Prufrock's Page

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Every Superhero's Favourite

”We have a full capery...You get up and choose your cape, depending on whether you’d like to be a warm weather crime-fighter or if you fight crime in colder climates.”

- A report on Dave Eggers and his entrepreneurial skills at the Hay Literary Festival

Cold War? What Cold War?

"Now, people from various walks of life attend...They include investment bankers, public relations specialists, managers of major advertising agencies, teachers from Moscow's expat schools and independent entrepreneurs. A significant portion of the club's membership is Russian. Yet I felt that Russian guests must have a very odd feeling at these meetings, for the idea of a book club is little known in this country; Russians are more prone to be united by their passion for writing than by their love of reading. Moreover, the very concept of a social gathering of this kind is distinctly American. We Russians know it from movies, not from firsthand experience. At the meeting in June, when a latecomer was introduced by the hostess, everyone said 'Hi, Mike' in unison and immediately laughed, reminded of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting."

- From Moscow, a report on the meeting of The American Book Club

You Mean One Doesn't Have To Read It?

"[Harry Potter 6] will fly off shelves thanks to a new kind of marketing, termed 'watercooler publishing'. The aim is for Harry Potter 6 to take the place of the iPod Shuffle as a must-have accessory: to become an event rather than a mere book."

- From an article in The Times (UK) on the J.K. Rowling heir apparent,
21-year-old Christopher Paolini

Friday, July 15, 2005

Why Are We Back To Square One?

The BBC has issued yet another word appeal:

"Wanted: Printed evidence before 1960; information of the word's origin.

Can you help the OED find out once and for all why we say 'back to square one'? Some say it's to do with radio football commentary in the 1920s and 30s (there are commentators' grids in which a section of the pitch is labelled 'one'). So if this is the case, it is very curious that the expression isn't documented until 1960. Or does it come from board games like Snakes and Ladders? Do you have an old game which includes the instructions to go 'back to square one' from earlier?"

You can find the current OED entry here, and contact the BBC’s word sleuths here.

Humpty Dumpty Was Pushed

This one's for fans of Jasper Fforde's delightful series of books featuring literary detective Thursday Next, who enters classic works of fiction and interacts with their characters. (Somewhat like a loopier sci-fi version of the scenario in Woody Allen's 'The Kugelmass Episode'.)

Fforde has a new book out, entitled The Big Over Easy, and it deals with the murder of Humpty Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III. As icBerkshire informs us:

"The Big Over Easy takes place one Easter in Reading - an understandably nerve-racking time for eggs. Minor baronet, and former millionaire Humpty Stuyvesant Van Dumpty III is found shattered to death beneath a wall in a shabby area of town. All the evidence points to his ex-wife, but the plot thickens as Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and his sidekick, Constable Mary Mary, get tangled up in a world of cross-border money laundering, bullion smuggling, problems with titans seeking asylum, and the cut and thrust world of, erm, chiropody."

Silly? Well:

" 'I think I've always been a bit silly,' the author confesses, 'I like a certain brand of humour - Lewis Carroll, Monty Python. It's all very silly, but played absolutely straight. Like with Alice, what else would you expect from a caterpillar sitting on a mushroom, but for him to give advice?'

" 'It's always struck me, whatever happened to Humpty to make him fall off the wall? These are stories that we're given as children and just accept, but I was always questioning them. 'The three bears,' he suddenly adds. 'Why did they sleep in separate beds? Was there another bear involved?' "

What next, an adult version of 'Little Red Riding Hood'? Oh wait, Angela Carter's already done that.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Books, Needles, Haystacks

Lewis Farr from Ipswich writes, in a letter to The Times (UK):

"Recently, you have reviewed paperbacks from small publishers which the big chain bookstores seem disinclined to stock. I have complained on several occasions, but they seem more interested in promotional offers and prizewinning titles. I now order 'obscure' titles from my local, small, friendly bookshop. Don’t the behemoth bookstores read reviews?"

Good man. In India, of course,
newspapers have better things to do with scarce newsprint than to devote more than a token page to trivial pursuits such as books and reading. In any case, books by smaller publishers and those outside the pale of bestsellerdom are like needles in haystacks.

O tempora, o mores.

Carver On The Floorboards

In London, the show goes on: a theatrical adaptation of five of Raymond Carver's short stories at the Arcola Theatre is winning praise. Says The Telegraph about 'Carver' by the 75-year-old William Gaskill:

"Raymond Carver's prose is so well-crafted, so nuanced, that it takes a very shrewd soul to dramatise his short stories without losing something of their essence. Robert Altman managed it with his 1993 film Short Cuts, and now Bill Gaskill, a former artistic director of the Royal Court, pulls off the task in triumphant style."

This Is London chips in:

"[Gaskill's] dramatisation and direction of five short stories by that American master, Raymond Carver, makes an oddly fascinating and unusual night out. The performances are all top notch...Gaskill unerringly catches Carver's elusive melancholia and his bone-dry comedy."

And The Financial Times adds:

"Gaskill rightly feels that Carver had some of Chekhov's insight into 'the lives of undistinguished people, their aspirations and passions'. Here, there is none of the cityscape of Short Cuts; and eventually the emphasis is on autobiographical suggestions, some of them highly ironic, about how people react to a writer...What beautifully distinguishes Gaskill's direction is his sense of space. Staged with the audience on three sides, each story occurs with multiple focal points, and with marvellous effects of distance."

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

No Relief For This Unbearable Urge

No sooner does a Jewish-American write a novel or collection of short stories than he's hailed as the next Roth/Bellow/Malamud. (Or Ozick, if he's a she.)

Such was the case with Nathan Englander, with the 1999 collection of his short stories audaciously titled For The Relief Of Unbearable Urges. Here, however, the acclaim was well-deserved, for the stories of the 29-year-old Iowa Writers' Workshop graduate displayed considerable talent, adroitly merging lightness and gravitas in tales of clashes between orthodoxy and modernity.

One has spent the years since then fruitlessly awaiting the novel Englander was allegedly working on, wondering whether the man was suffering from sophomore blues, or perhaps terminal writer's block.

Now comes the information that the latest issue of The Atlantic Monthly (a fiction special) has a new short story by him, entitled How We Avenged The Blums.

Alas, joy was short-lived. Issues of the said magazine are unavailable in India, and the website is "for Atlantic subscribers only".Which means one got a preview of the first two paragraphs, and no more.

Welcome back, Nathan. Kind of.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Writer? Blogger? Or Both?

If you're a writer, or attempting to become one, should you maintain a blog? Author Tom Dolby (better known for his Virtual Book Tour) lays down the pros and cons:

"As the guest blogger for the brilliant Los Angeles-based literary blog the Elegant Variation , the process was easy and fun. No editors to pitch to! No one to limit the narcissistic ramblings I could foist upon my audience! I posted interviews with my friends, wrote about sending an early draft of my latest manuscript to my agent and linked to articles I thought were provocative. It was all promotional and self-serving, but I also found it strangely therapeutic. Unlike my regular writing routine, in which I have to wait at least a few weeks until something of mine is published, it was immediate; in contrast to working alone at my laptop, I felt connected to a community of others.

“Imagine, for a moment, if blogs were not a recent phenomenon: Would Philip Roth have blogged about his divorces? Would J.D. Salinger have posted entries about his reluctance to publish again? I was asked recently, 'If you're a real writer, do you blog?' Absolutely, if you want to. I think someday bloggers will be recognized, server space permitting, as the great chroniclers of our time, joining serial scribes like Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens, Herb Caen and Armistead Maupin. For unpublished writers, blogging is a fantastic -- arguably, the best -- way to get noticed by an agent or publisher and get a book deal."

So far, so good. But...

"...I wonder how many published or even unpublished writers would do better to spend less time blogging and more time working on their books... I spoke with the writer Ayelet Waldman about it. 'Don't do it,' she said. 'Blogging will ruin your life.' Several months ago, Waldman wrote about her own experience in Salon, concluding that when she was blogging, 'The fertile composting that I count on to generate my fiction was no longer happening.'

"What Waldman was referring to was the gap -- that is, the time between an event happening and a writer putting it out into the world. For a blogger, it could be five minutes; for a novelist or memoirist, it could be years. As writers, it is critical that we protect that period, that we preserve the burgeoning vitality of our ideas while they are still in their developmental phases. There is an alchemy that takes place in that interval, during which reality turns into art. Bloggers who are also long-form writers risk losing that magic. Offered the rewards of immediacy, they may miss out on the gestational stages between having an experience or idea and its fruition on the page. I am reminded of that famous Grace Paley short story, 'Debts,' in which the narrator, a writer, says, 'There is a long time in me between knowing and telling.' "

One awaits the always-interesting views of Ms Maud Newton on the above.

"Nostalgia, Embarrassment And Dismay"

It's Harry Potter Week all over again, and stores such as Crossword in Mumbai are so excited that -- as of this writing -- they haven't even bothered to stock other books such as Amartya's Sen's The Argumentative Indian.

Meanwhile, The Observer's Robert McCrum isn't impressed:

"When the current generation of Harry Potter readers has grown up, it will look back on the Harry Potter phenomenon with a mixed thrill of intense nostalgia, embarrassment and dismay. Our children's children will certainly read these books, but as curiosities, bizarre literary relics from a lost world."

Monday, July 11, 2005

Naipaul and Rushdie Are The Same? That's News

Roli Books has just published 'The Silent Life', Chaman Nahal's memoirs. According to this PTI report, he says: "The ethos of a writer is reflected not in the language alone but also in the design he gives to a work and a reader is bound to be moved by it if he is open minded enough. More than words it is the structure of a work that brings out its force." Um....ok.

The report continues: "
Nahal says...Indian English writers who have been readily accepted by the British audiences are essentially colonial writers.'This applies as much to V S Naipaul as to Salman Rushdie. Naipaul's novels glorify more the water-tight colonial mode of living than the loose but inconclusive harmony prevailing in Indian homes, so do the works of Salman Rushdie.' "

Sorry, Mr Nahal, that comparison makes no sense.

(Meanwhile, do read this op-ed piece by Rushdie in yesterday's New York Times on the subject of rape:
"...any country that claims to be a modern, secular democracy must secularize and unify its legal system, and take power over women's lives away, once and for all, from medievalist institutions like Darul-Uloom." Link via Amit.)