Of Cabbages and Kings

March 14, 2010

Jeanette Winterson: I wanted to use myself as fiction and fact

Wonderful article in classic Winterson-style.

Excerpt:

When I published Oranges I was 25. Mrs Winterson said bitterly: “It’s the first time I have had to order a book in a false name.” So I knew I had won the story war between us, even though the name that I am known by, Jeanette Winterson, is itself a cover story for the other person, named but not known, the other self who was put in the crib by one mother and lifted out again, in a new version, by another mother.

What else could I be but a fiction writer?

Read the rest at the Times website.

May 2, 2009

Stephen Fry: Letter to himself

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Chinmayi @ 11:40 am

“I know the index-card waltz of (auto)biographies, poems and novels you are dancing: those same names are still so close to the surface of my mind nearly four decades later. Novels, poetry and the worlds of art and ideas are opening up in front of you almost incidentally. You spend all your time in the library yearning to be told that you are not alone, and an unlooked for side-effect of this just happens to be a real education achieved in a private school designed for philistine bumpkins. Being born queer has given you, by mistake, a fantastic advantage over the rugger-playing ordinaries who surround you.”

A lovely, funny, even heartbreaking letter to his younger self. I like this man more than ever. Read the whole letter here.

October 14, 2008

And the Booker goes to…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Chinmayi @ 9:54 pm

Aravind Adiga. I can’t say I approve, but what the heck… I’ll save what I never thought would be a valuable first edition copy for my descendants.

August 15, 2008

Buying books

Filed under: books, Personal, Random musing — Tags: , , , , — Chinmayi @ 1:02 pm

My mother was a huge believer in libraries. While growing up, the number of books that I had read was about 20 times more than the number I owned. So when I started earning, I bought books indiscriminately. I assumed, from years of habit, that I would have no dfficulty at all in reading all the books I bought. But that assumption omitted entirely to account for a tiring job that chained me to my desk for most of the week and compressed my entire personal life to about 15 hours a week so I had little time left to read. But buying books has always cheered me up like nothing else has, although thinking of neglected languishing unread books breaks my heart.

I have been unemployed these last few months thanks to some health issues and a way out. Suddenly I have no income but I do have time to read again. And so I make furtive trips to the bookstore every week and come back with arms full of books and with a lot of joy tinged with a little guilt. Although I have given up buying expensive shoes and perfume, and drinking expensive cocktails, I do wonder sometimes whether all these books I buy are an extravagance.

So you can why I was delighted to read this article which validates my book-buying (along with the Orwell essay referenced by the author). This one is for all those who sneak into Blossom Book House (or your local equivalent) regularly and stare longingly at the pile of books you have gathered wondering exactly how many you can buy without being deemed an out and out libertine. Banish the guilt!

August 4, 2008

The White Tiger – Aravind Adiga

Filed under: books — Tags: , , , , — Chinmayi @ 8:48 pm

I was going through the Booker longlist recently and I noticed one Aravind Adiga on it. A new Indian author, who has made the longlist with his first book. I was intrigued and very eager to explore the fresh ground. So I trotted off and bought myself a copy of the White Tiger.

And I shall soon donate the odious thing to one those half-crazed Chetan Bhagat fans. Only somebody that reads one book in three years and enjoys it because it is like a stupid movie on paper is at all capable of enjoying the thing. You will notice that the sort of people that read this sort of book have a distressing tendency of describing it as “gr8”.

Actually that is much harsher than necessary. It is just that I am shocked that that this book has made the longlist. Adiga is nowhere close to being in the same the league as Amitav Ghosh and Rushdie.

To be fair, The White Tiger is neither boring nor badly written. It is clever and very entertaining (and mocks many ideas that are taken very seriously in India), and contains some very astute observations about class and disempowerment in India. The relationship between master and servant is portrayed accurately and quite quite mercilessly. I’d make it compulsory reading for kids in upmarket high schools simply so they see all the bossing around of household help at their homes for what it is.

The redeeming aspects of the book are exactly what make it such a pity. As I read it, I kept thinking about how nicely it could have turned out if the author had used enough craft while fashioning the narrative… if he had bothered to scratch further during his research and expand and make the unicoloured chatter of his book into a rich and beautiful tapestry. It is particularly unfortunate that this book has come after Kiran Desai who has demonstrated how beautifully perspectives and threads can be used to tell a story.

I think that I am glad I read it after all, and I would suggest that other people read it too – not because it is a particularly staggering piece of literature but because it takes you to parts of the country that very few readers have been to, even if those parts are as close as the the slums in the next block, or the servants quarters in their own houses. It tells the story of the people that make this country tick, and does so without putting you sleep or making you cry. And despite my initial wave of irritation with the book I vow that if the simplicity and the humour of the book draws a larger audience to it, I will never say anything nasty about Adiga again since he will have made the blinkered Indian middle class people walk around in other people’s shoes without them ever suspecting that they have done anything of the kind.

Update:

An astute analysis for anyone who is wondering exactly what was so unconvincing about the book

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