Prufrock's Page

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Toronto Calling

Want a sneak preview of Vikram Seth's Two Lives, Julian Barnes' Arthur And George and John Irving's Until I Find You? Go to Toronto.

How-Could-One-Have-Missed-This Dept

Dan Brown's next book to deal with the gay founding fathers of America, exclaims a report in

" 'It’s a twisting and turning adventure of gay life in the seventeen hundreds,' Brown said. 'The origins of this country are deeply rooted in the gay movement.' In his book, Brown asserts that the real reason the Founding Fathers sought to establish independence from the British was more about fornication than taxation. 'It’s all there in the novel… a torrid adventure of rich white men in powered wigs and tight pants fighting for freedom,' Brown explained to critics."

Say what you will about the citizens of the United States, no one tampers with their right to freedom of expression.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Banville Bashing

From The London Line ("London's Alternative Newspaper"), Sean Walsh's five steps to writing the Literary Novel:

1. Themes

All literary novels are sensitive reflections on memory and identity. They can perhaps "be deeply concerned with" ("about") sex, death, or history, but make sure you've got memory and identity covered. The Sea deals with memory, identity and death. In fact, it's a sensitive reflection on them.

2. Unreliable narrator
You won't need a plot for your LN - plots are vulgar - but make sure there's an unreliable narrator. Banville's narrators even unreliably admit their own unreliability. Nice!

3. Hazy character motivation
You can also have people doing stuff for no reason. Book groups are an important demographic for the LN, and they need something to argue about. Or is it that the unknowability of motivation is central to our experience of others? Who can tell?

4. Meaningful names
In The Sea there is a family called the Graces. Religious subtext perhaps? Mrs. Grace is figured as a Goddess, Mr. Grace as a satyr - a dark confluence of the Christian and pagan? Or a reference to Are You Being Served?

5. Hard words
Remember, you're aiming for a prose style that'll be called "sensuous" or "lyrical". Why not use the word "flocculent"? It means "like tufts of wool". Eventually you'll win the Booker, and you can sell your shopping lists to an American university for millions. Good luck!

That's Quite A Set Of Canines

First, Martin Amis's expensive dental problems were held responsible for his breaking off with literary agent Pat Kavanagh and signing up with Andrew 'The Jackal' Wylie. Now, the same set of teeth have been implicated in a dust-up between author Will Self and journalist Toby Young:

"Young confirmed there'd been a punch-up, but it was all because of Martin Amis's teeth. He'd been castigating Amis's apparent hypocrisy (as the declared enemy of the moronic inferno of mass culture) in spending 20 grand on cosmetic surgery for his choppers."

- From an article in The Guardian on a documentary dealing with the rise and fall of The Modern Review, the irreverent publication edited by Young and Julie Burchill.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

On Creative Writing Programs

Having been part of a creative writing program some years ago, one is undecided about its merits. On one hand, what's invaluable is the feeling of community, of being given time and space to write, and the gratifying sense of one's work being taken seriously by fellow-writers.

On the other hand, one does find that the writing produced by such programs -- especially those that extend for long periods -- tends to be tailored to suit the consensus of the group, conforming to received notions of "good writing".

On balance, though, it's an experience -- and an environment -- that's elevating for would-be writers. (Even those as congenitally slothful and indisciplined as this one.)

Journalist Kate Rew comes to much the same conclusions in this winsome report on her stint at a creative writing course on the enchanted isle of Skyros:

"Can I write better? I don't know. But we've learnt that the cut of truth elevates any story, and the supportive environment has allowed us to take chances. I've seen people very unlike me laughing at things I've written, and been touched by things written by others. Trainee clerics have heard about Ian's testes, and I've seen a blue-stocking OU retiree discuss in all earnestness which is the best word in a bonk-busting sentence - screw, shag or mount."

To which Mark Baechtel, fresh from another such program in picturesque Kachemak Bay, Alaska, adds:

"Can writing be taught? Not really. Every writer must mostly teach him or herself the things that make up the very essence of the craft: framing what Raymond Carver once called 'the news everyone knows but nobody's talking about.' But what writers can do when they gather periodically is to warm their collective hands at the fire of each other's enthusiasm....we find that we're perhaps not as alone as we think we are in our strange and deeply specialized passions, that others think they are as important as we think they are and that others believe, as we do, that working to batter away at the long odds against publication is an important, even a vital thing we can do for our communities, however we define them."

This just in: Elizabeth Clementson at Moby Lives damns MFA writing programs: " ...literature created by committee usually does not find the audience that it is calculated to find, and is quickly forgotten." (Link via Kitabkhana.)


The Taipei-born and Malaysia-bred debut novelist Tash Aw, whose The Harmony Silk Factory is creating ripples, speaks to the New Straits Times on how his life has changed and what you need to become an author:

“... it takes a lot of really hard work...It’s a big sacrifice and you need a lot of discipline. When you work in an office, you have a structure to your day. Being a writer, you have to create that structure. You have to force yourself to sit down and work and that can be really really difficult. When I was working and writing, I had to wake up at six every morning and write during weekends. Needless to say, I did not have much of a social life.”

This is what he was doing the day before his agent found a publisher:

“It was 10 in the morning and Teletubbies was on. Feeling that my book was never going to get published. I wanted to ring my agent and say ’Look, just give the book away. If someone wants to pay £500 for it, they can have it. I just want my book published’.”

Mirza Musing

Sania Mirza loses a bravely-fought match. The sports page of The Times of India, however, comes up with this headline:

San-shine At Centre Court:
Mirza Makes Kuznetsova Svet In Thriller

Execrable puns aside, isn't this the same newspaper that, some days ago, carried an editorial exhorting the media not to idolise up-and-coming luminaries because of the pressure it would put on them?

The reason why
The Hindustan Times and DNA are yet undecided about their Mumbai launches must be because they're laughing too hard.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Niradbabu On Jinnah

"I must set down at this point that Jinnah is the only man who came out with success and honor from the ignoble end of the British Empire in India. He never made a secret of what he wanted, never prevaricated, never compromised, and yet succeeded in inflicting unmitigated defeat on the British Government and the Indian National Congress. He achieved something which not even he could have believed to be within reach in 1946."

- From Thy Hand, Great Anarch!, the second volume of Nirad Chaudhuri's autobiography. Quoted by Nasim Zehra in a rather opinionated piece for the Media Monitors Network.

What Happens When You Turn 40

"She's questioned the morality of abortion, she acted as a consultant to Al Gore when he ran for president, and last year, in a cover story for New York magazine, she recalled an uncomfortable encounter with literary scholar Harold Bloom 20 years ago, to highlight how Yale University is ill prepared to handle sexual harassment complaints."

Now, she's realised "
the importance of family and friends in her life."

The San Francisco Chronicle profiles do-me feminist Naomi Wolf on the occasion of the publication of her new book, The Treehouse.

Tupac Or Not Tupac

How does Alan Sitomer, English teacher at Lynwood High School in Los Angeles, describe Hamlet to his students?

"...One character [is] a whore and another...a gold-digger. One's a hanger-on, the type who'd take advantage of his best friend, the rap star. And then there's the "regular dude," a guy who just "wants things to be good in his 'hood."

This "hip-hop approach" to the Bard, says the Los Angeles Times, seems to be working: "... the students — teens whose prior view of Shakespeare could reasonably be summed up as 'boring dead white guy, impossible to understand' — are deep into the text."

The article continues: "To teach Hamlet, Sitomer began with an exercise. He told the students, who are mostly 15 and 16, to take out a piece of paper and write their mother's name, father's name and the name of an uncle. Now, he continued, cross out your father's name, because he died three weeks ago, and your uncle is sleeping with your mother.

"They're like, 'Oh, my God!' Sitomer said.

"He then had them write about how they felt. 'The next morning, some of them were still mad at their moms,' he recalled, chuckling."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Only Connect, Part 1

The first in an occasional series that attempts to demonstrate - in six steps - that the world is indeed round. (Sorry, Tom.)

Pataudi : Gwalior Suitings : Fashion model : Prasad Bidappa : Birdbrain : Pataudi

Jhumpa Lahiri : Pulitzer Prize : Michael Chabon : Scriptwriter : Mira Nair : Jhumpa Lahiri

The Sound And The Fury : William Faulkner : Oprah Winfrey : Aishwarya Rai : Salman Khan : The Sound And The Fury

Memo To Self: Read! Think! And Do Something!

In an article entitled 'How To Pluck Fresh New Ideas For Writing Killer Sales Copy...Straight Out Of Thin Air!', Craig Garber praises Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn, pointing out that the author's short sentences, descriptive abilities and specific details are the very same attributes needed for writing "killer sales copy". (He ends the piece by encouraging copywriters to Read! Think! And Do Something!)

Ah, that explains the success of a certain copywriter from Ogilvy & Mather London who went on to write Midnight's Children.

"Let Me Read"

"Let's respect diversity and stop banning books. Let us make our own choices about what we want to read. As long as we like what we're reading, we'll be readers. What's the problem?"

An American high school student's argument against book bans.

Monday, June 20, 2005

The Subject Of Mishra's Next Book?

"Tibet is one of the most complicated places I have been to," said author Pankaj Mishra during a talk in Dharamshala organised by the Friends of Tibet, Students for a Free Tibet and

Continues the article: "He said that the Tibetans were clearly the underdogs as promises were made to them of development, and as a writer he seeks to watch how these promises are fulfilled. Mishra said he has plan to make the next visit soon and that he will try to make it to mainland China."

Booker Booking

The official "long shortlist" meeting of Man Booker judges takes place only on August 10. But, reports The Times (UK), the judges have already met for an informal lunch where three front-runners have emerged: Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, Ian McEwan's Saturday and Julian Barnes' yet-to-be-published Arthur And George.

(Irrelevant addendum: In the same paper, Jane Shilling's article on British cleanliness has this memorable aside: "One of the most remarkable pieces of modern literary criticism I have ever read concerned the writer Julian Barnes, who, wrote the critic, 'looks like the sort of man who washes his hands too often'.)"

Maximum Borough

Suketu Mehta has written about multicultural Brooklyn before. Here he is again on the New York borough's charm:

"In the world's loneliest city, Brooklyn offers community. Everybody can find community in Brooklyn: the body-fluid artists in Bushwick, the Chinese restaurant workers in Sunset Park, the die-hard Marxists in the Park Slope food co-op. No matter how foreign or fringe you are, the borough has a support group for you."

Part of the research for the book on New York he's now rumoured to be writing?