Prufrock's Page

Friday, May 19, 2006

Not Waving But Drowning

"In the 21st century - the age of the reading group, the website and the chatroom - the reviewer can sometimes look like a threatened species," writes D.J. Taylor. But, "the reviewer has survived better than many a house in the all-but-demolished Grub Street. Curiously, he or she still matters in a way that many of the more exalted guardians of our culture do not." In India, however, one wonders: do book reviews matter? Space constraints imposed by newspapers apart, do people read them, get influenced by them, discuss them, buy or not buy books based on reviews? A small minority, perhaps, but no more. One supposes it boils down to a literary culture and environment -- or lack of it. As Rana Dasgupta pointed out in his Tehelka piece not so long ago: "[The reviews here] approach literature as private pleasure rather than as a part of the more general, extra-literary conversations of the world."

Apropos Nothing At All Except That It Made One Smile

A happier cabbage you never did see,
My vegetable spirits are soaring.
If you're after excitement, steer well clear of me.
I want to go on being boring.

-- Wendy Cope

(Those who haven't yet done so are strongly urged to read Ms Cope's marvellous take on The Waste Land.)

We Aren't Holding Our Breath

"When I asked The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown, whose rather clunky book has been put on the screen by [Ron] Howard, a simple question about the fate of one of his characters, he replied: 'You know I don’t do interviews.'...But OK, anyway, I wondered: What happens to his heroine after the book ends? Will she ever get a date now that she has such heavy lineage to explain? 'You’ll have to read the sequel,' snapped bestsellerdom’s answer to J.D. Salinger..."

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Pankaj Prescription

On the eve of the launch of his Temptations of the West, a collection of travel writings spanning Afghanistan, Tibet, Nepal, Kashmir and, er, Bollywood, Pankaj Mishra says, "I do hope Indian writers will write more travel books about not just India, but also about other parts of Asia—particularly Indonesia, Malaysia, Cambodia, countries with which we have had long cultural links. These places seem strangely absent from our consciousness. But this is part of our unhealthy obsession with the West. "

And in reply to an earlier question, he says: "When I write a long piece, I hope that it will have a well-read, politically liberal and intellectual curious reader. This reader can exist anywhere in the world, in America and India as well as Zambia. As it happens, I publish in American and British magazines that can afford to pay for extensive research-trips and publish long articles. Why don’t I write more often for Indian magazines? Because no one has space for the kind of detailed reportage I like doing. It is as simple as that."

Short Story, Big Prize

One had written earlier about the National Short Story Prize, the richest ever for the short story form. Well, the winner has been declared, and it's not William Trevor, Rana Dasgupta or Rose Tremain, who were among those on the shortlist. Instead, relatively lesser-known writer James Lasdun takes the palm for his tale, 'The Anxious Man', about a man struggling with financial worries while on a family holiday. Sounds like the story of one's own life, that.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Review Reviewed

Number of times the word 'bling-bling' appears in S. Prasannarajan's India Today review of Gautam Malkani's Londonstani: 4

Number of times the words 'boy' or 'boys' appear as a suffix, not including excerpts: 7
(smartboy, 2; gora boy, 1; bad boys / bad-boy, 2; rudeboy / rudeboys, 2)

Number of times he uses the word ‘desi’, not including excerpts: 3

Number of times he quotes “family-related s**t (sic)” from the text: 2

Most mystifying sentence: “Narrator Jas is his trump card, who in the end provides, like The Sixth Sense without the ghost, a surprise rarely seen in fiction, especially a literary one like this where nothing much happens.”

Second most mystifying sentence: “And Malkani, always going for the spectacular, turns this opening to bring some faux poignancy into the scene.”

Sentence with most words over 7 letters: “The world where Gautam Malkani, an editor with Financial Times, London, places his hyper-kinetic imagination is a familiar one, sustained by identity, assertion, freedom and selective assimilation.”

William's Shorts

There's the event-plot. The Chekovian. The cryptic/ludic. The mini-novel. And the biographical. In Prospect, author William Boyd dissects the short story. (He excludes a genre in which one is the undisputed master: the Unwritten.)

To Burgle A Mockingbird

Q. So, whatever happened to Harper Lee's second book?
A. "A burglar stole it just as she was about to finish it and...the book was something about hunting a deer."

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Virginia Woolf Of Rock

In a recent talk at Dowagiac Central Middle School's auditorium, Michael 'The Hours' Cunningham said that when he first read Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway at the age of 15, he realised that she "was doing with language what Jimi Hendrix was doing with the guitar.'' Both are currently spinning in their graves.