Prufrock's Page

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Hardy Girl

British journalist Justine Hardy, who's earlier written an engaging but undistinguished account of her stint with The Indian Express in Delhi, as well as about a breezy quest for Hrithik Roshan, now has a first novel out. Entitled The Wonder House, it's based in Kashmir, and this is what The Times (UK) has to say :

"The timespan of her book incorporates the turn of the millennium, but the love story and the ancient conflicts it describes are decidedly unmodern and could as easily have been set in Kipling’s India as in the recent past...At times, the characterisation is decidedly sketchy. While Masood and some of the Kashmiri supporting cast are deftly drawn, a whiff of stock character hangs over the cross-cultural lovers - the improbably beautiful and doomed duo of Hal and Lila, and even over Gracie, their unlikely cupid with her tetchy mannerisms...But Hardy’s evident intimacy with and affection for the troubled landscape and people of her novel lend The Wonder House an air of distinction that sets it a little apart from the ordinary run of summer romances."

"There Are No Thinkers In India"

Sir Vidiadhar Surajprasad Naipaul emerges from his lair to be interviewed by The New York Times. And (sigh) asserts once more that the novel is dead:

''What I felt was, if you spend your life just writing fiction, you are going to falsify your material...And the fictional form was going to force you to do things with the material, to dramatize it in a certain way. I thought nonfiction gave one a chance to explore the world, the other world, the world that one didn't know fully...I thought if I didn't have this resource of nonfiction I would have dried up perhaps. I'd have come to the end of my material.

''If you write a novel alone you sit and you weave a little narrative. And it's O.K., but it's of no account. If you're a romantic writer, you write novels about men and women falling in love, etc., give a little narrative here and there. But again, it's of no account.''

Expectedly, some vanity is also in order:

''Actually, I think 'A Bend in the River' is much, much better than Conrad. I think the best part of Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness' is the reportage part. The fictional part is excessive and feeble. And there is no reportage in my thing. I was looking and creating that world. I actually think the work I've done in that way is better than Conrad.''

And, of course, some lofty pronouncements on India:

"Naipaul called it 'a calamity' that, even with its billion people, 'there are no thinkers in India' today. India is also where he turns for a theory of history. 'The only theory is that everything is in a state of flux,' he said. This is his own 'personal idea,' he said, but one linked to a philosophical concept in Indian religion."

Norma Jean, Literary Critic

Yesterday was Marilyn Monroe's 43rd death anniversary. Almost inevitably, there's another book out, purporting to record her last thoughts, some of which revolve around -- good heavens! -- literature:

"While Monroe often came across on screen as a ditzy blond (sic), in her tapes, she discusses Freud's Introductory Lectures ('God, what a genius,' she remarks. 'He makes it so understandable'), and author James Joyce (' ... Joyce is an artist who could penetrate the souls of people, male or female'), and says she has read all of Shakespeare."

Friday, August 05, 2005

Mediocre But Arrogant

Anurag Mathur sent up American universities. Chetan Bhagat and Sandipan Deb skewered IIT. And now, Abhijit Bhaduri takes on the world of MBA programs.

Lucknow's Ram Bhai

Lucknow's legendary bookseller Ram Advani speaks to Express Newsline about some of the people he's helped:

"Vikram Seth, Naipaul came twice, Ruskin Bond I have known since he was a boy of ten, he has been a regular visitor...William Dalrymple was here some years back doing research on The White Moghuls. Of course Irfan Habib, Romilla Thapar, Ralph Russell, Carla Petrovich are some other prominent names who have been drawn to the city. Authors and academics like Dr Francis Robinson, (Author of Separatism Among the Muslims), Barbara Metcalfe, an authority on Deoband, Gail Minault, the present head of the University of Texas, Prof Peter Reeves, Vice Chancellor of Singapore University, Rosie Llewlyn Jones, Violette Graf and Peter Taylor, Author of the Oxford companion to the Mutiny of 1857..."

He also slams Indian scholars:

"...most of the interest comes from scholars based outside India— in Europe, US, Canada, Australia and Japan. Our own research scholars often lack the diligence and patience to pursue such extensive research. I have seen writers come down and take up abode in the crumbling houses in the Old City to pursue their research —that kind of dedication is not often seen among indigenous students."

And has a few words of advice for those who own bookshops:

“I do not see my job as just that of a bookseller. If someone asks for a book I have to help them find it. It is like a relationship between a doctor and a patient. I cannot leave his needs unattended. I must pursue it to the best of my ability. And it has been a rewarding pastime. I have gained knowledge and friends from this association and developed a link that has extended over generations and across the seven seas. What more reward can one seek from a vocation?"

Thursday, August 04, 2005

When Welty Cried Woolf

Susan Marrs, Eudora Welty's friend, tells all:

"Disenchanted by life in Jackson and struggling to harness her own voice as a writer, Eudora Welty found confidence and possibility between the pages of a Virginia Woolf novel. At the time, Welty was 22 years old and not yet published, but her words seemed to pour out. 'It is better to have read To the Lighthouse than to have written any other book, or, almost, to have lived any given life,' Welty said in a letter she sent to the English novelist. 'It was light under a door I shall never open.' "

But Who WasThe One With The Recipe For Lemon Meringue Pie?

In an engaging article for The Book Standard, novelist Adam Langer divides authors he’s interviewed into categories, further dividing them into gold, silver and bronze winners. Herewith some (long) extracts:

Category #1: The Freewheeling Improviser: Just about everyone can answer the obvious questions (Why did you write the book? What inspired you? What authors do you admire? Is the book autobiographical? Updike or Roth? Beatles or Stones?), but that hardly makes for inspired or original copy. As a journalist, few experiences are more pleasurable than finding a well-rounded conversation partner who can dissertate on just about everything, from today’s headlines to recipes for lemon meringue pie.
Gold Medalist: Umberto Eco
. Anyone who can discuss Broadway musicals, comic-book superheroes, medieval history and mixed drinks in a single sentence without the slightest appearance of pretension exemplifies perfectly this category.

Category #2: He/She Who Does Not Suffer Fools Gladly: One would tend to think that grumpiness would be a less-than-desirable quality in an interview subject. But too much friendliness, especially in the event of an unprepared journalist, can often mean that the individual being interviewed just isn’t paying enough attention. Sometimes, a particularly prickly person is a particularly honest one.
Bronze Medalist: Nadine Gordimer (who once told me, quite reasonably, that if I asked her a stupid question, I’d get “a nasty answer”).
Gold Medalist: Toni Morrison...Dr. Morrison’s frankness was worth incurring her wrath for trying to research her background by interviewing too many of her friends and relatives. The first time I met her for an interview, I sat in her apartment with another editor from Book Magazine. Afterward, she remarked to her publicist that “the smarter one” asked more questions. I’m still not sure which one of us she meant.

Category #3: The Unself-conscious Subject: In this age of media consultants, spin doctors and over-rehearsed questions and answers, it’s wonderful to find someone honest and genuine enough to consider any question, no matter how bizarre or off-point.
Silver Medalist: Michel Faber (The Crimson Petal and the White). A man who will answer absolutely anything seriously, respectfully and at length. Really at length.
Gold Medalist: Alex Garland (The Beach, The Tesseract)....The simple fact that he was able to field with a straight face the most bizarre and inappropriate audience question I have ever heard (“Have you researched comas? And do you know if it is possible for someone in a coma to achieve and maintain an erection?”) makes him an all-star in this category.

Category #4: The Consummate Storyteller: One of the best qualities an author can have, of course, is the ability to captivate the reader with his or her own words, but it is the rare individual who can do this both in person and on the page.
Bronze Medalist: Isabel Allende. Allende can answer a simple biographical question and make it sound like she is casting a spell.
Silver Medalist: Salman Rushdie. Before he wrote The Satanic Verses or Midnight’s Children, Rushdie was an actor (although probably not a romantic lead). During interviews, his thespian past shows (in mostly a good way).
Gold Medalist: Maxine Hong Kingston. The author of Tripmaster Monkey and The Fifth Book of Peace can do much of what the previous two can and she can do it without sounding as if she’s been rehearsing for all her adult life.

Category #5: The Genuinely Decent Human Being: ...For all I know, the people I am about to mention have deep, dark, horrible secrets, but for the space of an interview or conversation, they seemed like some of the most caring and generous people I have ever met... It hardly seems fair to rank this category, so let’s just list them in alphabetical order and call it even.
Gold Medalists (five-way tie):
• Richard Adams (Watership Down)
• Stuart Dybek (I Sailed With Magellan)
• Bel Kaufman (Up the Down Staircase)
• William Lychack (The Wasp Eater)
• John Murray (A Few Short Notes on Tropical Butterflies)

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Down And Out In Motihari

The New York Times quotes a BBC report as saying that Motihari in Bihar, George Orwell's birthplace, is about to get a makeover:

"...plans are afoot to erect a museum, an indoor stadium and a statue...his first home, a crumbling, one-story building, now houses a local teacher of English who said he was unaware that he was living 'in a place of historical importance' until Orwell fans began to visit."

A museum, OK. A statue, all right. But an indoor stadium? What are they going to do there, shoot elephants in homage?

Whodunit? No, Whowroteit

In a rather interesting marketing ploy, Random House has just published a collection entitled The Secret Society of Demolition Writers, with short stories by Aimee Bender, Alice Sebold, Lauren Slater, Benjamin Cheever and Elizabeth McCracken, among others. The interesting part is, the stories are anonymous: the reader has no way of ascertaining which story's written by which author -- unless he chooses to guess, based on their earlier style.

It's been called "the publishing equivalent of a whodunit" and, as this report states, "the results don’t reach new extremes in either narrative form or content, but there’s an icy streak through the tales and their often deeply screwed-up characters that’s refreshing in a summer read...It’s a solid collection in general; the ready-made game of who’s who with the who’s who of contributors is just a bonus for book geeks."

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

If You Have A Little Free Time...

...consider reading this.

One Had The Same Dream, Before Life Got In The Way

NY Newsday informs us that there are at least some people living out their fantasies:

"Betsy Burton was a young mother and an aspiring novelist in Salt Lake City when she and a friend came up with the idea of opening a bookstore in the tiny offices they rented for their writing. ‘We could write in the back room and put bells on the door so we'd know when customers came in. Why don't we do it?’ she said to her friend's impetuous suggestion. And they were off, fantasizing about their ideal bookstore: It would carry every book by their favorite authors, not just the famous ones. (‘A really good store would have all of Graham Greene. And Anthony Trollope.’ ‘Do you realize how many books Anthony Trollope wrote?’ ‘Yes.’)

"...There have been financial struggles and personal struggles, but through it all, there has been the joy of matching readers to books. And now Burton has written a book herself; not the novel she originally intended, but a memoir, The King's English: Adventures of an Independent Bookseller."

The complete antithesis of the above? The new Crossword at Turner Road, which one visited last evening, in search of succour after spending virtually the entire day gazing at grey skies. What a disappointment: there's a pathetic collection, no better than one of those terrible hotel bookshops. Crushed, one returned home.

Monday, August 01, 2005

My Name Is Rushed

As one of the luckier ones during the Day It Poured in Mumbai, one found oneself spending the night in office. With the Net connection having failed and most colleagues curled up in some form of slumber, one found oneself rummaging in the drawer in search of something to read -- and coming up with a copy of Orhan Pamuk's My Name Is Red.

One had started this book months earlier, leaving it aside after a chapter or two. So, that night, one ploughed through half of it, finishing it last evening.

Though thought-provoking, sumptuous and detailed, by the time one gor the the last few chapters, one found oneself hurrying through it, even skipping a paragraph or two in order to lay it aside.

Now, this wasn't because one didn't like the book, or that it was especially thick, or because one had to return it. Rather, it was because of those voices that began to whisper in one's head: "You're spending too much time on this!" "What about all those other books lying there?" "When are you going to take up Nicole Krauss' The History of Love? Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days?"

And, behind all those voices was the rumble of yet other books that, shamefully, one has not yet read: Remembrance of Things Past...War And Peace...The Brothers Karamazov...

Had one but world enough and time, one would linger lovingly over every well-crafted sentence. Perhaps the way out is to sternly cut off other activities that suck up the minutes.

But -- oh, no! -- that would mean missing Desperate Housewives this week. Decisions, decisions.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

Could You Repeat The Question?

Ron Charles, senior editor at the Washington Post Book World, writes a breezy, on-the-surface review of Vikas Swarup's racy, disappointing Q&A:

"...Vikas Swarup provides a strange mixture of sweet and sour in this erratically comic novel...what Q &A lacks in subtlety it makes up for in charm and melodrama...There are enough horrors here to drain a million liberals' bleeding hearts, but Ram never suggests the solution will come from a different political arrangement, more equitable distribution of wealth or social revolution. The real question is whether individuals will choose to treat one another more humanely, more selflessly. You can guess his final answer."

Here's Looking At You, Kid

Beer. Wine. Rum. Coffee. Tea. And Coke. Where would we be without them?

Steven Shapin reviews -- and adds to -- Economist writer Tom Standage's A History of the World in Six Glasses.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to have my morning glass of milk. Not.

Currying Favour

"...whoever thought sultanas in a curry were a good idea? Why are 90 per cent of Indian restaurants in Britain owned by Sylhetis? And who coined the inaccurate and misleading term 'curry' to describe one of the most varied and complex cuisines in the world? (Answers respectively are: the 19th-century Anglo-Indian settlers who replaced fearsome native spices with something less alarming; because 100 years ago absconding Sylheti seamen jumped ship from the East End docks and established their own eating places which became a thriving industry; the first Portuguese settlers described the Indian spicy gravy poured over their rice as 'caril' or 'caree', their word for broth.)"

Meera Syal smacks her lips at
Curry: A Biography by Lizzie Collingham