Prufrock's Page

Saturday, December 31, 2005

Books 2006

Barely have they finished making lists of books from 2005 than they're compiling others to look forward to in the coming year. Though it must be said that there seems to be a rich harvest in store: the new work from Margaret Atwood, Kate Grenville, Tim Parks, DBC Pierre and Russian-American Olga Grushin's debut look quite promising. My kingdom for more shelf space.

Update: And here's The Guardian with another list that includes new work from -- among others -- David Mitchell and Peter Carey, as well as "a much anticipated debut in Gautam Malkani's Londonstani." (Malkani works with the Financial Times and is already being labelled "the new Zadie".)

A Flock of Penguins

While picking up the Indian editions of the first three in Canongate's excellent myths series, it occurred to one that Penguin India really seems to have come into its own in the last few months. Not all that long ago, their collection of titles was mundane, proofreading shoddy and cover art indifferent. Now, however, their selection of contemporary Indian authors actually seems worth reading, from Altaf Tyrewala to Kalpana Swaminathan to Nilita Vachani. Their non-fiction list, too, sounds promising, ranging from Ammu Joseph's account of women in journalism to Yagnik and Sheth's The Shaping of Modern Gujarat to Kavita Watsa's travels through south Indian history. A few forthcoming titles to look forward to include fiction from Upamanyu Chatterjee and Sonia Faleiro as well as Sudha Murthy's attempt to discover the spirit of India and Bibek Debroy's new translation of the Bhagawad Gita. Why, it wasn't half as interesting when David Davidar was at the helm. (Ooh, nasty.)

The Moon In June

Rap, slams and open mikes. What on earth is happening to what Andrew Motion called the "mystery of poetry", wonders Christina Patterson

Friday, December 30, 2005

Brooklyn Boys

Have just finished reading Paul Auster’s The Brooklyn Follies, and found it warmer and more character-driven than his earlier books. Unfortunately, traces of the mischievous postmodern Auster still remain -- for example, the central character is at work on a volume he calls “The Book of Human Folly”, and there’s a chapter that starts with an authorial intrusion, followed only by chunks of dialogue. These come across as tacked-on; indeed, Follies would have been much stronger had it been told straight. Then, of course, there’s the very in-your-face ploy of having the book end on the morning of 9/11, underlining the obvious – that what came before is an essentially nostalgic and affectionate look at human foibles and desires, something that belongs to the past, as the world is now altered forever.

What is it with these boys from Brooklyn and their clever conceits? Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude comes to mind: a well-written and extremely evocative Brooklyn bildungsroman, it suffered because of some silly incidents involving superheroes and rings that enable you to fly.

It’s not that one is against postmodern musings, magic realism and pop culture in novels. (Playing with ideas of identity and subverting genres have served Auster well in The New York Trilogy, for instance.) It’s just that in both of these works, there’s something deeper and more consequential which keeps getting held back by such tics.

Oh dear. Perhaps it’s just that one has been reading too much James Wood.

"Nothing Odd Works Long"

"I find that I've stuck to a rule - you don't have rules when you write, you just have an inkling. Nabokov calls it a pang. The process of writing is finding out more about that idea or that pang. When you come to the end of the first draft you go back and start again, and you're amazed by how little you knew about it…My rule - I see Henry James came up with the same idea - is that nothing odd works long. And I find my short stories are very bizarre. I wrote a short story called The Janitor on Mars. Now, I wouldn't have written a novel called that."

- Martin Amis, at a New Yorker Festival discussion

Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Scottish Reel

The Scotsman brings us a "highly selective" list of the 20 Scottish novels they think everyone should read. One is willing to tackle Buddha Da again, and even pick up Trainspotting, but...Alexander McCall Smith? Surely not. Come to think of it: why no Arthur Conan Doyle? (James Kelman, A.L. Kennedy and Shena Mackay don't make the cut, either.)

A Literature of Their Own

In Online Opinion, an Australian e-zine, Cireena Simcox makes an interesting case for rediscovering neglected women authors and points to their role in the rise of the novel:

"History commonly informs us the birth of the English fiction genre began in the 18th century. Even today, university classes dealing with 18th century literature investigate Swift and Defoe in depth, as the vanguard of the great explosion of novel-writing that marked the period. History, however, neglects to inform us the majority of 18th century novels were written by women: an historical fact easily verifiable through existing Stationers Lists. The fact both Swift and Defoe modelled their work on the new 'phantastick' genre, introduced by women writers in the previous century is not explored in mainstream literature classes."

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Why Blog?

Scott Adams' answer:

"I'm finding that, creatively, it might be the most fun I've had doing anything, There's no one checking my work in the blog, and no limit to what I can write within the confines of PG."

The blog can be accessed here. Though one thinks that cat is overrated.

(While on the subject: now it's Amazon's turn to jump onto the blog bandwagon.)

Belated Christmas Link

"Christmas is a holiday that Christian children have been given to celebrate because they aren't Jewish. Instead of eight nights of presents, there is only one. And instead of getting to eat delicious and nutritious latkes, they are forced to drink something called nog, which isn't even a real word."

- Jonathan Safran Foer's Yiddish musings on Christmas.

The Trouble With Billy Collins

Former US poet laureate Billy Collins' latest work, The Trouble with Poetry, is slammed by Elizabeth Lund in the Christian Science Monitor:

"There's little spark or imagination as he muses about literary history, savors a beautiful day, or recalls going to a friend's house and finding no one there. Perhaps to compensate for lack of inspiration, Collins returns to well-trodden ground or overanalyzes."

Be that as it may, one will always be delighted by his earlier Sonnet:

All we need is fourteen lines, well, thirteen now,
and after this one just a dozen
to launch a little ship on love's storm-tossed seas,
then only ten more left like rows of beans.
How easily it goes unless you get Elizabethan
and insist the iambic bongos must be played
and rhymes positioned at the ends of lines,
one for every station of the cross.
But hang on here wile we make the turn
into the final six where all will be resolved,
where longing and heartache will find an end,
where Laura will tell Petrarch to put down his pen,
take off those crazy medieval tights,
blow out the lights, and come at last to bed.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

No More Books, Please

Despite always being on the lookout for the next book to immerse oneself in, one must confess that one's reaction to having a book thrust upon one by a friend or acquaintance is one of alarm. Is one actually supposed to read the thing, putting aside others, and discuss it at the next meeting? Writing in The New York Times, Joe Queenan admits that he feels the same way:

"Because I live in a small town where I cross paths with promiscuous book lenders all the time, I have lately taken to hiding in subterranean caverns, wearing clever disguises while concealed in tenebrous alcoves and feigning rare tropical illnesses to avoid being saddled with any new reading material."