The Literary City
The Literary City
Oct 11, 2022
On The Journey To Ithaca With David Davidar
Play • 40 min

What and when was the first English language novel?

There are some contenders for this honour, but the most plausible for me would be Pamela by Samuel Richardson—first published in 1740 and several times since. Widely accepted as the first English novel, it is a racy, saucy, sexually-orientated story—and , of course, for that reason it was the world’s first bestseller.

In 1832, the first book covers started to happen. In America and Britain, these books, with designed covers, sold for a penny. They were largely the retelling of gothic horror stories. For that reason these books came to called Penny Dreadful.

A significant moment in the history of publishing was the advent of the American brothers Albert and Charles Boni, who started a mail-order publishing company. The pioneering efforts of Albert Boni resulted in the creation of the major publishing company , Random House—so called because they decided that their choice of published literature would be random by nature.

Their success was followed in 1935 by Penguin—a hugely successful British publisher that printed clearly branded books that appealed to everyone. And mention of Penguin brings me to my guest today, David Davidar—the best known name in Indian publishing

David was hired by Penguin in 1985. First as an editor and then very quickly as Publisher, David took Penguin places—from publishing six books in 1987 to 150 titles annually.

By the time he moved to Penguin Canada in 2004, David had published a stable of thoroughbreds—here’s a sample—Shashi Tharoor, Vikram Seth, Ruskin Bond, Romila Thapar, Salman Rushdie and William Dalrymple.

One of my earlier guests on this show, author Pavan Varma made singular mention of having been first published by David.

David Davidar is, at once, a publisher, an editor, a novelist of three wonderful books. He runs Aleph Book Company—a top-shelf publishing house, in partnership with Rupa Publications, and continues to battle alongside the gods of academe with weapons of mass typography.

Those in the business will not need me to say anything. For those who are readers of books, who might not be familiar with the publishing industry, you can easily attribute a large part of your proud book collection to one man. And I feel privileged to be able to introduce him to you today.

David Davidar is an Indian novelist and publisher. He is the author of three published novels, The House of Blue Mangoes, The Solitude of Emperors, and Ithaca. In parallel to his writing career, Davidar has been a publisher for over a quarter-century. David Davidar has been around books all his life.

Buy A Case Of Indian Marvels:

Listen to Constantine Cavafy's poem, "ITHACA", the inspiration for David's book by the same name, recited by Sean Connery :

Co-host Pranati "Pea" Madhav joins Ramjee Chandran in "What's That Word?!",  where they discuss "#"—which is the "hash" or "pound" symbol.

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Cover photo: Rachna Singh

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