Friday, November 03, 2006

She's the one that keeps the/ Dream alive.

Have fame. Will write. Clearly, if you're a celebrity, writing children's fiction is second only to adopting children of a different race .

The Guardian has a typically great take on it. Led me to wonder about celebrities I've read (and not just in children's fiction). Came to a stunning list of... two. Carrie Fisher. And Woody Allen. Alfred Hitchcock doesn't count, since he only featured in The Three Investigators, and all his introductions were ghost-written. Ethan Hawke could count, but doesn't (despite scarily high levels of cuteness), simply because I haven't read Ash Wednesday yet.

Back to The Autograph Man for now.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Gone, gone/ The damage done.

A couple of weeks ago, I did a test that required me to write 200-odd words longhand. Yes, longhand. Not only was it illegible (even to me), but it brought home the fact that independent ol' me was utterly, completely dependent on a box with a monitor on it -- to write.

Here's how I write, for instance. I put down a line. Rephrase. Rephrase again. Consider rephrasing it a third time, but change my mind, and undo my last two actions. This happens randomly till I'm left with a piece that sounds more or less like I want it to. And I have no idea how to recreate that on paper.

Considering that I now write on PCs and cellphones, and trust my own handwriting only for grocery lists and signatures, it's nice to run into other people's points of view on connectivity (the net, the cellphone, the TV, the radio, and all the overlaps in between), and how it's changed the novel today.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

I'm the ghost in the machine/ I'm the genius in the gene.

It's Navratri, and I'm off the good stuff. Which makes me awfully sensitive to references to it, especially when they appear in my favourite online paper.

It seems that the Bard loved his booze, and often wrote while supremely hungover. The article uses Macbeth as a case in point, and it's a lovely explanation of the ungreat bits in Shakespearean writing.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Oh, baby/ I'm so tangled.

Always thought I felt a little too strongly about words. Glad to see that others do, too. Really nice piece that doesn't, for a single second, suck.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Everybody was/ Kung fu fightin'.

In my dreams, I write like a cross between Douglas Adams and Jasper Fforde, only female. In my short (but dreamy) naps, I aspire to write like this.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

You really ought to read: The Kite Runner.

Let me clarify that a first novel about boyhood friends flying kites in Afghanistan in the early seventies is fairly far down on my list of things to read. My own tastes run to books that are clever, or literary. I'll throw in the occasional frenetically-pased thriller, but blame that on Hollywood for not providing me with adequately entertaining escapist movies. I'll also read truckloads of chick/ lad lit, for two reasons: one, it's awfully entertaining, and two, because lending libraries exist to liberate me from the guilt of shelling out hard-earned money (and giving up precious shelf space) for the likes of Lauren Weisberger and Mike Gayle.

I do read Asian authors, but the writers I adore -- Murakami, for instance -- could hardly be termed representative. Indian writers I give a fairly wide berth to, though I must admit to reading quite a bit of Amitav Ghosh (who staggers me with his attention to detail); Upamanyu Chatterjee; the tiresome, but quite brilliant, Rushdie; and Jhumpa Lahiri.

This isn't the most favourable mindset with which to approach The Kite Runner. It's a novel about two boys growing up in pre-Taliban Afghanistan. About how the class in which we are born has everything -- and, simultaneously, nothing -- to do with whom we become. About the frailty of men, the bonds between fathers and sons. About old-fashioned notions like honour and tradition, about harsh realities like survival and the construction of a life far, far away from your own country. It's incredibly rich in detail, and lyrical in expression. And it's unputdownable.

I started it during the runup to the first of yesterday's World Cup matches, and, before I knew it, I was curled up on the couch, telly on 'mute', bookmark discarded (I must have known I wouldn't need it again). Moved to tears more than once, yet unable to stop reading. I put it down late last night, and my head was too full of its images to concentrate on Italy vs. Ghana.

It's a wholly original book, but, in many ways, it reminded me of some of my favourite writers and characters. When its narrator, Amir, speaks of feeling like a phoney when he is with someone as pure as Hassan, the kite runner of the title, I'm reminded of Holden Caulfield, and his sister, Phoebe. The portion of the novel when Amir returns to an Afghanistan very different from the one he grew up in takes me back to Suketu Dalal's return to Dariya Mahal. The lyrical writing evokes Shantaram, and Snow.

I loved it for the very reasons it is so different from the books I usually read: its wealth of emotion, and its clearly Afghan (read, unambiguous) culture. After all, I couldn't make it through that other supposed masterpiece it is most often compared to -- The God of Small Things.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

I dare you to put down: Incendiary.

It's a Christmas stocking of a book, and I couldn't wait to pull it apart. I mean, how can you put down a book written entirely in first person -- with a stream-of-consciousness-type disregard for punctuation, a supremely unforgettable heroine, mad devotion to the Arsenal, outrageous amounts of emotion, and a poignant understanding of the times we live in -- that opens with the words: "Dear Osama".

It's also a debut.

Sure, it's a book about how terror attacks have changed the emotional landscape in which our children will grow up in almost as much as they have altered the physical one. But, more tellingly, it's a portrait of a mother drawn in broad strokes of fear, passion, humour, coarseness, and courage. She's an absolute triumph of characterisation, and to describe her in too much detail would be to ruin a ripping good read. Suffice to say, she manages to charm you one minute, and move you the next, and then, when you least expect it, pose an incredibly intelligent question about the very nature of our lives.

Chris Cleave shifts emotional gear effortlessly, and as the story -- and his heroine's life -- unravels, it reveals greater and greater depth. What could easily have remained a well-written but sentimental story of loss opens up into a staggeringly mature piece of writing about the way terror has permanently changed our world.

There is no raving and ranting about the pointlessness of terror, just an utterly subjective maternal point of view. No rush to judgment about Islam and jihad; in fact, an air of bewilderment at the extent to which anti-terrorism measures marginalise Muslims. No moralising or doom-saying, but some damaged emotion that sounds surprisingly like hope.

For a book about the reality of terror, it's surprisingly wrought with hope. After all, it's in the form of letters written to convince Osama bin Laden to change his ways. And, even though it's set in the near future (the Gunners have moved from Highbury to Ashburton Grove), Thierry Henry is still with the club.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Oh, you must read: Cloud Atlas.

There is ambition, and then there is this. Easily the most awe-inspiring experimental narrative that I've ever read. Entertaining. Enviably sophisticated. And so alarmingly well-written that the experimental pattern of the novel is never -- not for one page, one paragraph -- anything but background.

You can't help but notice the distinctive pattern, true. But to see it as something separate from the stories (story?) that form the foreground of the book is quite impossible.

Separate stories. Separate genres, even. Separate narrative voices. Separate protagonists, or 'overlapping soloists', if you will. And one stunning narrative that reaches across all of them to tell the fundamental story of good versus evil. It's a rollercoaster of a story that travels through art and envy and fear and loathing and curiosity and intelligence and the future of the world as we know it.

When I finished the book, I put it down beside me and just sat there, drinking in the feeling of such an immense piece of writing.

It's David Mitchell's third book, and I'm certain to look for the other two -- in a while. For now, I'm going to savour the aftertaste of Cloud Atlas.

Not since AS Byatt's Possession have I been so blown away. Not for many, many years have I been -- so much -- just another reader.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Oh, I am what I am/ I do what I want.

Had a pretty good weekend after a fairly long bit. Got me thinking about other stuff that makes me (almost) as happy. It's an interesting list, even though this post restricts itself to writers who have contributed significantly to my happiness.

Douglas Adams. The only writer I've read who makes me laugh out loud. (I'm not a very laugh-out-loud kind of person. Easily amused, perhaps.)

PG Wodehouse. Leagues ahead of the rest simply because of that incredible output. Ninety-six books. Ninety-six. Makes me reel.

To a lesser extent, Carl Hiaasen, Jasper Fforde, and PJ O'Rourke. And, maybe, just maybe, Terry Pratchett, though his charm wears off easily.

Note: Almost as hysterically funny as the Wodehouse books are their BBC adapations. I think it's my weakness for British accents.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Turning Japanese/ I think I'm turning Japanese.

It's a mad habit, but I love it -- the process of finding a lyric in my head that works as a title to a post. Often cracks me up (yes, I'm as easily amused as I am daft). And sometimes -- like just now -- it takes me back to a random time and place that I thought I'd completely forgotten about.

'Turning Japanese', the 80s pop hit by The Vapors, whose chorus is the title to this post takes me back to my early college days. Back when Adam Curry was on MTV, and I used to watch the previous month's (year's?) Top of the Pops on video. Yes, video!

The 80s did nothing much for me musically, besides hardwire some of the worst lyrics in creation into my head. Very, very scary. Especially with this retro thing people have going these days. Really, really bad pop singles that I thought had sunk into oblivion two decades ago are now scarily making their reappearance. (Don't believe me? 'Turning Japanese' is on the Charlies' Angels soundtrack.)

It's a particularly funny lyric (to my twisted mind, at least), since this post has nothing to do with my actually turning slitty-eyed and Lost in Translation. All I needed was a title to a link to an oldish Murakami interview I just came by.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Maybe you should read: Kafka on the Shore.

Simply because it has everything. Sex, Greek tragedy, talking cats, hitch-hiking, surrealism, murder, Beethoven, ghosts, libraries, Johnnie Walker, and a 15 year-old protagonist called Kafka Tamura.

Sublimely plotted, and simply written. To call it a coming-of-age novel is to call The Little Prince a fairytale.

Came dangerously close to overtaking Sputnik Sweetheart as my favourite Murakami book.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Random wisdom: Pete Dexter.

“Things break more in bars than they do outside -- hearts, noses, bottles, promises. And in the breaking are beautiful stories.”

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Nobody does it better.

Than Murakami. Here's a short story I read online the other day: A Shinagawa Monkey. Thank you, New Yorker.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

There's gotta be a record of you somewhere/ You gotta be on somebody's books.

Everything of meaning I've ever written is influenced by Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar, quite literally, rocked my world, and I think my sensibility (not to mention my writing) is the richer for it.

Plath was the original golden girl. She married Ted Hughes. She left him, and went away to live in WB Yeats' old home with her children. She committed suicide.

Most of all, she wrote stuff like this (difficult stuff, to be sure; the villanelle is among the toughest forms of poetry to write):

Mad Girl's Love Song

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary blackness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell's fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan's men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you'd return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

And this: her rare reading of Lady Lazarus.

Kate Moses wrote a fictional version of her life, Wintering. Doesn't hold a candle to the images in my head. Or in her writing.

Years after I first read them, Plath's lines continue to play softly, but frequently, inside my head: “How did I know that someday – at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere – the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?”

Some day you will find me/ Caught beneath the landslide.

Always been fascinated with first novels. In my mind, at least, they’re hopelessly intertwined with the process of being published. With first principles. With a clarity of motivation that gets a shade murkier with every subsequent piece of writing. Perhaps I romanticise it too much, but there’s a certain lack of artfulness, some strange lack of reader awareness, that makes a first novel just a little exceptional.

So here they are, three firsts.

Yann Martel's The Facts Behind The Helsinki Roccamatios. Strikingly self-conscious, and more than a little clunky. Among the unnecessary bits of self-reference, are traces of the intelligence and humour that will be distilled into a sensibility that makes Pi Patel such a sympathetic character. Other than that, the book seems to have been created, almost entirely, out of Martel's brute belief in having to be a writer. Which is pretty fascinating in itself.

John Bennett’s debut, Sea Otters Gambolling in the Wild, Wild Surf, seemed like another Vernon God Little wannabe. But the book straightens itself out in a hurry, and makes for a light, trippy read. It's a coming-of-age novel of these times, and while it might lack the emotional depth of, say, The Catcher In The Rye, it has an immediacy, a certain disposability, if you will, that's unerringly accurate about this generation.

I'm almost at the end of Suketu Mehta's Maximum City. Extremely mixed feelings. The book starts off as autobiography, and then plunges into what can only be described as a series of interviews, loosely connected by some bare-bones reportage. It feels strangely unfulfilling, like reading a writer’s background notes. The autobiographical stuff -- the geography of the novel, if you will – was enchanting, but that’s purely because it describes the city I spent most of my life in.

From the terrace at CafĂ© Naaz (scene of a disastrous first date with Parsi then-love-of-life; should have heeded the signs and run; would've spared me much grief from my friends, at least). To the 1993 riots (Annual Exhibition time in my post-grad year at Sophia; was forced to stay in ‘town’ with friends since travel back to my suburban home was too dangerous; phone lines were down, so couldn't call home and tell my parents; the next few months were hellish). To the dance bars (work in advertising, and you’ll see more than you should, e.g., your colleagues feathering ten-rupee notes at women moving a disinterested hip to daft Hindi movie songs).

All in all, unless the book changes dramatically in the last hundred pages, it’s just another nostalgia aid for ex-Bombayites like me.

Friday, February 10, 2006

It's hard to say it/ I hate to say it/ But it's probably me.

Over the past few months, seem to have struck some sort of motherlode of writing. Maybe I'm just going through a particularly impressionable phase, but some of these voices sound breathtakingly fresh to me.

The first of these is Gregory David Roberts'. Lyrical, profound (in a way that reminds me, oddly enough, of Robert M. Pirsig), and set in the city I've spent most of my life in, Shantaram is a reasonably interesting story told in an extraordinarily beautiful manner. The writing kept me going through the bits the plot didn't. (This, in spite of being on the longlist for the Literary Review Bad Sex award.)

The second is John Banville's. Quite simply, the most haunting prose voice I've ever read. Even though I kept coming across words I've never heard of before. Words like flocculent, or cinereal, or crepitant. The Sea is currently my gift of choice to friends who appreciate a good read. (And don't mind reading with a dictionary alongside.)

There are others, but I can't quite figure if I'm bringing a different (kinder? more liberal?) mindset to my reading than before. Could have something to do with the fact that the past few months have been among the most unsettling ones in my life (which is not what one might call a turbulence-free zone, in the first place).

Too much angst within, so I guess I welcome writing that calms from without. Even if temporarily.
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