Prufrock's Page

Friday, March 24, 2006

Cross With Crossword

It looks like one isn't the only person peeved at the choice of books at Crossword. Although the reasons in this case are totally different.

According to this Reuters report, the bookshop's Calcutta branch withdrew History of the World: Earliest Times to the Present Day by John Whitney Hall because it contained a black-and-white sketch of the Prophet Mohammed on page 171.

Earlier, the local administration bought a consignment from Crossword to distribute to school libraries. But the West Bengal government stopped further distribution after protests by Muslim groups, and intends removing it altogether.

Quick to jump onto the bandwagon, Hasan Ahmed Imran, general secretary of the Muslim Council of Bengal said, according to the report: "The sketch is in extremely bad taste and is blasphemous. The book should be immediately withdrawn from everywhere in the world and the guilty people must apologise."

(Link courtesy Sunstruck.)

American English, August

Given all the worldwide buzz about Indians Who Write In English, it came as a surprise to learn that Upamanyu Chatterjee's English, August has never been published in the US. Well, the exemplary publishing arm of the New York Review of Books has decided to rectify this with an edition that's to be released this spring. Better late than never, one supposes. A blurb by Gary Shtyengart (author of the loopy, addictive The Russian Debutante's Handbook) says: "Comparing Upamanyu Chatterjee with any other comic novelist is like comparing a big fat cigar with a menthol cigarette." Pity you can't say that about Chatterjee's later work, especially the overrated Weight Loss.

Brown In Black And White

"All my novels are set in 24 hours...all of my novels use the concept of a simple hero pulled out of his familiar world...I intend to make Robert Langdon my primary character for years to come."

Slate magazine unearths Dan Brown's writing secrets. The article goes on:

"Brown's writing day begins at 4 a.m. He writes seven days a week. He keeps an hourglass on his desk and, on the hour, puts aside his manuscript to perform push-ups, sit-ups, and stretches. He does not like to write in the margins of books, but his wife doesn't feel that way. He is invariably delighted by anagrams."

Delighted by anagrams, eh? Here are a few he may like.

Dan Brown = Brand Now. Or even: Warn Bond.

And The DaVinci Code? Vain Coded Ethic. Or even: A Hectic Odd Vein.

Maximum Pirates

"The greatest thrill for me, besides winning this award, was finding the chhokras at Haji Ali offering to sell me a pirated copy of my own book for hundred rupees!...Seeing that, I knew I’d made it — that Bombay had truly accepted this book.”

- Suketu Mehta, on winning the Crossword Book Award for Maximum City in the English non-fiction category.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Ramblings On Style

Have just completed Jon McGregor's If Nobody Speaks Of Remarkable Things, and found it, well, remarkable. It's almost a prose poem masquerading as a novel -- but with the requisite care being given to characterisation and plot. McGregor makes use of repetition, alliteration and cadence to create a prose style that's hypnotic and utterly distinctive. Which got one thinking: one of the problems with most Indian writers in English today is lack of style. There's a lot to be said for an unadorned, simple manner of expression, yes, but the great danger is that this too often slips into blandness. If one recalls right, it was V.S. Naipaul who said once that prose ought to be like a clear pane of glass, not getting in the way of the places and people it describes. Certainly, one sees the merit of this, and the skill required for it -- but at the end of the day, a distinctive voice is what one remembers and values in an author. Think of Dickens. Of Austen. Of Sterne. How can one not be enraptured by the way language is used by writers such as Nabokov and Banville? Those are the stained-glass masterpieces that remain in memory. .


The number of unread books in one's possession is in inverse proportion to the amount of shelf space. And now, the New York Observer alerts one to some irresistible new titles to be published in summer-- one is particularly looking forward to David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, Gay Talese's memoir, A Writer's Life, and, of course, John Updike's Terrorist and Philip Roth's Everyman. 'Wear the old coat, buy the new book', as the bookmark says.

Are The Chinese Wolves Or Sheep?

That's the question at the heart of Wolf Totem, the book that's sold millions in China, and is set to sell even more in translation. It's described as a "crude combination of autobiography, animal stories and ethnological observations of the Mongolian plains". Here's a report by Der Spiegel on the book and on its reclusive, pseudonymous author.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Infidel Parties On

Think our Page 3 columnists are unnecessarily frivolous and slanderous? You ain't seen nuthin' yet. Check out this nugget from one Puneet Mattoo in the Michigan Daily:

"Famed author and infidel Salman Rushdie spent the [Oscar awards] evening discussing [Three 6 Mafia's] surprising victory and revealing that he had wanted them to win. The pairing might seem odd: Amoral Southern rap kingpins and an award-winning author targeted with death threats for insulting Islam. But as Rushdie can tell you, there's nothing harder for a pimp than a price on his head."


It's not a humble verb anymore. It's a command.

Soft drink commercials and music channel promos urge you to "Enjoy!" as if not doing so would be an insult to national honour. The waiter at the tony Mediterranean-themed restaurant lays down your order and croons "Enjoy!" as if not to do so would entail swift expulsion from the premises. Why, even pizza delivery boys nowadays beam from doorways and say, "Enjoy your pizza," before carefully backing away.

At least flight attendants say, "We hope you've enjoyed your flight." Better, much better -- even though domestic flights don't offer much by way of enjoyment.

If this virus spreads, it won't be long before we turn on the TV set to witness the Hon'ble Finance Minister barking out a peremptory "Enjoy!" before reading out the provisions of the annual Budget.

Still reading this post? Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Customs Of The Country

Books imported into India are exempt from customs duties and other levies. So, at least, one always believed. But perhaps one has been wrong all along.

The other day, the people at home called to say that the postal authorities had charged them what they called “customs duty” of several hundred rupees on a carton of books ordered from (Which demand they complied with, else the parcel would have to be returned undelivered.)

In the past, one has had to pay such duty on CDs shipped from overseas, but not books. As it is, one lives in a city with only half-decent bookshops. Then, one pays dollar rates for what Amazon calls “expedited shipping fees” (to have the books languish with the Indian authorities for weeks). And finally, one again pays more because of red-necked officials anxious to meet targets, or who’re simply uninformed.

As one observes people saying nowadays: It sucks.

The Guardian's New Blog

Last week, The Guardian launched their new blog, Comment Is Free -- roping in, among others, Pankaj Mishra and Tariq Ali to write for them. A quick look at the site reveals it to be more like a newspaper's editorial page than anything else -- but, as they say, it's early days yet.

Monday, March 20, 2006

We Like Your Novel, But Can You Play Lead Guitar?

Thomas Jones complains about an event at the recently-concluded London Book Fair during which "professional writers [performed] as amateur musicians, film-makers and dancers." He continues: "Why this should be in any way appealing isn’t at all clear, and it’s certainly not the kind of thing very likely to happen the other way round: it’s hard to imagine anyone trekking down to Cornwall to listen to the drummer from the Arctic Monkeys, say, read a couple of chapters from a novel-in-progess." And his advice to all of us: "...stay at home with a good book, or take a few with you on holiday, preferably somewhere quiet, where there’s little chance of being disturbed by a novelist with a badly tuned guitar thrashing out a well-worn number by Donovan or Neil Young."

Drunk? Unhappy? Abused? A Publisher Is Waiting

Who needs art when you can ransack your childhood? Who needs characters when you've got mum and dad?

Publishing Woes

Australian novelist Brian Castro, whose Shanghai Dancing was much lauded (after being rejected by Harper Collins) has depressing things to say about large publishing houses in his country: "I think they're killing literature...everything is about the bottom line. It's absolutely massive." And author and academic Mark Davis adds: "The project of the 1960s to the late '90s, in which publishers competed for prestige, of constructing a national literary canon, has otherwise ended ... It's reasonably safe to predict that the activities of reading, studying, writing and publishing literary fiction will increasingly become - if they aren't already - the preserve of a rump of 'true believers'."

Harper Collins' Shona Martyn says that suggestions that sales and marketing people don't appreciate literary books "is frankly insulting". However: "Our job is to produce books that people want to read. We are a business. We can't be any more sentimental than a business that is selling ice cream or clothes."

That, really, is at the core of the debate, and not just in Australia. Small publishers, while wanting of course to stay afloat, can and do make decisions based almost solely on the quality of prose. With the larger ones, costly overheads get in the way. Then again, the smaller fish can't match the advances, publicity and distribution of the larger sharks. And so we go around the mulberry bush...