Prufrock's Page

Saturday, July 02, 2005

'The Happiness Of Getting It Down Right'

Julian Barnes pays tribute to neglected Irish author Frank O'Connor in The Guardian:

"Though he liked to write a quick first draft - obeying Maupassant's injunction to 'get black on white' - everything thereafter was itchy dissatisfaction and constant revision. His story 'The Little Mother' exists in 17 versions, published and unpublished; sometimes the count rose as high as 50 drafts. A story might eventually appear in a magazine, but that would not be the end of the revisions. Then it might be published in volume form, and still O'Connor would go on tinkering. Finally it might be Selected or Collected, yet there was always further work to be done. All for the sake of what [William] Maxwell, writing about his friend, called 'The happiness of getting it down right.' "

Friday, July 01, 2005

From Jewish-American Fiction To Just Fiction

"As other 'minority' groups came into fashion — the black American writers, the South Asian American writers, the East Asian American writers — the old Jews did, after all, become just writers. Commentary became a right-wing rag (worse than right wing, in fact: predictably right wing); and Partisan Review closed up shop. Roth is still at the top of his game, as is Ozick at hers, and when they get reviews, favorable ones, they are treated as American writers, signifying nothing but themselves, involved in no conversation but the ancient quarrel between good art and bad. Nobody reads Malamud much anymore; his stories, after all, are just tales of poor Jews — tailors and egg candlers, ritual slaughterers and matchmakers, and other vanished types. Nobody fights anymore about whether 'Portnoy's Complaint' is good for the Jews. Instead, teachers — teachers like me — put it on their syllabi.

"What a victory."

An interesting -- and almost elegiac -- look at the days when "Jewish authors necessarily had something in common with one another" by Mark Oppenheimer, reviewing an anthology entitled Who We Are: On Being (and Not Being) a Jewish American Writer

Cutting Words

"He walks into a local Borders or Barnes & Noble and buys some great books. He takes them home and slices them with a band saw or cuts craters into them with a 6-inch grinder. Then he returns to the store and places them back on the shelves. At 23, Miroslav Cukovic is one of the city's most intriguing young artists because his work really pushes for immediate engagement with the public."

The man takes a pair of scissors to a book, cuts out phrases at random and is lauded for it? One isn't letting him get anywhere near one's bookshelves, that's for sure.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Mailer's "Brooklyn comes out"

The 82-year old Norman Mailer is peeved at The New York Times' Michiko Kakutani:

"She is a one-woman kamikaze. She disdains white male writers, and I am her number one favourite target. She trashes it just to hurt sales and embarrass the author. But the Times editors can't fire her. They're terrified of her.

"With discrimination rules and such, well, she's a threefer: Asiatic, feminist and, ah, what's the third? Well. Let's just call her a twofer."

Despite allegations that all he's trying to do is get someone else at the paper to review his books, he says: "And what [is the Times] gonna do? Come and shoot me? That's when my Brooklyn comes out, 'Hey, mother******, whatcha gonna do? Make a martyr outta me?' "

Ooh, how macho. Still, one supposes this is pretty mild stuff for a man who, as Maud Newton reminds us, "stabbed one of his wives in the chest with a pair of scissors, used to believe that all women should be locked in cages; since then he's backtracked slightly."

Writers Who Rock

What is it with authors wanting to make music? Rick Moody -- whose memoir, The Black Veil, was savaged by Dale Peck and Jonathan Franzen, among others, and who has a new novel out -- has started a band called, unpromisingly, The Wingdale Community Singers. According to this report, their CD "applies the folk aesthetic to modern urban life, but it also seems to go so far out of its way to be earnest that it almost begets an strain of Brooklynian super-irony." Uh...right.

Stephen King and Dave Barry, of course, are also known for touring with an outfit entitled The Rock Bottom Remainders, a "band of authors" whose line-up has included Barbara Kingsolver and Amy Tan. And thwarted musician Kazuo Ishiguro confesses: "[F]rom the age of sixteen and perhaps till as late as twenty-four, my ambition was to be a songwriter...I play guitar and piano, and I wrote over a hundred songs, made demo tapes and did the whole thing of going to see A&R men at the various recording companies."

(Music is also an important influence on Hanif Kureishi, who edited The Faber Book of Pop. And Hari Kunzru, till recently music editor of Wallpaper, has collaborated with British musicians Coldcut on Sound Mirrors, an experimental radio play.)

Closer home, Amit Chaudhuri has been known to perform at Hindustani classical music concerts. And though he had nothing to do with the music per se, a set of lyrics from Salman Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet was picked up and turned into a single by U2. Leading the writer to proclaim, with typical panache, that this was "the first book with a theme song".

Coming soon to a stadium near you: Vikram Seth And His Suitable Boys. Featuring Siddharth ‘Mr Soul’ Shanghvi, crooning his last song of dusk. With a special guest appearance by V.S. Naipaul And The Magic Seeds.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

That's Why They Make A Beeline For Foreign Publishers, Thomas

“Nobody who writes fiction in India does it for the money,” said Thomas Abraham, head of Penguin India. “If you ignore the Seths and the William Dalrymples, books don’t make any money for authors.”
- From an article in The Times (UK)

All That David Copperfield Kind Of Crap

Considering J.D.Salinger's famous seclusion, and the fact that he last published a short story almost 40 years ago, it's amazing how much his spirit seems to animate contemporary authors and how often he's invoked by book reviewers. Here's a selection -- all from just the last 30 days:

This stuff isn’t entirely original. J D Salinger’s Glass family is also prematurely wise.
- From a review of Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close in The Times, May 29

It is a voice first adopted 50 years ago by JD Salinger, the one in which he explored how the impossibly nuanced lives of the Glass family might shatter in modern America.
- From a review of the same book in The Guardian, May 29

[C]lassic Danielle Steel material, though Sean Wilsey rinses it through J. D. Salinger's literary sieve.
- From a review of Sean Wilsey's Oh The Glory Of It All, in The Globe And Mail, June 4

Alma Singer, a precocious 14-year-old Brooklyn girl, seems to have escaped...from a J.D. Salinger story.
- From a review of Nicole Krauss' A History Of Love, in The Houston Chronicle, June 10

Sittenfeld's detailed and realistic portrayal of the life of a Midwest outsider...already seems headed straight into the prep school literary pantheon -- J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" (1951), John Knowles "A Separate Peace" (1959) and Donna Tartt's "A Secret History" (1992).
- From an article on Curtis Sittenfeld's Prep, in The Seattle Post Intelligencer, June 17

[A] metaphysical and a New Age novel that is a hybrid cross between J.D. Salinger’s “Catcher in the Rye” and Herman Hesse’s “Siddhartha.”
- From a review of Nirvana, by Kevin Marley, in The American Chronicle, June 28

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Books On India, Anyone?

Sarah Crown of Culture Vulture, one of The Guardian's blogs, is currently "wallowing in a lather of indecision". The reason: "I'm off on holiday to India on Wednesday morning – have passport, visa, travellers' cheques and spanking new rucksack, but with less than 48 hours to go, I'm still dithering about my reading list. I'd love to read something to do with the country while I'm there, but it's not an area of literature I know much about, so – and now we come to the point – what I'm really after are some personal recommendations. ...can anyone suggest where I should go from here?"

Those willing to be of help: click here before she leaves.

No Kafka, No Camus, No Calvino, No Borges

John Carey, the chairman of the judges for the first International Man Booker prize, accuses the British literary scene of being parochial, according to a report in The Guardian: "Dr Carey said foreign literature was 'neglected' in the UK, and to an outsider the British publishing industry could 'seem like a conspiracy intent on depriving ... readers of the majority of the good books written in languages other than their own'. If such laxity had applied 50 or 60 years ago, 'that would have meant, for the English reader, no Kafka, no Camus, no Calvino, no Borges,' he said."

What They Think of 'Tokyo Cancelled'...In Tokyo

Tokyo Cancelled is a joy to read. Snatches of it on the morning train will leave you wandering through the day with a slightly surreal feel, looking out the corner of your eye for a little bit of (dark) magic.
- Daily Yomiuri

Dasgupta can write trite prose: "Her eyes answered his in many mysterious ways" and "He walked out into the streets with death in his soul." He tries to structure the book with an overriding scheme this reviewer finds contrived: the 13th story is told in 13 parts that recycle bits from earlier tales. In that story, the hero "started to arrange 13 dreams in different ways, and found at last that he could make a single narrative of them that was almost coherent." Almost coherent is close enough in this often inventive offering from a new author.
- Asahi Shimbun

Monday, June 27, 2005

Adam On Saul

This moving tribute to his father by Adam Bellow appeared two weeks ago -- nevertheless, one just came across it and thought it worthy of a link:

"When a parent dies, as I have lately learned, you are at first flooded with emotion and memory. I reveled in this reassuring presence, rising up to fill the hole left by my father's disappearance. But as the weeks go by the bite of grief recedes and you forget the little things you took for granted - the shape of his face, the sound of his voice, the timbre of his laugh - and you begin to fear the loss is permanent, a loss beyond recovery."

Julian & Arthur & George

More on Julian Barnes' new book: the 'Arthur' of the title refers to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and the 'George' is George Edalji, Doyle's long-time friend. A review in The Guardian goes on to say:

"Any student of Conan Doyle, or decent Sherlockologist will know that these two names became linked in later life. George Edalji, who trained as a solicitor, was the victim of a famous miscarriage of justice, convicted in 1903 of mutilating livestock in his parish. After his release from a seven-year prison sentence, it was Conan Doyle who championed his case for a pardon in the newspapers and in parliament. The writer was asked many times in his life to put on Holmes's cloak and solve a mystery himself; the Edalji case was the only time he agreed."

Also of interest: "George's father is Indian, a Parsee, who has married the daughter of a Scottish vicar, and has taken over the parish church in Great Wyrley."

It sounds absolutely delightful.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Dil Maange Moore

Lorrie Moore’s short story 'How to Become a Writer' begins: "First, try to be something, anything, else." Just another example of how the lady can be ironic, self-deprecating and insightful, often all in the same sentence. Now, in recognition of her achievements, she’s been awarded the PEN/Malamud Award for excellence in short fiction. (According to a brief note in The New York Times' Arts section.)

This is from a 1998 profile in Ploughshares: “I used to stay up all night and write and read, and I was quite obsessive. But now it’s a much more modest endeavor. When your life gets crazy and complicated, your hopes turn into ‘I hope I get enough sleep so that I can get some writing done this year.' "

In Which Nalanda Lives Up To Its Name

Sated after lunch at the charming Basilico in Colaba on Saturday, one decided to venture into Nalanda, the bookshop at the Taj.

It had been years since one's last visit, but one had frequented the place often enough during one's salad days -- especially late at night after work, as it's the one (perhaps the only) bookshop in the city that's open till midnight. Most bookshops in hotels tend to have just the token collection for tourists; Nalanda was always different.

To one's delight, there was a fascinating selection on offer, comprising many volumes that one had been fruitlessly searching for in the city's other bookshops.

Among one's pickings were Another Bullshit Night In Suck City by Nick Flynn; Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer; You Remind Me Of Me by Dan Chaon and Finding George Orwell in Burma by Emma Larkin.

Attempting to forget the damage to one's savings account and clutching the white plastic bags carefully, one then walked out into the Mumbai monsoon, vowing to return soon.

Hari The Hip

"Where writers are usually neurotic and awkward, Kunzru is achingly hip: he lives in a shabby but trendy part of London, at the Hay Festival he has been known to spend evenings relaxing by DJing at parties, he hires lifestyle managers to help him move house, he dresses like he is about to be photographed for an exceedingly fashionable magazine at any moment, and he wears sunglasses throughout interviews with the FT without any self-consciousness. 'I suppose I'm better at the presentational side than some people I know.' He pushes his shades up his nose. 'But I did acting as a student and have a level of extroversion that isn't shared by a lot of writers.' A sip of beer. 'The word 'cool' is in the eye of the beholder but I'll accept it gratefully.' "

Hari Kunzru, profiled in The Financial Times.