Prufrock's Page

Friday, June 09, 2006

How The Mighty Have Fallen

Bookslut's editor-in-chief Jessa Crispin fires a few salvos at the New York Times' book coverage: "Lately...everything that comes out of the New York Times seems to be met with an eye roll instead of held breath. SF communities were outraged when Dave Itzkoff was selected as the new SF columnist, citing everything from his use of the term 'science fiction' instead of their preferred 'speculative fiction' to his list of favorite books...Michiko’s reviews, especially the ones written in a character’s voice, are met in the literary community with the same concern you’d give to your drunken aunt when she decides to sit down at the piano at a cocktail party. And that list of the best American novels of the last 25 years? Instead of the expected responses of anger or respect, they got a large number of publications, especially online magazines like Slate and Salon, asking, 'What the fuck?' "

That bit about the drunken aunt: priceless.

Cowboys And Indian Writers

John Updike may have decried digital publishing, but Vikram Chandra (around whose Sacred Games the buzz continues to grow) is a tad more, well, dialectical. He says: "I think circling-the-wagons and defending- the-fortress metaphors are a little misplaced. The barbarians at the gate are usually willing to negotiate a little, and the guys in the fort usually end up yelling that 'we are the only good things in the world, and you guys don't understand it,' at which point the barbarians shrug, knock down your walls with their amazingly powerful weapons and put a parking lot over your sacred grounds."

An Authentic Point About Inauthenticity

Hari Kunzru talks about being inauthentic, and how it's good for him as a writer: "I like to say I’m the least authentic person I know. All my life I’ve either been too brown or too white for somebody’s tastes. I’ve never been in the business of selling the image of an authentic Asian culture, or British Asian culture, or Indian culture." And the advantage of this is: "I think it’s a good position to make art from. If you feel at the centre of your world you probably don’t need to try and represent it in any way, but if you feel slightly disjointed for some reason that might lead you to want to make stuff."

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Bend It Like Henry James

Hours before the World Cup, The Telegraph (UK) publishes a quiz that "is unusual for two reasons. First, because it is a World Cup Quiz that eschews all mention of football. And second, because you are given the answers in advance."

Here's question 14: Which of Henry James's novels did the author find so boring that he excluded it from the New York edition of his collected works?

(Answers here.)

Personally, one isn't quite looking forward to the next week -- or however long the World Cup lasts -- during which almost all conversation will revolve around the respective merits of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and the rest. (Aren't those two same person, by the way?)

Magical Thinking

Britain's greatest living writer is...Ian McEwan? Salman Rushdie? Harold Pinter? A.S. Byatt?

No, it's J.K. Rowling.

How on earth are we to take the results of such surveys seriously?


"Sometimes, one is amazed at the stuff that gets published. Where is the rigorous editing that every book should be subject to?"

- Manju Kapur, on Indian writing in English

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Tagore And Malkani

The twist in the tale of Gautam Malkani's Londonstani didn't work for this blogger: one hugely enjoyed the dialect, the energy and the portrayal of the British desi mindset, only to feel tripped up in the last few pages. The intent, laudable though it may be, is to make one ponder on what it means to be British ("the subtle workings of reverse-colonisation"), but placing it so late in the book makes it almost smack of gimmickry. Now this may be a spoiler, so this is your chance to stop reading -- but hasn't anyone noticed that Rabindranath Tagore made use of the same plot device almost a hundred years ago in his Gora?

Another Chance For Newspapers To Carry Photographs Where She Looks Intense And Creative, Yet Attractive

The Orange Prize goes to Zadie Smith for On Beauty.

Recalling Faulkner

The Library of America edition of the novels of William Faulkner has just culminated with a volume containing his first four novels: Soldiers' Pay, Mosquitoes, Flags in the Dust and, of course, the majestic The Sound and the Fury (the only one of these four that one has actually read). The volume presents each one newly edited and, in many cases, restored with passages that were altered or expurgated by the original publishers. This, say the editors, "is Faulkner as he was meant to be read." David Ulin, book editor of the LA Times, offers an appreciation and an anecdote. (No, not the one about Faulkner and Hemingway in the washroom of a Paris hotel comparing their, er, apparatus. Or was that Fitzgerald?)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

We'd Like Your Views On Crossword Bookstore, Ben

"I don't foresee the day in my lifetime when kids are walking around with iPods carrying the collected works of Charles Dickens on them. I think the exercise of reading is habit-forming [and] it's going to take a lot more than technology to break that addiction. Yes, there are all sorts of people who don't read. But there have always been people who haven't read...I went to university when Marshall McLuhan was still around and making his predictions. I've been hearing this shit about the end of books and the death of reading my entire life, and I'm 57."

- Ben McNally, who's been in the retail book business for 30 years and is now manager of Nicholas Hoare Books in Toronto.

What's A Poor Blurb Writer To Do?

Words and phrases chosen at random from the terrifying Ms Kakutani's review of John Updike's Terrorist:



a static, one-dimensional stereotype



unbelievable coincidence


The Satanic Roses

"Since politics was thrust upon me I have become increasingly uninterested in politics. I have a desire to stay at home and cultivate my garden."

- Salman Rushdie, at the Hay Festival

But Did Oprah Have To Be #1?

New City Chicago hits us again with their annual list of the fifty most influential people in the world of books in Chicago.

Sales Figures

BookScan, a Nielsen service, tallies retail sales from chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders, from, and from other stores to provide a database that "captures about 70 percent of sales for a typical hardcover book." As such, it's seen as a more accurate predictor of books doing well than all those bestseller lists. That's all to the good, right? But: "In the hands of journalists and polemicists, BookScan data has becomes a blunt instrument to humiliate, minimize accomplishments, and express joy at the misfortune of other writers....You BookScan your enemies to take joy in their failure or to aggravate the agony you feel at their success."

You mean...the literary world isn't brimming over with the milk of human kindness? Goodness.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Art Of The Novella

Perhaps novellas are going to emerge as the preferred form of writers in the 21st century. On its own, it can be a stunning meditation on any chosen theme, as Philip Roth's Everyman testifies. And, when linked together, they can "capture diverse geographies and points of view in a single work, in order to make sense of a world that, more than ever, is unified and fragmented at the same time," as this article in The Sunday Times of India says.

Nobel Musings

The Nobel Literature Prize won't be announced until October this year -- but it seems that speculation has already begun. Here's an article in The Australian that asks whether any Australian author will be the second, after Patrick White, to win the prize. Doubtful. Let's just all agree that it ought to be Philip Roth.

Reading A Book A Day

John Allemang, who writes the Globe And Mail's 'Book A Day' column, speaks out on the occasion of his 100th review:

"'s taken over my life, and that should be good enough. As my mentor, Bonnie Fuller, would say, I've discovered the joys of much too much. Now, I have to admit that if you devote yourself wholeheartedly to reading, an occupation that was held up as an ideal when I was at school, you end up losing contact with humanity -- but only the living and breathing version. There isn't a day when I don't feel immersed in the world, reading about the search for a lost Caravaggio in the wilds of Italy, or the desperate struggles of the Impressionists in Paris, or what it was like to grow up in backwoods Texas, or do battle in Algiers, or be Catherine Deneuve."

Now, why can't someone offer us a job like that?

Petrol Price Hike? Hurray.

The Houston Chronicle begins its summer reading round up by suggesting that, with the price of petrol being what is is, it might be better to sit back in a hammock with a book instead of venturing outdoors. Excellent advice. In the USA, or in India.

Update: The venerable Time magazine gives us an update on the "ten most anticipated books to come out later this year", a list that includes Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games. And, in classic publisher's hyperbole, a Harper Collins source is quoted as saying that the book will "do for Indian literature what One Hundred Years of Solitude did for South American literature." thought Midnight's Children already did that.


"Where I am is largely an accident of what I'm doing. If my next book happened to be A Suitable Girl or perhaps An Unsuitable Boy I'd be back to India to write it. I'm single, again [a relationship recently broke up]. I've no boss, no children, no ties. I can be anywhere."

- Vikram Seth speaks of his current preoccupations from the heart of rural England.