Prufrock's Page

Saturday, June 18, 2005

You Gonna DropThe Apostrophe? Yeah-but-no-but.

Kate Burridge, professor of linguistics at Monash University in Australia, has just written a book entitled Weeds in the Garden of Words: Further Observations on the Tangled History of the English Language. Think of it as an anti-Truss manifesto: this author calls for the dropping of the apostrophe, the embracing of euphemisms and non-grammatical expressions such as "yeah-but-no-but" and new, on-the-street usage.

As she points out in this article: "Today's weeds - non-grammatical expressions and pronunciations - are often rewarding garden species if left to grow. The words Samuel Johnson described as low usage and cant, such as novel, bamboozle and capture, are now totally conventional. E-mail chat over the internet is a kind of speech written down, it has loosened the straitjacket effect to language that writing had. For example, the word 'gonna', as opposed to 'going to', is a marker of future time to replace 'will'."

The reaction -- from some quarters, at least -- has been extreme: "When I suggested on radio that the possessive apostrophe should be dropped from the language because people get it wrong so often, you would have thought that a public flogging would not have been a severe enough punishment. I received hate mail, and letters from the apostrophe support group, though not all of them used the apostrophe correctly."

Hmm. Must be the same bunch who've been leaving offensive comments all over Indian bloggers' sites these days.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Crying Wolff

One came across this charming article on Tobias Wolff, author of many estimable short stories as well as This Boy's Life and, most recently, Old School.

Wolff details a rigorous, disciplined writing routine: he locks himself in the basement of the library at Stanford University, where he teaches three classes a year, in a room with no windows, no phone, no photos on the wall. Lots of pacing. Oh, and he's getting his Net connection switched off: The Internet, he says mock-seriously, "is the new version of a writer's endless pencil sharpening."

Other advice: "He composes overlong first drafts, then combs what he has written, looking for patterns, the spine he can build his book around. Study the writers you love, he counsels, because imitation is essential to becoming a writer. Discipline, too, of course. And remember, don't be too hard on yourself, not yet."

The Chekov-inspired trio of Wolff, Raymond Carver and Richard Ford were, of course, among the luminaries of American fiction in the Eighties. If you can get hold of it, Wolff's 'Good Raymond' (first published in The New Yorker and reissued by Harvill) is a touching memoir that's worth reading.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Ekta Kapoor 0, Dan Brown 1

A report in The Telegraph on a survey of global reading habits informs us that Indians lead the global reading chart with 10.7 hours per week per head — 4.2 hours higher than the global average.

The survey -- covering 30,000 people in 30 countries -- was carried out by market research group National Opinion Poll World as part of its annual study of consumer attitudes, values and behaviour. Among others things, it compared how much time people spent watching television as against reading.

However, spokesman Nick Chiarelli explained to The Telegraph: “There is a point of context. We are trying to represent urban, upscale India. We don’t interview rural populations or subsistence level populations, of which there will be quite a lot in India."

Writing In The Free World

From The Globe And Mail's obituary of noted Canadian journalist Scott Young, who passed away on Monday:

"Young's trilogy of hockey books for boys, Scrubs on Skates, Boy on Defence and Boy at the Leafs' Camp,were food for fantasy for the youth of a hockey-loving country. They were only a part of a body of work that included 40 books of fiction and autobiography drawn from a career in which Young travelled the world covering everything from the Second World War to the assassination of John F. Kennedy and nearly every major sporting event in North America."

In 1984, the prolific Mr Young also authored a book about his relationship with his singer-songwriter son. The title: Neil And Me.

It's Tough Being A Writer These Days

Rock legend Chrissy Hynde is such a huge fan of British author Martin Amis, she got drunk and attacked him in an attempt to get a book signed.

Happy Bloomsday

Time to reJoyce in "dear, dirty Dublin".

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Rushdie's "Nice Gig"

The increasing public appearances of Salman Rushdie are, no doubt, the publicity machine warm-up before the release of his Shalimar The Clown. Here he is at the Arts & Ideas Festival in New Haven, joking about being "currently unemployed", likening the chance to speak to "a nice gig" and calling the audience's decision to hear an author speak "rather strange".

Oddly enough, the article refrains from mentioning whether Mrs Rushdie was present and, if so, what she was wearing.

Sorry, Suketu

This year's BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction has gone to Jonathan Coe for Like a Fiery Elephant, his life of BS Johnson.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Meanwhile, Back At The Ranch

Over at the other place where they talk about books, there's an article on how Haruki Murakami is ignored by the Japanese literary establishment (oh, dear), a review of a book that's billed as Dracula-meets-The daVinci Code (oh, dear) and the formidable Michiko Kakutani calls Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days "a clunky and precious literary exercise" (oh, dear).

(Registration required? Go here.)

On Endings

The New Republic's James Wood is the best literary critic of his generation.

Here he is on endings of works of fiction: the unsatisfying (War and Peace, The Portrait of a Lady) and the satisfying (To The Lighthouse, 'The Lady With The Lapdog').

Screening DeLillo

After breaking out of his characteristic hyper-realist mode with the disappointing Cosmopolis and The Body Artist, Don DeLillo's trying something new again. This time, he's written the screenplay of a film, Game 6, which stars Michael Keaton and Robert Downey Jr, and is directed by Michael Hoffman (whose earlier credits include One Fine Day.) Game 6 deals with a playwright ducking the opening of his first-night show to attend the historic1986 World Series baseball game and was screened recently at the Provincetown International Film Festival.

DeLillo has written about baseball before, of course -- notably in the breathless and exciting prologue to his mammoth Underworld, dealing with the 1951 Giants-Dodgers game.

Bernard Malamud's The Natural, also about baseball, was made into a 1984 film starring Robert Redford and Glenn Close. And then there's The Great American Novel, the only Philip Roth novel one has yet to read.

Now, if only one could figure out which end of the diamond is which.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Press Distrust

The Press Trust of India's website, on its Lifestyle page, states: "Lavanya Sankaran's The Red Carpet is a fiction novel." Er...yes. (Though the section is titled "Book Review", there's no review present -- just an extract.)

A sidebar on the same page (and one quotes verbatim) states: "Most read story about Lifestyle: Tara Reid - another struggling celebrity to show out left breast." (One didn't have the temerity to follow the link.)

Yet another article in the Lifestyle section excitedly announces: "Sweetened soft drinks make your child fat!" (Quite a revelation.)

And finally, a report on the Sahara Group's Subroto Roy denying rumours of ill-health appears in the Entertainment section. (Well, at least they've got something right.)

We Should Be So Lucky

Grisham or Euripides?

Cheever or cheesecake?

A new bookstore such as the latest Barnes & Noble behemoth -- 36,000 square feet spread out across two floors -- that opened a week and a half ago in the Loop neatly encapsulates the 21st Century booksellers' problem: Is it all about the classics -- or the cappuccino?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Failed Fiction Writer? Read On

The success story of Akiva Goldsman:

"Despite being taught by the best, including E.L. Doctorow, Russell Banks and Margaret Atwood, 'I was abysmal. I tried for years. But I got nothing but mounting rejection slips. It's no fault of the teachers. None of them could save me. And then I thought, 'Maybe I'll write a screenplay. Maybe it's easier.' It turned out it was."

Mixed Tidings

Another mixed, but not unappreciative review of Amitav Ghosh's The Hungry Tide, this time by Charles Foran in The Globe And Mail:

"Not since the sodden Fens of Graham Swift's Waterland has a contemporary novel so abandoned itself to the kind of primordial literary landscape first conceived by Thomas Hardy more than a century ago. For the most part, we fancy ourselves too light-footed and plugged-in to be at the mercy of such 19th-century determinism, a self-conception as pleasing as it is naive."

The reviewer, however, goes on to say: "As he demonstrated in his previous novel, The Glass Palace, Ghosh is also a storyteller with a penchant for the broad strokes of the populist." And he finds the finale a let-down: "It is a Hollywood-style wrap-up, with plot lines tidied and characters confessing, more or less, what they have learned from their experiences. One character, who dies so that another may live, even gets a scientific project named after him. This doesn't ring true to either Ghosh's intellect or to the setting he has created with such skill and ardour. It doesn't ring true for the Sundarbans."