Prufrock's Page

Saturday, June 04, 2005

That's Why John Will Always Be Our Favourite

The 62-year-old Sir Paul McCartney has just announced that he, too, will be writing a children's book. It's to be called High In The Clouds: An Urban Furry Tail. Ouch.

Ich bin ein Kolkatan

"Whether you are a second generation Non-Resident Bengali like Jhumpa Lahiri, or brought up in Mumbai like Amit Chaudhuri, if you are a creative artist who is concerned about roots and identity, it is impossible that you will be able to escape the frame of reference that Calcutta continues to provide to all those who are historically linked to it."

Thus writes Renu Roy in her piece on novelists from and inspired by Kolkata. Which is all very well, but what one really wants to know is: is Nizam's still functioning and are the rolls as good?

The Booker's Man

A confession: one has never read any of the work of Albanian author Ismail Kadare.

But now, one will simply have to seek out some of the man's books: perhaps The Concert or Palace of Dreams. (Come back, Lotus!)

You see, he's just been awarded the inaugural Man Booker International Prize, with John Carey, chair of the judging panel, calling Mr Kadare "a universal writer in the tradition of storytelling that goes back to Homer".


Well, one has been tagged, er, memed, er, whatever. And the Committee For Fair Blogging Practices has been knocking on one's door, demanding a response. So here goes:

Total number of books one owns: Too many to count, but not so many as to be sated. When one last moved, three months ago, there were 29 medium-sized cartons -- about 12 of these remain unpacked as there's no more space on the shelves.

Last book one bought: The Whole Story And Other Stories by Ali Smith; Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

Last book one read: Um, one is about to complete five or six, actually. Apart from the two above, there's Sailing The Wine-Dark Sea: Why The Greeks Matter by Thomas Cahill, Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson and Opening Skinner's Box: Great Psychological Experiments of the 20th Century by Lauren Slater

Five books that mean a lot: Where does one start? A feeble, arithmetic-defying attempt, in no particular order:

Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie: The book that effectively messed up one's mind for good by making one want to write and simultaneously making one realise that one would never produce something quite so extraordinary.

The Catcher In The Rye by J.D. Salinger and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath: Now that one is in one's dotage, one realises that both are marred by juvenalia, but when one was a teenager, nothing was as staggering as the experience of reading about Holden and Esther. The next logical step was Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint. Which, of course, led one to other books by Roth. And Malamud. And Updike. And Bel- ["Stop it!" -- The Committee For Fair Blogging Practices]

The Mahabharata: Family feuds, blood and gore, warfare, infidelity, much more satisfying than the Ramayana. One isn't referring here to any one specific English translation, but all of them, from Rajagopalachari to Narayan to Buck to Lal. Haven't yet caught up with the multi-volume translations, unfortunately.

The lyrics to Pink Floyd's The Wall: The soundtrack to college life -- one recalls painstakingly copying the lyrics (from an LP owned by a friend) into an old exercise book and discovering some time later that one had memorised the entire thing.

The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro: The characters of Macon and Stevens stayed in mind long, long after one finished the books.

Men writing about women: Leo on Anna; Thomas on Tess; Gustave on Emma; Henry on Isabel -- each author obsessed with his character, each book so wonderful.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov: No other book has made the English language sing and dance so wonderfully.

Tag five people and have them do this on their blogs: Well, almost all of those whom one would like to pass this on to have already been tagged, so here's an attempt at widening the net:

J.A. Prufrock (The Original)
The Letterhead
Dina Mehta
Hemangini Gupta
Sanket Patil

Friday, June 03, 2005

Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind

"[Suketu] Mehta is crazy. His marriage is over, he's on the street ...[I] think I should sue him. It suits him to project this image of an Indian director because it fits into the dangerous mind of Americans who like to feel superior to everyone else. The book should be banned...I get angry with people like Mehta. If he came here now, I would slap him."

- Director Vidhu Vinod Chopra, in an interview with Sonia Faleiro, in the latest issue of Tehelka.

At Random In India

It was announced earlier this year, but now Business Week reports again that American publisher Random House has plans of setting up a division in the country. The Indian enterprise will publish mainly in English but will also handle Indian-language editions, according to a company statement.

Does this mean that the dapper, goateed Sonny Mehta of Knopf, once termed "New York's sexiest smoker", will be acquiring a penthouse here anytime soon? One's breath is bated.

No, It's Not The Next Volume Of His Autobiography

The Knopf website has a report on the new Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, Memoria de mis putas tristes, or Memories of My Melancholy Whores, as the literal English translation has it. To be available (in an English translation by the estimable Edith Grossman) in October this year.

This is from the website's somewhat cringe-making write-up:

“In my ninetieth year, I decided to give myself the gift of a night of love with a young virgin.”

An elderly journalist decides to celebrate his 90 years in a grand way, giving himself a present that will make him feel like he’s still alive: a virgin. In the brothel of a picturesque town, he sees the young woman from the back, completely naked, and his life changes radically. Now that he meets her he finds himself close to dying, not of old age, but rather of love.

Memoria de mis putas tristes is the story of this eccentric, solitary old man, a narrative of his sexual adventures (of which there were many), for which he always paid, never imagining that this would be the way he would discover true love.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

From Korea With Criticism

Before critic Dale Peck created an uproar with his vituperative reviews ("Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation"), there was a Mr B.R. Myers, who created many ripples himself with an article entitled 'A Reader's Manifesto' published in The Atlantic in the summer of 2001. In this piece -- later published as a book - he attacked the repetitiveness and pretension of authors such as Don DeLillo, Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, Paul Auster and David Guterson. But who was Myers? As the Wall Street Journal pointed out at the time, "No-one seems to have met him."

Turned out that the New Jersey-born Myers lectures in fluent Korean on North Korean literature, culture and society at Korea University's regional campus, an hour south of Seoul. Read the fascinating profile here.

Deeper Throat

Now that Deep Throat's been unmasked, what can we expect next? Why, books about the man and his relationship with Bob Woodward, of course. Expect more details than you ever needed -- involving red flags, flowerpots and hand-drawn clocks.

Blogs 0, Literary Journals 1

From a report on a symposium at Princeton entitled 'The Perfect Little Magazine':

"Someone asked why small magazines should not give the field over to blogs.’No,' [Wendy] Lesser [founder of Threepenny Review] interjected, 'It just makes my flesh crawl.' She said a print magazine has an order from start to finish. Also, a print magazine has been shaped and sifted. Those starting magazines know, she said, how much 'dreck' comes in. Director of the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University Lawrence Weschler said magazine writing could be an occasion for hushed absorption that 'makes you slow down — precisely the opposite of the Web.' Francine Prose said online reading presents distractions like checking e-mail, whereas reading a book requires a kind of commitment."

The article continues: "Prose said what she liked about the old New Yorker was how it let a piece run on, showing the way a writer’s mind worked. This still exists in the little magazines, she said. Weschler cited William Finnegan’s two-part New Yorker article on surfing, published in the last two issues of the magazine prior to Tina Brown’s arrival. It was 'a positive joy to get lost inside, even for people who didn’t think they could have cared less about surfing.' It couldn’t get published anywhere today, he said, except maybe in a surfing niche magazine or if Tom Cruise were about to appear in a surfing movie."

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Whisky, Cigarettes and Wit

No sound would be heard if
So much silence was not heard.
Clouds scuff like sheep on the cliff.
The echoes of stones are restored.
No longer any foreshore
Or any abyss, this
World only held together
By its variety of absences.
- From 'Absences'

Tomorrow is Dominic Francis Moraes' first death anniversary, and to mark the occasion Saryu Srivatsa has organised a reading from his work at the British Council auditorium in Mumbai. The evening, as planned by Rahul daCunha, will be a mix of the more serious poetry and lighter prose with a DVD projection of Dom reading his own verses. More details here.

Viveka Smith, one of those who will read from his poems, has this to say: “The poems I’m reading reflect his intensity and passion as a writer. I loved him for his whisky, cigarettes and wit.”

The Guardian obit, with reminiscences by Alan Brownjohn, Bernard Kops and Naseem Khan, is worth re-reading.

Form Over Content

Stanley Fish, dean emeritus at the University of Illinois, has this thought-provoking article in the New York Times where he asserts that writing students ought to master the rudiments of grammar and construction before attempting to put their opinions down on paper:

"You can imagine the reaction of students who think that 'syntax' is something cigarette smokers pay, guess that 'lexicon' is the name of a rebel tribe inhabiting a galaxy far away, and haven't the slightest idea of what words like 'tense,' 'manner' and 'mood' mean. They think I'm crazy. Yet 14 weeks later - and this happens every time - each group has produced a language of incredible sophistication and precision."

By the end of the semester, one of his students is emboldened enough to ask: "Is it all right if we use the same root form for adjectives and adverbs, but distinguish between them by their order in the sentence?"


Spotlight On Sherawat

"How do you grab audience attention for a three-minute piece in a one hour 45-minute play? Dash their expectations. Dressed in a severe, buttoned-up blouse Mallika Sherawat made sure that her assets were nevertheless on display. With a spotlight on her unending legs, she made a dramatic entry on stage even as frontbenchers hoped for more."

Thus begins Georgina Maddox's rather offensive and patriarchal report on Sherawat's performance in The Vagina Monologues. Read the rest here. Or actually, don't.

N.B. On rechecking the above link a day later, one arrived at a Mumbai Mirror page that said: "Article Not Found". Good.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

To Teach Or Not To Teach?

Should younger readers be taught Shakespeare? That's the question being posed by, among others, author Nick Hornby: "So many people can't understand the language, what's the point?" And mystery novelist Christopher Brookmyre adds his voice to the chorus:

"When I was at school, English did seem like a prescription for putting kids off literature. The notion of studying texts that we could relate to seemed totally distant. Shakespeare is a particular bugbear of mine. Reading it flat off the page - or, even worse, acting it out in class - seems designed to make it unappealing. Listening to Macbeth being annihilated by a bunch of semi-literate Glaswegians for hours on end kind of puts you off."

When one was first confronted by The Merchant of Venice in school, one recalls looking at the first page in utter bewilderment. The metaphors seemed impenetrable, the sentence construction all wrong, and meanings of the very words themselves elusive. As time went on, however, the clouds began to lift. And though the quality of teaching wasn't of such a high order (sorry, Mr Gomes) as to make one fall in love with The Bard, one nevertheless emerged with admiration, if not quite affection, for the play. Once one was thus broken in, one tackled other plays such as Macbeth with much more confidence and appreciation. (Love those witches.)

Exactly the same process was repeated later when one looked at the first page of Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (so what's a moocow, anyway?), but that's another story.

And the point one is trying to make is: Simply because a piece of writing doesn't appear to be simple at first glance, there's no reason for the younger reader not to be urged to persevere. Such effort yields dividends, not to mention an enhanced appreciation of the usage of the English language -- a facility that's sorely needed these days, given the evidence of today's newspapers and advertisements.

Criticising The Critic

Do arts critics matter? Less than ever before, says The Chicago Tribune. Which, according to them, "might just make us all better critics."

Yeah, Right

A team of neuroscientists from Haifa University have figured out how the brain understands sarcasm. It's all to do with the right ventromedial prefrontal cortex, naturally.


Should one drop the "one" and re-emerge as "I" instead?

Monday, May 30, 2005

Mars And Venus Strike Again

A recent survey on the reading habits of both sexes brings us the news that men who read fiction tend to read fiction by men, while women read fiction by both women and men.

It goes on to state: "Consequently, fiction by women remains 'special interest', while fiction by men still sets the standard for quality, narrative and style."

Finally, "men were asked to name the 'most important' book by a woman written in the last two years. Brick Lane by Monica Ali and Carol Shields's Unless were frequently among the replies, but many men admitted defeat and confessed they had no idea. At least one who suggested Brick Lane admitted he had not read it."

Stop All The Clocks, Cut Off The Telephone

Lotus House Books, 1992 - 2005

Sunday, May 29, 2005

And Then Both Fell Out Of An Airplane

Okay, here's the first pre-publication extract from Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown:

"The second portent came on the morning of the murder, when Shalimar the driver approached Max Ophuls at breakfast, handed him his schedule card for the day, and gave in his notice. The ambassador’s drivers tended to be short-term appointees, inclined to move on to new adventures in pornography or hairdressing, and Max was inured to the cycle of acquisition and loss. This time, however, he was shaken, though he did not care to show it. He concentrated on his day’s appointments, trying not to let the card shake. He knew Shalimar’s real name. He knew the village he came from and the story of his life. He knew the intimate connection between his own scandalous past and this grave unscandalous man who never laughed in spite of the creased eyes that hinted at a happier past, this man with a gymnast’s body and a tragedian’s face who had slowly become more of a valet than a mere driver, a silent yet utterly solicitous body servant who understood what Max needed before he knew it himself, the lighted cigar that materialized just as he was reaching for the humidor, the right cuff-links that were laid out on his bed each morning with the perfect shirt, the ideal temperature for his bathwater, the right times to be absent as well as the correct moments to appear. The ambassador was carried back to his Strasbourgeois childhood years in a Belle Époque mansion near the now-destroyed old synagogue, and found himself marvelling at the rebirth in this man from a distant mountain valley. . ."

Well Done

Well worth reading: Uma Mahadevan-Dasgupta's moving and evocative 'Matunga', published in Penguin India's First Proof, and reproduced here.

Bhabha And Spivak: Where Are You Now That We Need You?

Remember all that hurried talk about postmodernism being one of the victims of 9/11? Well, that was followed by books like Postmodern Pooh by Frederick Crews and After Theory by Terry Eagleton (and articles such as Ramachandra Guha's put-down of Edward Said's Orientalism). And now comes a piece entitled Postmodern Fog Has Begun To Lift, by Morris Dickstein, English professor at the City University of New York:

“…many Americans today, sensing that the foundations of their world have crumbled, feel a deep nostalgia for something solid and real. Surrounded by a media culture, adrift in virtual reality, they seek assurance from their own senses...I see evidence of this in my own field of literary studies, which has long been in the vanguard of postmodernism…

"To understand the changes that shook the modern world, my students and colleagues have returned in recent years to long-neglected writers in the American realist tradition, including William Dean Howells, Theodore Dreiser, Stephen Crane, Sinclair Lewis, Edith Wharton and Willa Cather. For readers like me who grew up in the second half of the 20th century on the unsettling innovations of modernism, and who were attuned to its atmosphere of crisis and disillusionment, the firm social compass of these earlier writers has come as a surprise.

"Like Henry James before them, they saw themselves less as lonely romantic outposts of individual sensibility than as keen observers of society. They described the rough transition from the small town to the city, from rural life to industrial society, from a more homogeneous but racially divided population to a nation of immigrants. They recorded dramatic alterations in religious beliefs, moral values, social and sexual mores and class patterns. Novels like Dreiser's "Sister Carrie" and Wharton's "House of Mirth" showed how fiction paradoxically could serve fact and provide a more concrete sense of the real world than any other form of writing.

"This is how most readers have always read novels, not simply for escape, and certainly not mainly for art, but to get a better grasp of the world around them and the world inside them. Now that the overload of theory, like a mental fog, has begun to lift, perhaps professional readers will catch up with them."

A review of Dickstein's new book, A Mirror In The Roadway (billed as a "reconsideration of realism"), can be found here.