Life happened because I turned the pages~~Alberto Manguel
Friday, May 03, 2013
Monday, August 20, 2007
From 'Mem, mem' to memoir
This is a remarkable story, and a compelling piece of writing.
The writer Paul West suffered a massive stroke that caused global aphasia. As his wife records:
"The author of more than 50 stylishly written books, a master of English prose with the largest working vocabulary I’d ever encountered, a man whose life revolved around words, he had suffered brain damage to the key language areas of his brain and could no longer process language in any form. Global aphasia, it’s called — the curse of a perpetual tip-of-the-tongue memory hunt. He understood little of what people said, and all he could utter was the syllable “mem.” Nothing more."
Paul West forced his way through the aphasia. Three years later, he had completed a book, perhaps "the first aphasic memoir" ever.
From The Shadow Factory:
There was a bewildering assortment of false starts and incomplete sentences for the mind only. I no sooner thought of something to say to myself than I forgot it, and I was lucky to get beyond the second or third imagined word....
I formed the habit of forcing language back on itself, beyond even its failure to communicate anything at all, to see what was there. Language, at least as we know it, had ended, and I was left there on countless occasions, with something like a white sheet of dental floss or a carnivorous absence. There was nothing beyond. So I cheered myself up by taking as my starting point the notion that all I had to do was pass the zone of no known language and automatically be speaking English once again. These are mental compensations to be sure, but they serve superbly in times of need.
Ever been to Khaufpur?
Go visit. Khaufpur, a fictionalised version of Bhopal, is where Indra Sinha sets his novel, Animal's People.
From Lucy Beresford's review in The New Statesman:
Nearly 20 years ago, Khaufpur was devastated by a chemical leak at a factory owned by an American firm, referred to by Khaufpuris as "the Kampani". Thousands died during what has come to be known as "That Night", including Animal's parents. Two decades on, women still carry the toxins in their milk, and Animal is condemned to walk on all fours after the poisons attacked his body and froze his spine. Physically deformed he may be, and the butt of much peer contempt, but he is still human - a sentiment he strenuously denies until the book's close.
From Indra Sinha's website:
ANIMAL'S PEOPLE is dedicated to our friend Sunil Kumar, who died in July 2006, aged 34. It had been dedicated to him from the moment I began writing it five years ago. He didn't live to see it published.
Some of the stories Sunil told me about his life found their way into the novel, however the character of Animal is entirely fictional, as are his antics. Following reports in the BBC and elsewhere that the book chronicles Sunil's life, I want to make it clear that it doesn't - although Animal's ability to live on 4 rupees a day (£0.05, €0.07, $0.10) and his sense of humour were certainly inherited from Sunil.
Spend a little time if you drop in at Khaufpur. Browse the classifieds, which include remedies for "sex problems", chakra balancing experts, relief for back pain and neck pain, and this: "Caring for all breathing difficulties, other ailments related to the poison disaster Hills Clinic, Dr Arshad." Don't miss the 'What's On' section, where alongside tantric painting exhibitions, sarangi performances and a screening of Mughal-e-Azam, there's this: " Bob Scheinfeld, Busting Out Of The Poverty Trap. Top US coach shares the secrets of self-empowerment and wealth creation. Few seats left, all tickets Rs 15,000."
No, that's not a typo. Thanks to the Marginalien, I now know what to do with those hardbound copies of the prime minister's 100 most boring speeches. They're going to the incredibly creative Jim Rosenau, who--well, go and find out. This is the page where you discover the dirty little secrets behind the Humpty Dumpty Story.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
The "We Know It When We See It" Department
Been reading about "slipstream literature" with some bemusement. No one seems to know how to define it, but everyone knows what it isn't. It isn't the Dead White Guys Club, it isn't the Literature Sorted by National Flag garbage ("and now ve celebrate the undiscovered gems of bad-tempered birdsong translations into a folkloric template from Vanuatu--truly one of our lost classics, it's such a great pity there are only two readers in the world for this sort of thing"), it isn't the Chicklit/ Schlock Is Great Literachoor, Ya Sucks Boo argument.
Ron Drummond has helped compile a Working Slipstream Cannon, though, and now I know what they mean--"Slipstream" is code for "we're spying on the Babu's bookshelves". Here's the top 25:
The Core Canon of Slipstream
1. Collected Fictions (coll 1998), Jorge Luis Borges
2. Invisible Cities (1972, trans 1974), Italo Calvino
3. Little, Big (1981), John Crowley
4. Magic for Beginners (coll 2005), Kelly Link
5. Dhalgren (1974), Samuel R. Delany
6. Burning Your Boats: Collected Short Fiction (coll, 1995), Angela Carter
7. One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967, trans 1970), Gabriel Garcia Marquez
8. The Ægypt Cycle (1987-2007), John Crowley
9. Feeling Very Strange (anth 2006), John Kessel and James Patrick Kelly (eds.)
10. The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (coll 2001)
11. Stranger Things Happen (coll 2001), Kelly Link
12. The Lottery and Other Stories (coll 1949), Shirley Jackson
13. Gravity's Rainbow (1973), Thomas Pynchon
14. Conjunctions 39 (anth 2002), Peter Straub (ed.)
15. The Metamorphosis (1915), Franz Kafka
16. The Trial (1925), Franz Kafka
17. Orlando (1928), Virginia Woolf
18. The Castle (1926), Franz Kafka
19. The complete works of Franz Kafka
20. V; (1963), Thomas Pynchon
21. Nights at the Circus (1984), Angela Carter
22. The Best of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet (anth 2007), Kelly Link and Gavin Grant (eds.)
23. The Heat Death of the Universe and Other Stories [UK title Busy About the Tree of Life] (coll 1988), Pamela Zoline
24. Foucault's Pendulum (1988, trans 1989), Umberto Eco
25. Sarah Canary (1991), Karen Joy Fowler
Psst... wanna take a look at my slush pile?
The 2007 Bulwer-Lytton bad writing contest results are in; the winner says he has an edge because he's an academician:
Gerald began--but was interrupted by a piercing whistle which cost him ten percent of his hearing permanently, as it did everyone else in a ten-mile radius of the eruption, not that it mattered much because for them "permanently" meant the next ten minutes or so until buried by searing lava or suffocated by choking ash--to pee.
Also check out the genre submissions--this won the Children's Fiction bad writing award:
Danny, the little Grizzly cub, frolicked in the tall grass on this sunny Spring morning, his mother keeping a watchful eye as she chewed on a piece of a hiker they had encountered the day before.
From the desk of the Babu, please register one numbers laugh, hollow. This is GOOD stuff. I would publish the Grizzly story, especially if we could tie up with bookstores to offer an "Guess What's Eating Gaurav" Grizzly free with each copy. On the other hand, after a mere six months in publishing, the slush pile creepeth up every dayeth. Once in a while you find an interesting project that comes from a complete stranger, but I'm beginning to understand why most publishers' offices are surrounded by barbed wire and why the receptionist carries a stun gun and tranqs.
I can't name names, but let's just say that the poet of the NorthEast who has so far sent in six books of poetry, all of them weighing in at about 250 pages each and written in impenentrably blank verse, needs to stop calling herself the Bad of the North-East. It's Bard... no, actually, let that stand.
What's in the box?
At AlterNet, Vanessa Richmond interviews young Canadian writers and asks what the writing life is really about. All of you out there who would be writing great novels if it wasn't for the job at the bank, consider what Anne Stone once did for a living:
"I have actually written porn. I worked for a doctor who also ran a modeling agency and occasionally a depanneur. And he would just speak into a tape and send it home with me, and suddenly we were at page 600. And it became weekly that he would take me out for lunch and send me home with tapes. And he used to give me gifts in this box to thank me, and I never looked in, and I gave it to a friend and told him he could have it as long as he didn't tell me what was in the box."
Saturday, July 21, 2007
The bootleg version of HP&TDH that's been floating around is the real McCoy. Just heard from a friend who *sigh* waited in line. He downloaded the pirated version a couple of days ago, and he says the images are from the deluxe version.
Friday, July 20, 2007
Michiko hearts Harry
Michiko Kakutani breaks the embargo:
a copy of which was purchased at a New York City store yesterday, though the book is embargoed for release until 12:01 a.m. on SaturdayAnd writes Rowling a love letter. [Warning: There be spoilers.] Excerpts:
..monumental, spellbinding epic, 10 years in the making, is deeply rooted in traditional literature and Hollywood sagas — from the Greek myths to Dickens and Tolkien to “Star Wars.”
While Ms. Rowling’s astonishingly limber voice still moves effortlessly between Ron’s adolescent sarcasm and Harry’s growing solemnity, from youthful exuberance to more philosophical gravity..
This same magpie talent has enabled her to create a narrative that effortlessly mixes up allusions to Homer, Milton, Shakespeare and Kafka, with silly kid jokes about vomit-flavored candies, a narrative that fuses a plethora of genres (from the boarding-school novel to the detective story to the epic quest) into a story that could be Exhibit A in a Joseph Campbell survey of mythic archetypes.
In doing so, J. K. Rowling has created a world as fully detailed as L. Frank Baum’s Oz or J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, a world so minutely imagined in terms of its history and rituals and rules that it qualifies as an alternate universe..
Wednesday, July 11, 2007
We sent around the Guardian's Great Escape links, which feature various writers on the topic of the books they read while travelling. (Part 1, Part 2; and note that the links on the Guardian's page are bad - someone forgot t include the '.co.uk' bit, which we didn't notice until Divya pointed out the error.) Weighing in: Bill Bryson ("I read the Archer as well, of course, and am not too proud to say that I was grateful for it, too. In fact, after Pnin and the telephone directory, it was one of my favourite reads of the trip."), Kiran Desai, Dave Eggers, Pico Iyer, Ian McEwan, Jan Morris, DBC Pierre, Ian Rankin, Paul Theroux, and many others.
Naturally, we began thinking of books we have read while on the road. And found that none really came to mind. We tend to buy magazines when we travel, because we usually wind up looking out of windows, people-watching, sketching or writing when we travel. This despite packing in several books on each trip.
But perhaps your mileage (heh) varies. Care to leave a note?
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Books I shouldn't want to publish...
... but that I wish I had. Any writer who can use the phrase "boughten woman" is okay by me.
More lurid pulp fiction covers at the sadly defunct Cover Art Gallery.
The author's slice of the pie
Jonathan Heawood has an interesting perspective on publishing:
While readers have an interest in seeing a wide range of high-quality writing for all tastes, and authors have an interest in a marketplace which can generate income from their idiosyncracies, the print market itself is geared towards promoting ever smaller numbers of increasingly conventional titles. Whether readers get their content in black ink on a white page, blue text on a grey screen or white chalk on a black board is irrelevant. As Clare Alexander pointed out, authors aren't in the paper business, they're in the communication business....
...If conventional publishers, agents and retailers want to find an answer to this question, they are going to have to stop defending the status quo. The present dispensation is a historical accident. These particular middlemen arrived on the scene over the last few hundred years, whenever the industry became richer, at the same time that new copyright controls were imposed as each new player - agent, publisher, retailer - sought to defend their slice of the pie. The pie has grown, but so have the number of slices. The only player with a diminishing slice is the author.
William Dalrymple in the NYRB:
Two new books on the British in India, both of them sophisticated works by established scholars, demonstrate how polarized the debate has now become. For Nicholas Dirks, who concentrates on the India of the East India Company, the British Empire is a terrible blot on world history comparable to slavery and fascism; to be neutral or even balanced on the issue is to tolerate the intolerable, and even to become complicit in oppressive violence and tyranny. For David Gilmour, however, working on the later period of the high Raj, the Victorian administrators of the Indian Civil Service could certainly be eccentric and fallible, but far from being oppressive exploiters they in fact "represented the British Empire at its best and most altruistic." It is difficult to imagine two books, on similar subjects, which have less common ground.
The Man Booker... international?
Stuart Kelly grumbles about the 2007 Man Booker International Prize shortlist:
So I was eager to see the 2007 shortlist. When I did, bemused boredom swiftly turned to gnawing irritation. For the record, the novelists contending this year are Chinua Achebe, Margaret Atwood, John Banville, Peter Carey, Don DeLillo, Carlos Fuentes, Doris Lessing, Ian McEwan, Harry Mulisch, Alice Munro, Michael Ondaatje, Amos Oz, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie and Michel Tournier. One thing is immediately conspicuous. You've probably heard of most of them.
There are only four non-English speaking authors. There is nobody from China, Japan, Russia, South America, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, the Indian subcontinent or the Arabic world. Moreover, every author on the list who is eligible for the usual Man Booker has either won, or been shortlisted, for that award. "Diverse in nationality, language, themes and techniques", as the press release trumpets? Hardly.
In The Guardian, James English asks:
Surely it is a bad thing to have all these new prizes sprouting like weeds even while the established ones are themselves dividing and reproducing, generating offshoots and offspring that have us speaking of "baby Bookers" or of the Man Booker "family" of awards? Surely all this must be a symptom of literary soil rendered artistically arid by decades of global free-marketism and a superheating multinational machinery of hype?
Disappointingly, having asked the question, he answers "Nay".
Literary readings and other merde
Mik Awake questions the 21st century hustle known as the literary reading:
In its producer-consumer format, in its faux-democratic approach to literary discussion, in which readers are encouraged to disagree only on which passage of a book was their favorite (Merde!), the literary reading is a perfect example of market culture’s damaging influence (Merde!) on our experience of art and perhaps, for many former or current students, an all-too-familiar echo of the teacher-student format (Merde! Merde! Merde!). In a situation where the Author equals producer, and reader equals consumer, disfavor can be seen as costly. But, without drunk French prodigies yelling out swear words, how do most people gauge public disfavor at a literary reading? The answer: silence.
How to sell your book
Easy. Recruit your fridge and stovetop as marketing personnel.
(From MaudNewton): Miranda July uses the top of her fridge as a dry-erase board to promote her book, No One Here Belongs More Than You. I'm buying it. In yellow.