Month: February 2009

Derek Walcott vs VS Naipaul

I’d forgotten about this – but I saw Omeros by Derek Walcott sitting (unfinished) on my shelf, and I remembered reading this poetic assault on Naipaul by Walcott

From ‘The Mongoose’

I have been bitten, I must avoid infection
Or else I’ll be as dead as Naipaul’s fiction
Read his last novels, you’ll see just
what I mean
A lethargy, approaching the obscene
The model is more ho-hum than Dickens
The essays have more bite
They scatter chickens like critics, but
each stabbing phrase is poison
Since he has made that snaring style
a prison
The plots are forced, the prose
sedate and silly
The anti-hero is a prick named Willie
Who lacks the conflict of a Waugh or Lawrence
And whines with his creator’s
self-abhorrence

These two have a long-lasting, well-documented feud (I’m on Walcott’s side) that I’m not going to recount, but I love the idea of two seventy-something Nobel prize winners engaging in a literary smackdown…this poem is a fantastic example of using your intelligence to fight your fight. Walcott definitely gets his point across…I seem to remember being left speechless by the fact that it ended with the line ‘He doesn’t like black men but he loves black cunt.’ I wish I could find the full version of this poem to post – the rest is just as brilliant, but I’m not going to transcribe it – you can listen to it here http://www.radioopensource.org/calabash-08-first-the-fireworks/

Cheap books/discounts/voucher codes etc – don’t say i never give you anything

20% off Borders ??? Online or in store

You can get 20% off at Borders until Tuesday 30 June. Just enter the code GIVEME20 at the online checkout or print the Borders voucher here, fill it in and use it in store.

10% off Waterstones when you spend ??20??? Online

Get 10% off when you spend ??20 or more with Waterstones- enter the code PL5824 at the online checkout. The code is valid from Thursday 1 January to Tuesday 31 March.

Truman Capote – Breakfast at Tiffany’s

I’ve always loved the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s – in that film, Audrey Hepburn is pretty much the most beautiful woman ever to walk the earth, so when I saw a free copy of Capote’s novel with The Times a few weeks ago, I snapped it up.
What really struck me reading the book, was how well the film captures Holly, her speech, her mannerisms, and the overall tone of the novel, despite the difference in the ending. I go through different phases -one where I can believe that Holly would stay, and another where I know she’d go, so rather than being angry that the film betrays the plot of the novel, I can accept it and be pleased by it in a way. And it ends well for the cat in both versions, which is just as important.
In the version I have, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is anthologised with a few short stories, which I enjoyed too, particularly House of Flowers a funny little romantic story that really caught me off guard, because it was so unconventional and offbeat.

Amitav Ghosh – The Calcutta Chromosome

This book is unique. I’ve never read anything quite like it before and can’t really define it. I first encountered it on a postcolonial literature course – I think it was there in part to confound the idea of a neat category called ‘the postcolonial‘. The Calcutta Chromosome is, at it’s heart, a science fiction fantasy historical medical thriller – and there is an element of the postcolonial to it too, for the not-very-subtle reason that its written by an author from India, and part of it is set during the British colonisation of India. It is interesting that the postcolonial discipline almost cannibalises the work of the authors and writing it seeks to promote, by pigeonholing them as ‘postcolonial‘ and denying the diversity and uniqueness of a text like The Calcutta Chromosome.

But I digress. This is a fast paced thriller, using a few shameless Dan Brown-esque tactics, (cliff-hanger chapter endings and moving between different story lines) that leave you excited and dying to read on as the pace picks up. The novel is centered on a mysterious conspiracy theory surrounding malaria – I don’t want to give too much away, in case you go on to read it, but I will say that Ghosh has an incredible imagination and is a fantastic storyteller. Chaos theory (in the simplest terms – the idea that small, inconsequential events can have unforeseen and powerful consequences) seems to be a theme in the novel. Tiny events, that you almost ignore as you read, move along the plot and really left me wondering at Ghosh’s capacity to think out such an intricate and involved plot. It’s worth reading The Calcutta Chromosome, and then reading it again, to really soak up all the detail that Ghosh has put into it.

Forget Slumdog Millionaire & Revolutionary Road, it’s all about Baboon Metaphysics.

It’s that time we’ve all ben waiting for, forget the Oscars, the shortlist for the Bookseller’s Diagram prize for odd book titles is out.

The nominees are Baboon Metaphysics by Dorothy Dorothy L Cheney and Robert M Seyfarth (University of Chicago Press), Curbside Consultation of the Colon by Brooks D Cash (SLACK Incorporated), The Large Sieve and its Applications by Emmanuel Kowalski (Cambridge University Press) Strip and Knit with Style by Mark Hordyszynski (C&T), Techniques for Corrosion Monitoring by Lietai Yang (Woodhead) and last but not least, the spectacularly named The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-milligram Containers of Fromage Frais by Professor Philip M Parker (Icon Group International).

These six made the shortlist, beating of competion from the likes of F**k It, (which I’m actually going to try and read at some point), All Dogs Have ADHD, The Industrial Vagina, Excrement in the Late Middle Ages, Insects Are Just Like You and Me Except Some of Them Have Wings and my personal favourite, Malformed Frogs.

You can vote for your favourite on the Bookseller’s website and read more about the prize here

Tell the truth

Apparently most people will have only read 6 of the ‘classic’ 100 books in this list…so its time for some literary one-up-manship, and tell the truth!

Instructions
1) Look at the list and add an ‘x’ those you have read.
2) Add a ‘+’ to the ones you love.
3) Add a ‘*’ if you tried to read it and failed.
4) Tally your total at the bottom.
5) Feel smug if your score is higher than that of your friends.

1. Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen x
2. The Lord of the Rings x
3. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte x
4. Harry Potter series – JK Rowling x+
5. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee
6. The Bible
7. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte x
8. Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell x+
9. His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman x+
10. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens x
11. Little Women – Louisa M Alcott x
12. Tess of the D???Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
13. Catch 22 – Joseph Heller x
14. Complete Works of Shakespeare (Has anyone read all of them? Really?)
15. Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
16. The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien x
17. Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
18. Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger x+
19. The Time Traveller???s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
20. Middlemarch – George Eliot
21. Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell
22. The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald x
23. Bleak House – Charles Dickens
24. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
25. The Hitch Hiker???s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams
26. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh
27. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28. Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
29. Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll x
30. The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame x
31. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
32. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens
33. Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis
34. Emma – Jane Austen x
35. Persuasion – Jane Austen
36. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis *
37. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini *
38. Captain Corelli???s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres x
39. Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden x
40. Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne x
41. Animal Farm – George Orwell x
42. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown x (Yes, I’ve read. No I’m not proud. Yes, I felt dirty afterwards.)
43. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez x+
44. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving *
45. The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery x
47. Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
48. The Handmaid???s Tale – Margaret Atwood x
49. Lord of the Flies – William Golding x
50. Atonement – Ian McEwan x
51. Life of Pi – Yann Martel x +
52. Dune – Frank Herbert* (I tried to read this for a course at uni)
53. Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons
54. Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen *
55. A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
56. The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57. A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens
58. Brave New World – Aldous Huxley x
59. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon
60. Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez (I’m sitting next to the DVD, does that count?)
61. Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov x
63. The Secret History – Donna Tartt x (Why do people think this is a classic, I don’t get it, I thought it was more or less the most mediocre thing I’v ever read)
64. The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65. Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas
66. On The Road – Jack Kerouac x+ (yes, on my gap year…what a cliche, cringe)
67. Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy
68. Bridget Jones???s Diary – Helen Fielding x
69. Midnight???s Children – Salman Rushdie x+
70. Moby Dick – Herman Melville
71. Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens x (Ive read it, but there are no words to express how much I hate Dickens)
72. Dracula – Bram Stoker x
73. The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett x+ (I loved this when I was little, I wanted a secret grden of my own)
74. Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson
75. Ulysses – James Joyce *
76. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath x
77. Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome
78. Germinal – Emile Zola
79. Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
80. Possession – AS Byatt
81. A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
82. Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell *(Ivertried and tried and tried again with this. gave up and read The Calcutta Chromosome instead, they’re similar)
83. The Color Purple – Alice Walker x+
84. The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro
85. Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert x
86. A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry x+
87. Charlotte???s Web – EB White x, (I know I’ve read it, but blocked out the trauma of the experience)
88. The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Alborn
89. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90. The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton x
91. Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad x
92. The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Eupery
93. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks x+
94. Watership Down – Richard Adams (see Charlotte’s Web comments)
95. A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
96. A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute
97. The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas
98. Hamlet – William Shakespeare x
99. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl x
100. Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

Conclusions
1.I’ve read 45, therefore I am 7.5 times more literary than ‘average’
2.I only loved 12 of them though.
3. I failed to finish 7 – I’m a quitter, but I try and fail more times than the ‘average’ person tries
4. This list is biased – it’s full of books that people are told they should read, rather than ones they want to read.
5. I have too much time on my hands.

The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie

I expect a great deal from Rushdie – as I’ve mentioned before, he’s one of my favourite authors – but The Enchantress of Florence left me wanting more.
This isn’t a criticism as such, just an observation. The book didn’t provoke the kind of response that I usually feel when I read Rushdie’s texts – and no, I’m not just talking about the Satanic Verses scandal.
I’ve always thought that Rushdie is a by nature a provocative author, whether he’s reimagining the origins of Islam, highlighting the potential and limitations of multiculturalism or trying to write a history of modern India.
The Enchantress of Florence didn’t provoke me – it is a beautiful text, ‘exotic’ (I hate that word, for numerous self-conscious, pseudo-intellectual reasons, but more of that another time) and full of rich imagery. It’s also a good story, with fiction embroidered with historical detail that Rushdie must have put significant labours into gathering. Of all Rushdie’s texts, this reminds me of Haroun and the Sea of Stories the most – his fantastic book for children and at its heart, this is a very diverting fairy tale for adults – which I suppose is no bad thing, but it left me missing the Rushdie of Midnight’s Children, Fury and Shame.

Aids Sutra: Untold Stores from India. Salman Rushdie, Kiran Desai, Vikram Seth et al

I loved this book, but then it was always going to appeal to me – the list of contributing authors is a ‘who’s who’ of Indian literature, including authors I love, like Salman Rushdie, Kiran Desai, & William Dalrymple, looking at different aspects of the Aids epidemic in India. Plus, all the proceeds from Aids Sutra go to the charity Avahan, the India AIDS initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – satisfying my liberal sensibilities and some of my middle class guilt.

I did have some misgivings about reading a book that claimed to be giving readers a picture of the real, untold India – I’m slightly uncomfortable with the idea that we can all buy this book, read it, and feel smug and self-satisfied for having done something ‘good’ and like we understand the reality of living with HIV/Aids in India. I’m not into so-called ‘poverty porn’ literature and the idea that reading is a path to somehow understanding or knowing another culture – it isn’t.

The reason why I enjoyed reading Aids Sutra so much is that it manages something that a lot of poverty porn does not – it doesn’t generalise or claim to tell the ‘truth’. So many different stories and lives are presented that the reader could never come away thinking that they know all there is to know about the plight of people living with HIV/Aids in India. Because so many stories are told, in so many different voices, the only thing that you can be sure of by the end of the text is the plurality and the undiscerning brutality of the disease.