Prufrock's Page

Saturday, April 08, 2006


"To be an Indian in Shanghai is to know a similar sensation of familiarity, if tinged with unease. It is also to be inevitably reminded of Bombay, the city most complicit with Shanghai in 19th-century inequity. "

Pankaj Mishra goes to Shanghai to find out how close it is to Mumbai.

A Dirty Clue

43 Down: Scoundrel (7).

That was one of the clues in The New York Times crossword on Monday. And the answer, simply enough, was "scumbag". So why did the paper get "dozens of angry messages from readers, as well as complaints from colleagues on the staff"? Slate's Jesse Sheidlower tells all. (Hint: It has to do with a form of birth control.)

Friday, April 07, 2006

Mrs Dalloway, 30 Years Later

Jacob Stockinger of The Capital Times revisits Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway after 30 years and discovers that it's "a tough-minded text by a strong, perceptive and opinionated woman who gives the English world perhaps its best literary depiction of the Great War." Finally, he's moved enough to comment: "Through her words we do indeed see the world and the little things in it - not just the 'big' manly things of so much previous literature - differently. Woolf stressed the primacy of personal scale, and her revolutionary vision becomes ours, allowing our own day-to-day lives to become the stuff of great literature."

The Great Book Giveaway

Mumbai real estate, whether rented or owned, is expensive. Which explains why one simply has no more room for books. As an initial effort in easing the pressure, one has decided to mail the following books to the first reader of this blog who e-mails with the specific titles that he or she would like. All are second-hand; all are in good condition. Your time starts now:

Ali, Monica: Brick Lane

Bywater, Michael: The Chronicles of Bargepole

Conrad, Joseph: The Nigger of the Narcissus

Hijuleos, Oscar: A Simple Habana Melody

Gantzer, Hugh and Colleen: The Year Before Sunset

Malouf, Amin, Leo the African

Niffenegger, Audrey: The Time Traveller's Wife

Pamuk, Orhan: My Name is Red

Selvadurai, Shyam: Swimming in the Monsoon Sea

Toffler, Alvin: Power Shift

How To Write

Ravi Vyas asserts that "workshops are dangerous" and that writing cannot be taught. He outlines the basics:

"There are several ground rules but the core is: leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip while reading a novel — thick paragraphs of prose that have too many words in them. The strength of a sentence lies in the verb and the simpler the sentence the better. Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry a dialogue. The verb is the writer sticking his nose in. Also, never use an adverb to modify the verb ‘said’. Don’t go into great descriptions of places and things.These tend to bring the flow of the story to a standstill. Work from the abstract to the concrete. A writer must have a story to tell that he feels he must tell."

Okay, now all one needs is discipline.

Making An Impac

The shortlist for literature's richest prize has been announced -- and among the contenders are Nadeem Aslam's Maps for Lost Lovers and Colm Toibin's The Master.

Men's Books, Women's Books

Alienation, disaffection, war. That's the stuff men want from their novels. And women? They pick up Middlemarch and Sexing The Cherry. As the organisers of the Orange Prize have found out.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The New New York Times Website

The already-excellent online version of The New York Times has been given a makeover. Making Slate's Jack Shafer cancel his subscription to the print version.

Books Forever

Do people have time to read these days? And when they do, do they read the classics? The students of Indiana University respond with a heartening "Yes!:

"Seven English majors responded to a mass e-mail seeking their recommended reading list and nearly all of those lists included 'classic' novels, such as those that would be read in a survey of literature class. Authors such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Mark Twain and Walt Whitman appeared frequently, while William Shakespeare was present on nearly every one."

Publish And Be Derided

Robert McCrum called it an "astounding abdication of cultural responsibility". Hari Kunzru labelled it the "Ryanair of publishing". And literary agent Jonny Geller suggested that it did not have "a hope in hell" of succeeding.

Those were the initial reactions to Macmillan New Writing, an imprint that encouraged the acceptance of unsolicited material from unpublished authors. Since February last year, it has received more than 3,000 manuscripts. And now that the first six titles are out, the New Statesman's Simon Baker wonders whether it was such a good idea in the first place: "...if these novels were worth publishing at all (and I'm not convinced that they were), they needed better support at the final draft stage. More seriously, by making publication in effect non-paying, MNW demotes fiction-writing to the status of a hobby. Talent needs to be nurtured; those who possess it require remuneration. MNW offers neither satisfactorily, and a lower standard of novel seems a likely outcome. Ultimately, the biggest loss is to the reader."

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Still Provocative, Still Readable

Excerpts from an interview with Arundhati Roy in the Deccan Herald:

"When I wrote 'The God of Small Things', I wasn't sure if it would work with anyone. It was five or six years of working, completely alone. I won the Booker and became darling of the middle-class. I won the national pride. Then, I wrote non-fiction. I wrote about nuclear tests and realised that speaking out is as political as keeping quiet. People who once were supportive and liked me, started looking at me as an enemy."

"I see writing as a weapon to fight the battle of 'Power vs Powerless'. I want to write another book. I am seeking space where I can shut doors and write."

"I remember after winning the Booker, I was interviewed by English media. They said, it's a tribute to Empire since your book is in English. I resented that, it was like attributing a child to a rapist father."

"It is not always about acceptance. People whom you are supporting through your writing are regressive at times. A writer has to negotiate that and emphasise on simplifying the complex and not opposite. Sometimes you have to fight for people who have no space for you in their imagination. Still you have to put the papers on the table."

Moving Words

The BBC's Moving Words online campaign to find the world's favourite quotation is drawing to a close: "Famous people taking part included the Dalai Lama who chose an extract from Shantideva, an eighth century Buddhist monk. Crime writer PD James selected lines from Hamlet and Dr Michio Kaku, a physicist and inventor of String Field theory, was inspired by Albert Einstein."

Hari Kunzru's nomination: "The law locks up the man or woman/ who steals the goose from off the common/ but lets the greater villain loose/ who steals the common from the goose." (Anon).

Nominations have flooded in from people in more than 100 countries. Their selections have now been whittled down to a shortlist of ten:

Mahatma Gandhi : An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
The Dalai Lama: You can't shake hands with a clenched fist.
Woody Allen : To you I'm an atheist; to God, I'm the Loyal Opposition.
Sir Isaac Newton: If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.
Saint Augustine: It's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
Gospel of Luke: And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.
Lao Tzu: A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
The US Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
William Shakespeare: As You Like It
Nelson Mandela: If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.

(Other notable inclusions from around the world can be found here.)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Go, Rana!

The National Short Story Prize was established this year in the UK with the support of BBC Radio 4 and Prospect magazine, to re-establish the importance of the British story after years of perceived neglect. Well, the shortlist of selected stories is just out, and quite a shortlist it is indeed: from William Trevor to Michael Faber to Rose Tremain to Rana Dasgupta. (Dasgupta's is a story about a young man in Lagos whose only talent is for knowing other people's business, taken from Tokyo Cancelled.) Each of the stories will be broadcast on Radio 4 and all of the stories will be published as a collection next month. The winner of the £15,000 prize will be announced on 15 May.

The Being of Unbearable Lightness

In his preface to the 25th anniversary edition of Midnight's Children, Rushdie restates what he's mentioned in interviews earlier -- that he spent days pondering over whether the book ought to be called Midnight's Children or Children of Midnight.

Well, had he faced that dilemma in today's times, chances are he would have plumped for the latter. It's almost a trend to title your book 'The ___ of ___', especially if you're among the tribe of Indians Who Write in English. You see, it makes the work in question appear Solemn and full of Gravitas.

Consider: there's The Alchemy of Desire, The Inheritance of Loss, The Quiet of the Birds, The Last Song of Dusk and, of course, The God of Small Things.

As far as one is concerned, such titles work equally well if you turn them on their heads. In fact, some work better. The Desire of Alchemy. The Loss of Inheritance. The Small Things of the Gods. Why, even: The Being of Unbearable Lightness.

Update: The next big thing when it comes to titles might well be including a '-stan'. There's already Gary Shteyngart's
and Gautam Malkani's forthcoming Londonstani. Coming soon: LaurelStan, an intimate look at the more talented half of the Laurel and Hardy duo.

Monday, April 03, 2006

April With Its Showers Sweet

April is National Poetry Month in the United States, and if you're so inclined, you can visit the Poets & Writers Busy Poet's Guide, which has event listings, new releases, workshops and for those of us not in the vicinity, an opportunity to receive a free daily poem in our mailboxes.

Dilemmas Of The Orient

"[A]ll these fragile feelings of imitation, of not having, of being angry with your own country, with the west, with everything...I think that the whole non-western world is living these damning personal dilemmas. To understand nationalism and anti-western sentiment in the rest of the world, you have to go to these shadowy places, rather than to the latest political developments, which are actually just end products."

- Orhan Pamuk in The Guardian

Stammering As Structure

The Santa Cruz Sentinel has an interesting take on the intricately-structured novels of the very talented David Mitchell:

"Not by accident, all of David Mitchell's novels have explored, in one way or another, the literary possibilities behind the physical reality of stammering. 'Some of what the world calls weakness isn't actually weakness,' Mitchell, a longtime stammerer, said. 'These things make you unique and special and should be accommodated as creative informants about the world.' Not only does his new novel Black Swan Green look at stammering's effect on a teenage boy, but in that novel Mitchell uses stammering as a meta-construct for the halting nature of our consciousness."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

25 Years After Midnight

“The author should concentrate on short stories until he has mastered the novel form.” That was the first reader's report of Rushdie's Midnight's Children which, thankfully was ignored. The author shares this and other information about his years writing the novel, his time in advertising, his struggle to come up with an apt title and more in the preface to the 25th anniversary edition of his seminal novel. He ends, with uncharacteristic modesty: "Like all novels, Midnight’s Children is a product of its moment in history, touched and shaped by its time in ways that its author cannot wholly know. I am very glad that it still seems like a book worth reading in this very different time. If it can pass the test of another generation or two, it may endure. I will not be around to see that. But I am happy that I saw it leap the first hurdle."