Prufrock's Page

Friday, March 16, 2007

Capitalist Bookmarks

Forbes, the magazine better known in the Indian media for counting the shekels of the rich and famous, has a special issue on "tastemakers": those who influenced the rest of us for better or for worse in the last 12 months. Here's their literature section, starring the usual suspects, among them Cormac McCarthy, Thomas Pynchon and Gary Shteyngart.

Agastya Loses

In the Morning News Tournament of Books, English August tries to wrestle The Lay of the Land to the ground -- unsuccessfully.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Englander's Books

The talented Nathan Englander's debut novel is almost here. And though he says he didn't read all that much when he was writing it, here's a list of his five most important books.

Not An Ugly American

"I think expats and American writers alike have something verging on a national responsibility to remind Europeans that Bush didn’t win the first election, and he barely won the second one -- it was, in its own way, stolen. And that less than a third of the American population thinks he's doing a good job. That's what I would hope to do as an American writer, to try and be an example of an OK -- which is to say, self-critical -- American."

- Jonathan Franzen, in Germany

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Still Want To Be A Critic?

When you think about it, reviewing's a pig of a job. Someone else's years of hard work given over to an amateur, a fellow novelist with an (always strong) opinion in a very small town where everyone knows everyone else and there are thousands of overlapping agendas. Think about that next time you volunteer.

Biographer Or Cannibal?

One is a sucker for literary biographies -- though admittedly, many of them could be considered no more than an advanced version of literary gossip. Authors themselves, however, have been dismissive of biographers: James Joyce called them biografiends, and Rudyard Kipling deemed the genre a "higher form of cannibalism." In a review of Biography: A Brief History by Nigel Hamilton, Carl Rollyson asks and answers an apt question: "When did biography — a rather distinguished genre in the days of Plutarch and Suetonius — lose literary rank? As soon as the first biographers tried to deal frankly with the private as well as the public lives of their subjects." He ends on a note of appreciation: "Mr. Hamilton has begun to rectify an enormous injustice by showing that biography, in itself, is a form of knowledge, a way of apprehending the world that deserves its own departments and centers of scholarly study. Someday, perhaps, with more studies like Mr. Hamilton's, biography will finally get the respect it deserves."

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Cherchez La Femme

"Once there were two friends, literary lions who emerged from Latin America in the 1960s. They admired each other's work and from the first moment they met in Caracas in 1967 they became inseparable. Both spent time as impoverished writers in Paris before going on to enjoy literary success, in which time they both lived in Barcelona." Then, it all went horribly wrong: their companionship ended with "a tremendous blow to the left eye."

The Independent's Paul Vallely reports on the cause of the feud between Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa.

The Russian Master

"Chekhov is a master at making his characters' darkest aspects comprehensible and human. He's never sentimental and he's not particularly pleasant, but he will always feel modern because of his astonishing juxtapositions and the way his characters' swift, darting minds vacillate between idealism and boredom, vanity and hope."

- Mona Simpson evaluates Chekhov's short stories -- and tells you where you can download all the 201 Constance Garnett translations online

Reading For Our LIves

'The books we love, love us back. In gratitude, we should promise not to cheat on them -- not to pretend we're better than they are; not to use them as target practice, agit-prop, trampolines, photo ops or stalking horses; not to sell out scruple to that scratch-and-sniff info-tainment racket in which we posture in front of experience instead of engaging it, and fidget in our cynical opportunism for an angle, a spin, or a take, instead of consulting compass points of principle, and strike attitudes like matches, to admire our wiseguy profiles in the mirrors of the slicks. We are reading for our lives, not performing like seals for some fresh fish."

- From critic John Leonard's NBCC lifetime achievement award speech.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Well, They Always Did Tell You Not To Chuck The Day Job

The average author earns about £16,000, a third less than the national average wage, it is revealed. So what? They're doing what they love. But hidden behind that figure released by the Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society (ALCS) is a grimmer truth: when you take away the superstars who are earning shedloads, the actual figure for the rest is closer to £4,000.

The Aesthetic Lawrence

Leafing through a book on the nature of the English over the weekend, it struck one in passing just how un-English a writer D.H. Lawrence was. After all, his work is hardly known for understatement, irony or self-deprecation -- instead we have an almost poetic explicitness combined with the need to preach. Coincidentally -- and happily -- this morning, one came across James Wood's assessment of the author, in a piece that calls for reevaluating his achievement on aesthetic grounds: "It is Lawrence's misfortune that this highly doctrinal and metaphysical writer is more often discussed doctrinally and metaphysically than aesthetically." Time to locate and re-read that copy of The Rainbow.

The Idea Of India

"The book was dedicated to a further idea: that India was, in the simplest way, on the move; that all over the vast country, men and women had moved out of the cramped ways and expectations of their parents and grandparents, and were expecting more. This was the 'million mutinies' of the title; it was not guerrilla wars all round."

- V.S. Naipaul on India: A Million Mutinies Now, which was just a little ahead of its time. The piece ends on a note of self-congratulation: "Ambitious and difficult books are not always successful. But it remains to be said that in England this book has been reprinted 32 or 33 times. I marvel at the luck."

Reading The Irish

Slightly in advance of St Patrick's Day, librarian Annette Waterman suggests a few novels written by Irish authors that you may want to pick up. (The only woman on the list: Kerry Hardie.)