Prufrock's Page

Saturday, December 17, 2005

What, No Saleem Sinai Saucy Pickle?

The Lady Chatterley range of exotic lingerie. The Virginia Woolf Bar. The Ernest Hemingway furniture collection. And Jane Austen cross-stitch kits. Literature isn't dead, it just assumes new forms.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Who Lifted What From Whom

For a change, a year-end round-up that's unusual and refreshing. This one chronicles the plagiarists' year: from the Boston Globe to the SF Chronicle to the LA Times, they've all carried stories that were, er, inspired. Get the whole thing here, starting with the actions of an India-based stringer for the IHT and the SF Chronicle, who bravely assumed that none of his readers would know of the existence of a newspaper called The Guardian.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

"Close The Book Reviews, Ban The Critics"

The Guardian translates a deep, dark and intense interview with Philip Roth by Danish journalist Martin Krasnik:

"I would be wonderful with a 100-year moratorium on literature talk, if you shut down all literature departments, close the book reviews, ban the critics. The readers should be alone with the books, and if anyone dared to say anything about them, they would be shot or imprisoned right on the spot. Yes, shot. A 100-year moratorium on insufferable literary talk. You should let people fight with the books on their own and rediscover what they are and what they are not. Anything other than this talk. Fairytale talk. As soon as you generalise, you are in a completely different universe than that of literature, and there's no bridge between the two."

Updike's Terrorist

From Safran Foer to Auster, America's novelists have begun to try and find ways to assimilate and incorporate the tragedy of 9/11 in fiction. And now, it's the turn of John Updike to do the same. A report informs us that his next novel, simply titled Terrorist, "confronts the emotional issue of changes in America after the September 11, 2001, attacks with a culturally charged twist: Updike's terrorist is a U.S. teenager given a sympathetic treatment."

Says the author, who's just published a book of art criticism: "It's my attempt, in a way, to cope with today's world. Terrorism is one of our themes that has changed the texture of American life in a noticeable way. And of course it makes you fearful because you think 'well I'm not a terrorist but somebody could be'."

On changing expectations from the novel, he says: "Now people want to believe that this is just what happens, how it feels and how it looks. The fiction writer has less freedom to invent."

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Lady Chatterley's Chronicler

D.H. Lawrence's star has been under a cloud for some years now, with everyone from prose stylists to feminists accusing the man of unspeakable acts. One recalls being tremendously struck by Sons And Lovers as an impressionable teenager; later, one got hold of a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover only to read the supposedly prurient bits. Much later, when one read the entire novel, one was struck at how much Lawrence's need to sermonise coloured and weakened the entire work. Now, in The New Yorker, Benjamin Kunkel (debutant author of Indecision) reviews The Life Of An Outsider, a new biography of the author by John Worthen. He states: "Now that the eighties and nineties fashion of censoriously political reading has come to seem a narrow cut, and nearly as dated as those postwar clich├ęs about the sickness of civilized humanity, Lawrence can be rescued from both the moralists and the Lawrentians." Sounds like a worthy project.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Being An Idiot

I left college in 1968, and "Midnight's Children" was published twelve years later. In between, I was essentially floundering about. I worked in advertising two or three days a week in order to have the other four or five to stay home and write. Advertising was very tempting because they were constantly trying to bribe me to do it full-time. When you've had no success as a writer, the bribes start looking good. You start thinking, Who am I kidding? I think I want to be a novelist, but I'm not getting anywhere, and meanwhile here are these people offering me a comfortable living to do something that I actually can do. "Don't be an idiot!" a voice says. The thing that I think was very brave of my younger self was that he decided he would be an idiot. Just persevere. That feels brave to me: deciding that I'm going to damn well be this person that I've set my heart on being.

- Salman Rushdie, in Esquire Magazine's 'What I've Learned' section

Packing, Moving, Rereading

Back to blogging after a brief break necessitated by the actions of a whimsical landlord. The weekend was spent in packing, moving and then attempting to settle into a new home which, though it has its share of issues, also has an uninterrupted view of sand, surf and sea.

During the shift, other unexpected pleasures also came to light, such as the recovery of books which one hadn't seen in ages: a varied lot, ranging from John Osborne's Look Back In Anger to Isabel Fonseca's Bury Me Standing. Which was quite a coincidence, considering one had recently received in the mail a book entitled Rereadings: 17 Writers Revisit Books They Love.

It's edited by Anne Fadiman, author of the charming Ex Libris, and comprises a selection of essays that earlier appeared in The American Scholar, flagship journal of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. It's a book one has been sampling between periods of waiting for carpenters, plumbers and electricians -- indeed, dipping into it is the best way of going through it.

There's Pico Iyer on D.H. Lawrence's The Virgin And The Gypsy; Vijay Seshadri on Whitman's Song of Myself; Allegra Goodman on Austen's Pride And Prejudice; and more. (Including, unusually and delightfully, David Michaelis on the lyrics of Sergeant Pepper.) Each one a personal reminiscence on how time and age affect the experience of reading a favourite text.

In short: a book that one would unhesitatingly recommend to those (like oneself) who're so caught up in keeping up with new releases that rereading seems like an ill-afforded luxury.

Now, if only the electrician would arrive to fix the reading light.