Prufrock's Page

Saturday, August 27, 2005

More Information Than We Need to Know

The first time we meet is in New York, at the enduringly fashionable SoHo restaurant Balthazar, where he arrives unaccompanied, a baseball cap in his hand...He browses the menu. "Today is what day, is it?" he asks. It is Wednesday. He checks the daily special. "Rabbit," he reads aloud, mutters to himself, "No, thank you," and orders a salad, some chicken, and a glass of wine. He is clean-shaven, having finally abandoned his familiar beard six months ago. "I had been sort of hacking it down, and it had become very much like designer stubble," he says. "And I just thought, Let's go the whole hog." He tells me most people feel it makes him look younger but that it took him a while to get used to how much his chin and jaw had aged over the sixteen years he'd hidden them away.

GQ Magazine profiles Salman Rushdie.

Pro Fiction, Anti Naipaul

Today's edition of the Mumbai Mirror carries excerpts from a forthcoming interview with Amitav Ghosh, in which the novelist defends the art of fiction from the tirades of Sir Vidia:

"Naipaul has reached the end of his fictional capacities, which is what he is saying. I am a great admirer of Naipaul. But this is such a strangely disingenuous thing to say...He's run out of material so he thinks that the novel as a form is finished."

He goes on: "The world has always been a complicated and difficult place...It's true that there have been terrible incidents of terrorism recently. But what are these compared to the second or first world war or even the cold war? There are a thousand times you can think of when the world was a lot more complicated, when there was more violence. For the West, terrorism is new. We, in India, have lived with it for 20 years...This does not kill fiction. The more complicated the world becomes, the greater is the need for it. Fiction explains the world, gives a shape to the world, represents it, makes it understandable. Fiction is essential. People have been declaring the death of the novel for at least 70-80 years. The novel has not only not died but is, in fact, flourishing,"

Well said.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Going Once, Going Twice, Going Bananas

Thrilling news from the BBC for Dan Brown fans everywhere:

A copy of The Da Vinci Code book, signed by the stars of the film version while they were in Lincoln last week, is to go on sale for charity.

It has the autographs of Tom Hanks, Sir Ian McKellen and director Ron Howard, plus other cast and production crew.

The pages are littered with comments and notes about the film direction.

It is owned by restaurateur Alan Ritson who said: "I understand this is one of only three signatures Tom Hanks gave while he was in the city."

He added: "It is even more valuable for that.'

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Another Longlist Is Announced

Suketu Mehta's Maximum City and Tash Aw's The Harmony Silk Factory have made it to the longlist of The Guardian First Book Award. Read about the rest of the titles here, billed as "the most diverse yet in ethnic origin and theme."

Dumping Naipaul And The Rest

Writing in The Boston Globe, Sam Allis confesses that he's ruthlessly carried out an action that one has been unable to perform with any degree of efficiency: clearing out bookshelves:

"You name them, I dumped them: Don DeLillo, V.S. Naipaul, Peter Carey, Walker Percy, Joyce Carol Oates, Cormac McCarthy, Robert Graves, William Boyd, among many -- they all bit the dust. The next day I pored over the carnage and booted a couple of dozen more, including works by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, John Updike, Ian McEwan, Paul Auster, and Annie Proulx."

He goes on to make an incive observation:

"Books are also a form of interior decorating for people like me who lack imagination. They warm a room like nothing else, but the ugly truth is they also play to your ego. You rather like it when people come to your place and exclaim what a reader you must be. You plumb love it when they ask for an obscure title and you have it. This conceit comes dear and is hard to cede."

So, which ones haven't been given the boot? "I've kept almost all of my history and as much fiction as possible. I've generally stayed with the names that endure and titles I have a decent chance of rereading. And some I just want near me on a cold night. I've also changed my mind on a few. Denis Johnson isn't going anywhere after all. What matters now is less that I own a book than I've read it and, with luck, remember it."

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

On Having To Spend Virtually All Of Your Waking Hours Performing Tasks That Simply Don't Interest You Any Longer

You barely skim through the headlines of the morning papers because your mind is already occupied with thoughts of the morning meeting for which you suspect you'll be underprepared.

You find yourself snapping at people and feeling contrite immediately after.

You practice smiling.

You spend time with people who think Dan Brown is next to Shakespeare. And Paolo Coelho next to God.

You take forever to finish a book because you barely read a few pages at night before keeling over.

You realise you lack the courage to break away. You try not to get bitter about this.

You attempt to find a balance between expressing your opinions and toeing the line.

You toe the line.

You stop going out after work for a drink because all anyone does is bitch about work.

You find that it doesn't matter which TV channel you're watching as long as there are bright colours, lights and music, and that's all the distraction you need.

You wonder what motivates people to do the things they do and say the things they say during office hours.

You come to the realisation that everyone is foolish, self-serving and myopic -- except for you, of course.

As you grow older, your rage at a mindless, moronic system is replaced by a dull, apathetic smoulder.

You're unable to write longer blog posts because deadlines loom.

Wanted: Quiet, Welcoming Bookstores

"Just try to navigate the aisles of any of the big-chain booksellers on a weekend afternoon, or a weekday evening for that matter, and you're apt to feel like Vivien Leigh in that famous shot from 'Gone With the Wind' as she attempts to get through the streets of Atlanta, which are choked with the sprawling bodies of the Confederate wounded...The new-style 'mega' complexes in which the shopping mall meets the community arts center have bred a new bookstore culture where it's virtually impossible to do the thing that used to lure most of us to bookstores: browse...It's not just books on sale anymore -- it's CDs, DVDs, greeting cards, stationery, sundry gifts, coffee and baked goods, and very likely health and beauty aids or tires in the not-too-distant future...Trying to browse or, for the really hearty, trying to actually read is to enter an endurance contest in which your ability to concentrate is pitted against whatever new CD the chain is pushing...The essential Sartrean lesson that modern bookstore shopping teaches us is this: Hell is other people."

That's an indignant Charles Taylor, writing in The New York Times. And then, in passage that reminds one of the goings-on at Danai in Khar, Mumbai, he says:

"There is a sign on the door of a bookstore in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn asking customers to be considerate about cellphone use. The sign did nothing, though, on a spring Saturday to deter a woman loudly carrying on a cell conversation with her child. Instead of reminding this human foghorn of the sign on the door, two employees were having their own rather loud conversation about the recipe for the really yummy food one of them was snarfing down. If some modicum of politeness isn't available from the people who work there, no wonder customers follow suit, rudely."


Tuesday, August 23, 2005

It Knocks Us Out, It Really Does

"If you really want to hear what I think about this guy Dwight Wilmerding, the first thing I should tell you is that he kind of reminds me of me."

The redoubtable Michiko Kakutani unstiffens her upper lip and parodies J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield for her review of Benjamin Kunkel's Indecision.

Four Be The Things I'd Have Been Better Without / Love, Curiosity, Freckles And Doubt

The "wittiest woman in America", a charter member of the Algonquin Round Table and the first female drama critic in New York is remembered by the people of Long Branch, NJ.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Shalimar The PR Man

Okay, there's going to be a lot about Salman Rushdie in the press -- and therefore, in this blog -- for the next couple of weeks. So here goes, with an extract from 10 questions that Time magazine asked the author:

"Isn’t there a school of thought that holds that novelists shouldn’t get their soft, delicate fingers dirty with politics?

This is not my school.

I’ve noticed that about you. Why not?

Well, I'd say they're not exactly political books. They're books about the intersection of private lives and public affairs, and they ask, in a way, time-honored novelistic questions of: To what extent are we the masters of our fate? To what extent do we make our lives, and to what extent are our lives made for us by forces beyond our control? I think the thing that has shifted in the modern era is that the balance of those two elements has been weighted more heavily on the side of loss of control. Our characters are no longer entirely our destinies. When those planes ran into those buildings, it didn't matter what the character of the people inside was."

Of the ten, two of the questions revolve around Padma Lakshmi. Go figure.

What you ought to read, however, is this trenchant review of Shalimar The Clown in The Sunday Express by the ever-insightful Nilanjana S. Roy, who calls the book "a deeply angry, sometimes clownish, often rough novel that marks just a return to form, not a return to the peak of that form." She continues: "Shalimar the Clown is a tightrope walk by a highwire virtuoso who’s not above stumbling; but it’s a powerful parable, a reminder that neither East nor West can sow the seeds of intolerance, hatred and division without reaping the whirlwind."

Another One Of Those Authors Who's Moved Overseas

“The publishing world is dominated by the Anglo-American market, so Southeast Asia has a good excuse for not having many writers make a breakthrough,” says Tash Aw, in this profile of the author of The Harmony Silk Factory, longlisted for this year's Booker Prize.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Mishra Strikes Again

Remember Pankaj Mishra's slash-and-burn review of Salman Rushdie's Fury in Outlook? Well, the man's at it again, and this time his ire is directed at William Dalrymple. Responding to the White Mughals author's article on Indian writing in The Guardian, Mishra, in an indignant letter to the publication, writes that he’s peeved at "...Dalrymple's assumption that he can assess India's youthful literary culture in English by adding up prizes, publishing advances, and sales figures rather than by examining individual texts.”

He goes on: “Not surprisingly, Dalrymple has nothing to say about the best young Indian novelists in English, who mostly live in India - Amit Chaudhuri, Vikram Chandra, Siddhartha Deb, Raj Kamal Jha, Rana Dasgupta, Rupa Bajwa and Tabish Khair. Recent books by Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, Amitava Kumar, Urvashi Butalia, and Abraham Eraly disprove his assertion that the state of Indian non-fiction is ‘dire’… Sunil Khilnani, estimable author of The Idea of India, stands accused of having ‘decamped to Washington’ - although he has long been resident in the west. Dalrymple also tries to dismiss Ramachandra Guha, a respected biographer and author of the forthcoming Picador History of Modern India, as ‘a cricket historian’."

Mishra seems to protest overmuch. To state that Dalrymple tried to assess India's literary output by adding up prizes, publishing advances and sales figures is simply choosing to misread the intent of the man's article. Stating that authors such as Vikram Chandra, Siddhartha Deb and Tabish Khair “mostly live in India” is being more than a bit disingenuous. And since Ramchandra Guha and Sunil Khilnani had come in for praise in Dalrymple's article, it seems a tad petty to raise issues about the way they were described.

Oh, hold on, the letter's probably another reaction to this earlier imbroglio.