print books, of which now there are 200 titles on the racks.

“Since new books are rarely advertised before release, it’s a major challenge for any bookstore to successfully reach out to the reader. But Calcutta makes our task easier, demanding that we constantly upgrade our repertoire. Here, the reader is educated and discerning and has a refined literary taste,” confirms Emami Landmark CEO Gautam Jatia. “They also come back with definite feedback, which helps us source commercially viable titles,” he adds. Pop fiction writers like Matthew Reilly, Harlan Coben and Michael Ridpath vie with inspirational series and classics, as Calcuttans have “vastly varied” reading habits.

Buoyed by encouraging feedback from city readers, the bookstore chain from Chennai has lined up a series of imports of “absolutely new” authors and titles to be test-marketed here, besides book appreciation sessions and exhibitions on the lines of the Random House catalogue display, which evinced “overwhelming response”.

The retail chain is also planning a kids’ club in Calcutta by the middle of next year for the “informed and serious” young reader. “We will use children as a feedback centre to study preferences, besides offering them a constant sampling of new authors and titles, since so much fantastic writing is happening the world over in the space between Enid Blyton and the classics,” says Ramaiah.

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