Prufrock's Page

Friday, July 28, 2006

The New Paris Review

It was author and former New Yorker staff writer Philip Gourevitch who stepped into the oversized shoes of George Plimpton when he was named editor of The Paris Review in 2005. His revised format of the quarterly did attract critics who accused him of not being faithful to the founder's vision -- a Chekov's Mistress post on the subject is here -- but now, four issues later, the dust seems to have settled. He defends his actions in a recent interview: "It looks the same! People keep saying to me 'oh, you changed the look.' I changed the size of the paper. That’s about it. I like to think that in that respect, the look of the magazine kind of reflects the attitude that I’ve brought to its contents, too— that it appears to be a departure from what was going on, but it’s actually highly tied into and kind of a tribute to its own traditions."

When it comes to contemporary fiction, he seems to call for much more social engagement: "I suppose if I’ve had difficulty with fiction in recent times, it’s the sense that fiction fails in its imagination to be anywhere near competitive with the outlandishness of actual people and events—the kind of raw scale of how people can actually be blunt about themselves." (Remember, this is the man who wrote We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow You Will Be Killed With Your Families -- an non-fiction account of the Hutu-Tutsi conflict in Rwanda.)

And does anyone read all those unsolicited submissions? "Oh yeah. The unsolicited stuff, the 'pure slush,' as it’s called, all gets read twice actually."

Back to the word processor, boys!

The Blooker's Black, Er, The Booker's Back, Er, The Blooker's Back

It's the return of the Lulu Blooker prize, which promises to be "bigger and better than ever". The website goes on to assert: The entry deadline for the 2007 Blooker is January 15, 2007-- so you have plenty of time to submit your blook, or to "blookify" your blog or website if you haven't done so.

Amongst the judges this time around are Julie Powell (the winner of the first Blooker), Ariana Huffington (of and Mumbai-based blogger Rohit Gupta, better known as DJ Fadereu.

Freudenberger On Ali

Departing from the opinions of other reviewers, Nell (Lucky Girls) Freudenberger appears to find much to praise in Monica Ali's Alentejo Blue. In The Nation, she calls it "a genuine departure, a bold experiment in narration that presents a multitude of complex characters within a relatively short book." The rest of the piece, alas, is available only to the magazine's subscribers, so if any kind soul out there belongs to that category, do let me know how it all turned out.

(Ms Freudenberger herself has a new book out soon, her first novel. Entitled The Dissident, it's about the predicament of a Chinese performance artist in Los Angeles.)

McGregor's Next

One had written earlier about one's admiration for Jon McGregor's If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things. Well, he now has another novel out, entitled So Many Ways to Begin. In The Independent, Carol Birch says that it "abounds with echoes of the first novel," and though her enthusiasm isn't unreserved, she does go on to conclude that "...this is still a book about the search for some greater meaning in the strange dance of chance. Why are beginnings so important? McGregor leaves us thinking that perhaps they really aren't. As there are so many ways to begin and so many possible alternative branches at every notch on the tree, does it really matter? Perhaps. He is nothing if not ambiguous, and it's to his credit that he eschews the neat tying up of every loose end. Everything dangles, yet a kind of weary peace descends."

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Religion Or Politics?

"The phenomenon we call Islamic radicalism actually contains very little theology. If you look at what they say, very little has to do with the content of the Koran, it's a much more political philosophy than a religion… it's much more to do with the resentment of the rest of the world and anger about what has been done to them, etc, etc.

"A very similar thing happens in India where Hindu radicalism is also entirely political and really very ignorant of theological questions. I think it is a question that every religion, including Christianity, needs to ask itself - are you a religion or a political movement?"

- Salman Rushdie, in an interview with Radio Netherlands

Better Living Through Proofreading

In an earlier time, when one's eyesight was clearer, one was a dab hand at proofreading. Author Melissa Holbrook Pierson explains why she loves it, too:

"I love catching those little inconsistencies, love putting the point of my freshly sharpened red pencil on top of a comma that needs to be a semicolon, and inscribing the delete symbol, like the letter 'S' with a flourish, that will herald the disappearance of anything it touches. This I do with care and precision, two qualities I rarely exemplify in any other part of my life, and here is where proofreading allows me to better myself. I become someone who gets things done. Someone with good handwriting. Someone who pays attention, with great focus, and lets nothing get by her."

Ask The Librarians

Jon Michaud and Erin Overbey, head librarians of The New Yorker, start a monthly column on Emdashes (a blog hosted by Emily Gordon, editor of Print magazine.) This month's questions: Which was the first movie that The New Yorker ever reviewed? (The Last Laugh). When was the last typewriter spotted in the office? (Today.) And are the cartoons fact-checked? (Yes.)

Defining The Novel

In his review of the staggering work entitled The Novel -- a two-volume compendium of scholarly essays on every aspect of the genre translated from the Italian at $99.50 per volume -- Adam Kirsch states: "The like pornography: It may be hard to define, but everyone knows it when they see it."

On a more sombre note, he considers the future:

"[The novel] helped to incarnate the modern sensibility, and to teach its readers what it means to be modern. It is the novel, as opposed to earlier forms of narrative, that made the ordinary mind's encounter with the ordinary world a source of drama and significance. If the novel is indeed losing its central position in our imaginative can only be because modernity itself is slipping away, with all its distinctive promise and menace. The dispensation that replaces modernity may be better or worse, but if it does not see its own reflection in the novel, it cannot help appearing to us as somehow less human."

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Amit Chaudhuri's Version Of A Book Review

Amit Chaudhuri writes about life in Calcutta. He then dwells on his time in Bombay. Then, he writes of leaving for England. He circles back to the fascination of Bombay. And finally, he gets to the point: in the last paragraphs, he gives us his take on Suketu Mehta's Maximum City.

Vikram Chandra On Sacred Games

The Kirkus Reviews Autumn/Winter 2006 Preview is out, and contains a glowing preview of Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games. Here's the author on his protagonist Sartaj Singh, and on his research:

"He forced himself into the book, right from the start. He’s an interesting guy—tough, a bit wistful, something of a cynical romantic, if you can imagine such a thing...I’m hoping we’ve respectfully said goodbye to each other at the end of Sacred Games. I think I’ve been writing about him for about ten years now, and that’s a lot of time."

"The bosses of the bigger ‘companies’—as the gangs are called in Mumbai —actually do function like corporate executives, in that they are keenly aware of their public profiles, and are as eager to spin you as you are to interview them. Usually the dons tried to come off as misjudged realists, people who were trying to make their way in a harsh world as best as they could, and help the poor and suffering along the way."

Another Plagiarist Confesses

Chapter 3: This chapter consists of passages from Arundhati Roy's "The God of Small Things" and Suketu Mehta's "Maximum City." During the research for my novel, I had taken lengthy notes from these books. When writing my novel, I consulted the notes and thought they were my own words. They sounded like something I would have written. Indeed, I did write them, but not as the original writer. To acknowledge their contributions, I have sent the authors autographed copies of my (and Jhumpa's) book. I will also name my next child "Suketu."

You can read Melvin Durai's explanation of other plagiarised chapters here.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Malgudi Man

"Setting aside his plentiful and remarkable novels, Narayan firmly occupies a seat in the pantheon of 19th- and 20th-century short-story geniuses, a group that includes Chekhov, O. Henry, Frank O’Connor, and Flannery O’Connor...The artists who survive, and endure, are ones like Narayan: disciplined, unassuming, supremely gifted."

That's from Jhumpa Lahiri's appreciation of R.K. Narayan in The Boston Review. In passing, note the painstaking -- some would say fussy -- use of commas in the last quoted sentence above. (Link courtesy Moorish Girl, whose novel has, alas, yet to find its way to India.)

Update: Stumbled upon an earlier appreciation of Narayan by Amit Chaudhuri.

Wiki Wiki Bang Bang

In The New Yorker, Stacy Schiff traces the rise and growing importance of Wikipedia. Interestingly enough, both Jorge Cauz, Britannica’s president, and Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia's founder, use musical analogies to compare the two. Cauz says, “Wikipedia is to Britannica as ‘American Idol’ is to the Juilliard School." And here's Wales: "Wikipedia is to Britannica as rock and roll is to easy listening." Rock on.

Namita's Yatra

Author Namita Gokhale on her association with the Penguin-Yatra venture for a series of works in Indian languages:

"The literary movement in India has been ongoing in several languages where you will find two or three outstanding writers. The predicament has been our failure to match the vernacular writing energies with proper publishing energies so far. This will breach that and ensure that new markets and proper marketing strategies open up a whole new world for them."

It sounds like a laudable venture, but her comments seem straight out of a publishing marketer's handbook. And then she goes on to fall into the trap of pigeonholing Indian writers in English in a cliched manner: "Today there are English writers who have become interpreters of Indian culture before an international audience, making Indian culture accessible to a global audience through their works like Jhumpa Lahiri."

The whole thing here.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Mapping The Extremist Mindset

In The Guardian's blog, Natasha Walter raises an extremely interesting and pertinent point about the work of all those novelists who have made contemporary terrorism their theme: is research getting in the way of empathy and, if so, should we leave the exploits of terrorists to non-fiction?

"They are taking the reality beyond the novel seriously, and they certainly do their research. Rushdie can detail the kinds of weapons Kashmiri terrorists would train with; Updike can quote the Qur'an at length; Amis can reproduce the actual words of Muhammad Atta. Yet rather than giving extra richness, the research produces a feeling of artificiality - as though research has replaced empathy. That rather begs the question of why these writers are choosing fiction rather than political commentary. Is the chorus of news, all around us, still too loud for the artist to come through with his or her own voice?"

Reading Rushdie In India

James Mutti spends a month in north India armed with Midnight's Children, Godaan and other works, and then reflects on how his reading shaped his travel experience:

"As I looked back on my trip more closely, my reading and traveling experiences intertwined comfortably and harmoniously. There was something Rushdie-esque about the train ride from Delhi to Haridwar; the pudgy 8-year-old girl who bought food from every wallah passing by—chai, sandwiches, fried rice, tomato soup; the awkward, gangly college student who accidentally dropped his suitcase on a baby’s head drawing the attention of the whole car of passengers; the beautiful young mother deep in animated conversation, her face lit up by a diamond-like bindi on her forehead, a wide smile, and a bright knitted stocking hat."

Mr Mutti may be entirely well-intentioned, but upon reflection, his account smacks of a residual colonial inscription. If one went around New York, for example, armed with Auster's The New York Trilogy or even Wolfe's The Bonfire of the Vanities and then claimed to 'understand' the city better, how seriously would one's account be taken?

Sunday, July 23, 2006

By George

This week marks the 150th anniversary of George Bernard Shaw's birth. Authorised biographer Michael Holroyd writes an informed and assertive piece on why, more than ever, "he is the man we need today", for -- among other things -- his ability to call a spade a spade. Speaking of the withdrawal of Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti's Behzti from the stage, Holroyd ends: "In such a climate of terrified legislation, we have need of Bernard Shaw – need of his stimulating incorrectitudes, need of his ability to show where dishonour truly lies and of his power to ridicule such absurdities out of court."