Letter from the Editors- September, 2018
Dear LeftWord Books community,
In 1943, in the midst of the terrible battles of the Second World War, the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre took a massive book – 700 pages – to the publisher Gallimard and asked them to publish it. The book – Being and Nothingness – was a dense philosophical inquiry into human existence. It came out in August 1943. The publisher felt that it would not sell. In times of war, this was not a negligible worry. Paper was scarce, readers of such books even scarcer. In Agnès Poirier’s new book Left Bank: Art, Passion and the Rebirth of Paris, 1940-1950 (Bloomsbury), she recounts how the book began to sell briskly. ‘Gallimard was intrigued to see so many women buying Being and Nothingness. It turned out’, Poirier writes, ‘that since the book weighed exactly one kilogramme, people were simply using it as a weight, as the usual copper weights had disappeared to be sold on the black market or melted down to make ammunition’.
Publishers chuckle at such stories. It tells us that what we produce – books – are not always used as we expect them to be used. In the second paragraph of the first volume of Capital, Karl Marx describes the use value of commodities – ‘A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside us, a thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort or another. The nature of such wants, whether, for instance, they spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference’. Whether books are bought to be read, used as weights or to adorn coffee tables is not relevant to a normal publisher.
To us at LeftWord Books, however, how you use the book is everything. We hope our books are read and read again, and then shared and then talked about – even being insulted is better than being ignored!
We hope, as well, that you visit our website regularly and that you buy our books. We are so happy to tell you that our books are regularly translated into a raft of languages – from Tamil to Portuguese. If you live in Kolkata, you can go to the LeftWord Books corner in the Seagull Books store or to the College Street shop of the National Book Agency. In Chennai, our books are at the several bookstores of Bharthi Puthakalayam. If you are associated with a bookstore or go to a bookstore regularly, please tell them about LeftWord Books and ask them to stock our titles. If you are in Delhi, please come to visit our own bookshop – May Day Bookstore in Shadipur. And if you are an independent book publisher or a book store, please get in touch with us. We think that all bookwallas need to stick together in these difficult political times.
We are sensitive to the dangers of running a left-wing bookstore in this climate. Neo-fascist forces hate ideas as much as they hate humanity. In London, recently, our friends at Bookmarks faced a horrendous attack by a UKIP band of ruffians. In Berkeley (California), our friends at Revolution Books have faced more than ten attacks by various Trumpian groups. We stand with them and stand as well with all those artists and intellectuals who face attack for their ideas, for their commitment to humanity. Please regularly visit our friends at the Indian Cultural Forum, which is vigilant at covering stories of both the attacks on intellectuals and the beauty of the imagination.
We have come to report two things to you: 1) to tell you about the books we have brought out and the books we intend to bring out; 2) to tell you that we really need your support to help us expand in the next year.
In the last two weeks, we have come up with two important books:
(1) Lenin, Selected Writings, an original collection from the massive oeuvre of Lenin, the leader of the Russian Revolution. The 1968 Progress Publishers edition of Lenin in one volume was 800 pages. That – in our times – would be a far too expensive book, and – we believe – too long to be read. Instead, with a great deal of effort we have created a book that is less than half this size. To put this into context, Lenin’s collected works (in English) appear in 45 volumes, each volume on average of about 600 pages. This volume is the first in a series that will include the works of Ho Chi Minh, Mao, B.T. Ranadive, Rosa Luxemburg and Thomas Sankara.
(2) The Dirty War in Kashmir: The Frontline Reports of Shujaat Bukhari. Shujaat, an honest and brave journalist, was assassinated outside his office on June 14, 2018. We have, alongside our friends at Frontline, compiled his most recent writings from Srinagar, reports of great perspicacity. Shujaat knew Kashmir well and he hoped very much for it to have a bright future. That is evident in his writings. The book has a preface from Frontline’s editor R. Vijaya Shankar and an introduction by Frontline’s Associate Editor R. Radhakrishnan (who was also a dear friend of Shujaat’s).
These books join some of our recent books in our list for 2018. You can read more about our most recent books at a blog post at our website from August 10. Please have a look at the post and grab a copy of one of our books.
LeftWord Books plans to publish about 15 books this year. Our Hindi list is set to expand as well. Next year, we hope to move to 20 original titles. And then, by the time we move into 2020, we hope to be publishing about 50 books a year. Some of these will be books that we originate, some will be republished, and others will be slim classics. These classics will make their appearance next year in English and Hindi – under the series title of Little Red Book/Chhoti Laal Kitab, with the first volume being the Communist Manifesto (with an original translation into Hindi – more on that later!).
We need your help. Here’s a short list of how you could help LeftWord Books:
- Please join the LeftWord Books Book Club (instructions at our website).
- Please buy our books and share them!
- Please tell your local booksellers to stock our books.
- Please write about our books on social media. Tag us when you do so – we are on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
- Please write book reviews of our books.
- Please tell libraries about our books, so that they might consider buying them.
- Please use our books in reading groups. We are happy to consider deep discounts for them – reach out to [email protected].
- Please consider distributing our books to mass organisations – we would give large discounts for these sales (again, [email protected]).
- If you pass on your copy after you read it to someone else, that would be great. If you need to photocopy a book in part or fully so it can be shared with someone who cannot afford it, please do so. We know that we have to remain in business, but we also know that our purpose is for you to read our books.
- Please tell us if you have ideas for books. We are always open to your suggestions.
Lastly, we are working on a new website. We know only too well the problems with the current site – and are therefore very grateful that you continue to visit and buy. The new site will be sleeker, faster, easier, and we’re working hard to make it public by November 2018. Till then, we beg your patience!
Sudhanva Deshpande, Managing Editor ([email protected]).
Vijay Prashad, Chief Editor ([email protected]).