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Can't get enough of books in India

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Manish Swarup/AP

(Read caption) Oprah Winfrey reacts at the Jaipur Literary Festival.

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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Thousands of people packed beneath an enormous tent at the Jaipur Literary Festival in Rajasthan, northwestern India, in January. They came to see talk show superstar Oprah Winfrey, one of the featured guests at the festival. Among her many accomplishments is her book club, which drove book sales into the millions. But, with no Oprah equivalent in India, the young people in this country are spearheading their own book clubs.

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Sumeet Shetty is an example. When he’s not buying books, he’s inviting authors to speak at his company’s book club in Bangalore. With more than 500 active members, it’s one of the biggest on the subcontinent. Though that number is only a drop in the bucket in a country of 1.2 billion, it reflects a growing trend.
Literary festivals like Jaipur, one of the largest in South Asia, are exposing this generation to a variety of new authors. And, as the income of the middle class continues to rise, so does their appetite for buying books.

“My generation has so much more access to literature than my mother’s,” says Surabhi Bhatnagar, who started a book club at her university in Rajasthan. Though she plans to work in information technology, she says it is the writings of English author Virginia Woolf and works like “Into the Wild,” by Jon Krakauer, that captivate her.

Though right now in India books sell mostly by word of mouth, perhaps it’s only a matter of time until this growing enthusiasm for literature blossoms into a world-renowned book club like Oprah’s.