Month: April 2009

Swine Flu

With swine flu all over the news and the threat of a global pandemic upon us, I can’t help but think of Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and CrakeIts description of a future where just one man is left alive after a series of deadly viruses destroys the entire human population (leaving behind just Crakers, pigoons & wolvogs – if that doesn’t mean anything, read the book!) is brought to mind by all these bleak predictions of an uncontrollable dissemination, followed by mass-deaths. Is Atwood something of a visionary, perhaps?

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New Indian writers

As you might have noticed, I read quite a lot of Indian literature, so I was interested to see Amit Chaudari discussing new Indian authors in the Guardian.

I’m not start on the issue of nationality and whether it is birth, ethnicity, language or experience that attaches an author to a particular nation (not now anyway) but it would seem from the article that India is continuing to produce (in one way or another) an incredible wealth of talent and creativity.

‘Ones to watch’ from other Indian author and publishers etc are also listed – and I don’t think any name is repeated, and it’s certainly added a lot more names to my book list…in particular I’m on the look out for poetry by Anita Roy’s recommendation, a poet called Rokkaiah or Salma, from the Tiruchy district of Tamil Nadu, which I visited a few years ago. She dropped out of school in the 9th grade, and married young, but started writing poetry at the age of 13, and, under a pseudonym (Salma) published two collections of poetry against the wishes of her conservative family.

Incidentally, I finished Manil Suri’s The Age of Shiva today – I was disappointed by it to be honest. It’s well written, but I struggled with the central character so much that I couldn’t enjoy it – it wasn’t that I disliked her, it was more that I felt nothing for her, which stopped me from really appreciating the book. I might try and explain myself better later….

The Desk Set

I stumbled upon this group called the Desk Set – the organisers say:

“The Desk Set is a group of New York City area librarians, archivists, bibliophiles and other bookish types who meet informally to explore and enjoy literary resources, connect with like-minded folks, and raise money for institutions who promote literacy.

“Founded in 2006 by Maria Falgoust and Sarah Murphy, the Desk Set???s primary objective is provide a fun and productive community for people who share an interest in books, literacy and libraries. We also aim to introduce people to cultural institutions of note that they may not otherwise get to explore. Our final goal is to raise funds for organizations whose work we admire – places like Books Through Bars, the New Orleans Public Library, Behind the Book and Passages Academy – by throwing parties that raise money and promote awareness.”

I thought what they do looks amazing – if it doesn’t exist in the UK, it should….

Should I laugh, or cry?

I’m laughing at myself, but it’s sad really.

I’m meant to be an intelligent, enlightened, no-nonsense woman, who sees beyond the myths of femininity constructed by society, but today, I bought two books:

1. A low-fat, low-calorie, low-GI, low-protein, low-sugar cook book
2. Naomi Wolf’s The Beauty Myth.

What a perfect encapsulation of the dilemma of ‘womanhood’….

I buy one book to help me lose weight because I feel insecure and that I need to be thin to to be worthy, which also puts me in the kitchen and firmly in the traditional female domain. this book will leave me ultimately disappointed, because it will not make me emaciated in all the right places, but abnormally voluptuous in others, more confident & secure, younger, taller, immortal…

But I also buy a second – perhaps to comfort me when the first one doesn’t achieve what I was promised it would – a neat slice of accessible feminist theory that tells me that I don’t have to be beautiful & that beauty is a conspiracy against women, but ultimately won’t make me feel any better about the fact that my face and body don’t fit with the accepted ideal of ‘beauty’, that won’t stop me wanting to buy new clothes and make up and half-believing that they will be the end of my insecurity, yet simultaneously hating myself for even half-believing such a pack of bullshit…

Is it laughable, or lamentable? Again, I’m stuck in the middle between laughing at the situation, and being sad, because it’s my own life and attitudes that I’m mocking – I can see how ridiculous it is, but I don’t know how to do anything about it…

Everyday poetry

There’s a feature on the BBC website at the moment about everyday, functional poetry that I thought was fantastic. The idea is that if poetry has a purpose and function it might help to breathe new life into an art form that is losing popularity.

So the BBC invited four poets: Ian McMillan, Niall O’Sullivan, Wendy Cope & Joe Hakim to turn the everyday into verse – things like wiring a plug, using a cash machine or getting a speeding ticket. You can hear the Joe Hakin version here – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7988559.stm. They are short, with a Haiku-esque quality and there’s something pleasing about seeing the mundane transformed and presented in a different light.

The poems contributed by readers are interesting too – Bill Campbell turns the well-known ‘You do not have to say anything, but it might harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something you later rely on in Court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence’ into:
Be quiet? Omissions may haunt you
Speak? Admissions may damn you

As a saviour for poetry I’m not convinced this has any future – but it’s different and diverting.

Something topical…the G20

I spent most of the day not working and watching the protests on Sky and BBC news today, and remembering a time when I would have been there myself, before the Stop the War marches in 2003, when I saw that despite millions of people turning up to protest peacefully about something that was so obviously wrong nothing changed and nothing ever would.

Rowena Mason, blogging for the Telegraph put together a reading list for G20 leaders – books that she thought could have ‘helped to prevent this crisis – exposing greed, financial carelessness, complacent over-consumption and others qualities that went towards creating economic busts of the past’.

  • Money: a Suicide Note, by Martin Amis
  • Moll Flanders, by Daniel Defoe
  • Tulip Fever, by Deborah Moggach
  • American Pscyho, by Brett Easton Ellis (love, love, love Christian Bale in the film of this as it goes)
  • The Great Gatsby, by F Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
  • Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens
  • Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe
  • L’Argent, by Emile Zola

It’s not a bad list, as I’m so taken with The White Tiger at the moment I’d throw that in for good measure, maybe JM Coetzee’s Disgrace and no such list is complete without 1984 (natch) – but I don’t think reading any of these book would make the blindest bit of difference. Books are powerful things, but I don’t think they aren’t powerful enough to make a real difference anymore – but I’d love someone to contradict me on this!