Living in Mumbai, India, (which you may know by its erstwhile name of Bombay), that overpriced piece of real estate that exists as a loose extension of the local film industry, disparagingly nicknamed "Bollywood," you soon become familiar with the phenomenon of star rub-offs. A neighbour claims to know someone who is a cousin of a cousin of a cousin of... Shah Rukh Khan. Or Aamir Khan. Or, pick your local Indian film star. Everybody knows somebody who is somebody. Six degrees of presumed intimacy.
Arguably, a collection of essays on books and authors is something like that claim. By writing about literary greats, you can hope to capture some of their stardusty magic as well. Which can only enhance your own tawny sheen. Of course, by that measure, writing a book review of a book by a literary star does much the same thing. Rubbing shoulders with a star may only leave you with sore deltoids, but the human mind is a wonderful thing.
Shashi Tharoor probably doesn't need to elevate his own star status, such as it is, by collecting his own book reviews of other book reviewers, some of whom are actually authors. He's already regarded with warm admiration by a fair number, mostly for his modern-day Mahabharata-revisionist retelling, The Great Indian Novel, and to a lesser extent, for the novels Riot and Show Business, and, most recently, for the non-fiction book India: From Midnight to the Millennium. He hardly needs to rub shoulders with the likes of Rushdie, Naipaul, Kipling, and Wodehouse, to name just a few of the authors covered in this collection, in order to further his own literary reputation.
But what else is one to do with all those files full of yellowing clippings? Or, when one is a career diplomat—an Under-Secretary-General of The United Nations, no less, and unable to write more than a book every half-decade or so, how does one keep one's byline alive in the bookstores? So, Tharoor brings together a mixed bag of his own book reviews and columns on writers, books and literary musings from the past decade or so in this collection.