Saturday, September 28, 2013

Literature today: Pankaj Mishra on global novel

"Literature today seems to emerge from an apolitical and borderless cosmopolis. Even the mildly adversarial idea of the “postcolonial” that emerged in the 1980s, when authors from Britain’s former colonial possessions appeared to be “writing back” to the imperial centre, has been blunted. The announcement this month that the Man Booker, a literary prize made distinctive by its Indian, South African, Irish, Scottish and Australian winners, will henceforth be open to American novels is one more sign of the steady erasure of national and historical specificity.

Tim Parks, among others, has deplored the dominance of the “global novel” as practised by Haruki Murakami, Umberto Eco, Kazuo Ishiguro and Salman Rushdie. Marked by an internationally identifiable and translatable literariness, not to mention cuddly-bear politics, such fictions threaten to render obsolete, according to Parks, “the kind of work that revels in the subtle nuances of its own language and literary culture”. More recently, the English critic Philip Hensher has complained that “a superficial multicultural aspect” of this year’s Man Booker shortlist conceals “a specifically North American taste”.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Literature is always about bygone times: Amos Oz

Literature is always about bygone times. It’s always looking back in time with a certain perspective. I look at bygone life which no longer exists and, as I said, I look at it without nostalgia but without anger either. I look at it with criticism and with compassion. I look at it with curiosity. I look at it with fascination, and I look at it with a certain smile.

                                                                  # #

Language is my craft, language is my musical instrument. I treat the language the way the violinist treats the violin, and for me the most important thing in my writing and in my teaching is precision

                                                                   # #

I never regarded myself as a prophet; I can’t read the future and I don’t have any particular wisdom which other people don’t have. I have imagination and I use it in my political thinking. I ask myself, from time to time, how would I feel if I were a Palestinian under Israeli occupation. I ask myself, from time to time, how would I feel if I were an Orthodox Jew. I ask myself, from time to time, how would I feel if I were an Oriental Sepharadi Jew in a developing town  and I use my imagination in my political manifestations. But no, I never regarded myself as a prophet.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Amitav Ghosh interview

"Writing about King Thibaw was one of the most difficult things I have done in fiction. There are sources for Thibaw but very little has actually been written about him. When I was writing the opening sections of The Glass Palace, I was completely stuck for a long time. I have a rule when I am stuck—I read the Russians because, somehow, Russian literature has the answers.  In this particular case, it was Solzhenitsyn’s Aug­ust 1914. It may not be one of his great novels but there’s a long section on what happens in the head of Tsar Alexander on the cusp of the Russian Revolution. Reading that became very empowering for me; I felt if Solzh­enitsyn can do this with the Tsar, I can do it with King Thibaw."


 "The Shadow Lines had no hype when it came out, I wasn’t even in India. Ravi, who I miss so much, believed in it and it had a succes d’estime but over time it found an audience. My next book, In An Antique Land, was non-fiction and it sank without a trace. There go four years of my life, I thought, but today, it’s the most read of my books. There are translations in Arabic and Hebrew. There was no single turning point; books accrue a readership over time."

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Writing stories in this tech-savvy time

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Amazon's book world: Jonathan Franzen's take

Jeff Bezos of Amazon may not be the antichrist, but he surely looks like one of the four horsemen. Amazon wants a world in which books are either self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion. The work of yakkers and tweeters and braggers, and of people with the money to pay somebody to churn out hundreds of five-star reviews for them, will flourish in that world. But what happens to the people who became writers because yakking and tweeting and bragging felt to them like intolerably shallow forms of social engagement? What happens to the people who want to communicate in depth, individual to individual, in the quiet and permanence of the printed word, and who were shaped by their love of writers who wrote when publication still assured some kind of quality control and literary reputations were more than a matter of self-promotional decibel levels? As fewer and fewer readers are able to find their way, amid all the noise and disappointing books and phony reviews, to the work produced by the new generation of this kind of writer, Amazon is well on its way to making writers into the kind of prospectless workers whom its contractors employ in its warehouses, labouring harder for less and less, with no job security, because the warehouses are situated in places where they're the only business hiring. And the more of the population that lives like those workers, the greater the downward pressure on book prices and the greater the squeeze on conventional booksellers, because when you're not making much money you want your entertainment for free, and when your life is hard you want instant gratification ("Overnight free shipping!").

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Junot Diaz interview

"A lot of artists are figuring out how to make fucking money. I’m not saying that’s what these cats are doing – Lethem’s been in the game from the beginning. He started out as a hardcore genre writer and became a literary writer. But ultimately, I think it’s a matter of privilege. Literary writers can attack new markets without ever losing their cachet as literary writers. I don’t think that tide has raised the boats of genre writers. A literary writer who writes a sci-fi novel will get a fucking Guggenheim. A genre writer who is classically genre, writing a genre book, will not get a fucking Guggenheim
I’m less interested in a kind of artistic zeitgeist as much as I am in IPE, international political economy. If there were no money to be made from genre, would anyone be doing this? Part of my interest in doing a genre book was actually to put that question front and center. Because the funny thing about being a person of color is you’re already being considered a fucking genre, you know? Or better yet, you’re already being considered science fiction."

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Lit News: Pynchon's new novel BLEEDING EDGE is out

Bleeding Edge , Thomas Pynchon's new novel, is out today. Will it be Pynchon's best novel ever?

"Every book critic, novelist, internet mogul and private eye is as much a living, breathing cartoon as those that Pynchon creates. Whether we see each other as superficial caricatures or flesh and blood is our choice, and we face that choice every time we pass each other, above ground, below it, or online."

Monday, September 16, 2013

What e-books sell, and why

No one knows what sells, or why. Having a well-known name, lots of publicity, a brand, a blog, 10,000 Twitter friends--none of that makes people buy books. All of my experience points to the majority of my books sales due to Amazon's algorithms and website structure (reviews, bestseller lists, also bought, search engines.) Who I am outside of doesn't seem to matter much. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Literature and social media

 Literature is to society as the part of the brain called the hippocampus is to memory. The hippocampus is a small, seahorse-shaped part of the brain necessary for long-term storage of factual and experiential memory, though it is not the site of such storage. Short-term memory is transient; long-term memory can prevail for many decades. If the hippocampus is injured or atrophied, there is no memory. I think that art is the commemoration of life in its variety. The novel, for instance, is “historic” in its embodiment in a specific place and time and its suggestion that there is meaning to our actions. Without the stillness, thoughtfulness and depths of art, and without the ceaseless moral rigors of art, we would have no shared culture — no collective memory. As it is, in contemporary societies, where so much concentration is focused on social media, insatiable in its myriad, fleeting interests, the “stillness and thoughtfulness” of a more permanent art feels threatened.
--Joyce Carol Oates in The Washington Post

Friday, September 13, 2013

David Mitchell on Buddhism

: I am a kind of secular Buddhist. I meditate and find it very helpful, and Buddhism doesn't ask me to sacrifice my rationality or my common sense, it doesn't ask me to believe the impossible. I find it helpful to keep my mind under control, sane and calm. What happens after we die — I don't know, and I'm happy not to know. I feel I have no choice but to not know. Buddhism doesn't care if I don't accept its cosmology, I don't have to believe it all. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Gonçalo M. Tavares interview

"Evil is one of the themes that most interests me. In a certain way, the series of novels that I called The Kingdom (Jerusalem, Joseph Walser’s Machine, etcetera) are novels that try to understand evil, its emergence, its apparent concealment, its hovering over our heads. It might be wrong, but I have the sensation that evil is always around us, suspended, looking at us, waiting for us, as if from one moment to the next we could be the object of evil, victims therefore, or the subjects, of evil: tormentors. Evil circles around us, we can’t fully free ourselves from it. I’m very scared of people who say that they’ve already completely distanced themselves from evil, or those other people, naive ones, in my view, who say that some things that happened in the 20th century will never happen again because people, they say, have learned a lesson. I don’t believe that, and furthermore, I think that naïveté is the terrain where the greatest evil develops. Hence, for me, the importance of literature. If you asked me, in a word, what I think literature can give to a person, I would say once again: clarity. That is, the opposite of naïveté. I believe that evil is always present, threatening or tempting, and naïveté can lead people to confuse evil with other, much more enjoyable things. Literature, good literature, can help us, as readers, to be aware, to detect the symptoms of evil emerging. It’s not about becoming suspicious and cynical, it’s not that. It’s about becoming people who are aware; people who do not necessarily view the things that the whole of humanity seeks to acquire as good, wonderful things. We have to be aware of the signs because I think that history often repeats itself, only it becomes more and more violent. History, it seems to me, tends toward the repetition of evil but with more technologically advanced means each time. Hence, the state of awareness shouldn’t be, not even for a minute, suspended. Literature can help with this, but, obviously, there are many other things, beyond art and artists, that can help us to be aware: social media is, in that regards, one of the most relevant instruments. Moreover, it seems to me that one of the mottos of every newspaper, of every television or radio station, should be to increase the amount of clarity by the square meter. And literature should try to do the same."

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Read a Subimal Misra story

Hey, look, there’s Gandhi!
A staff fashioned from seasoned bamboo in his hand, he gazed vacantly at the road in front of him, in the direction of the thickly grown line of krishnachura trees, and the people crowded all around, threw money at him, at his standing image, they threw clinking, easy money. The same shaven head (did Gandhiji have a shaven head – oh, I don’t know), draped in a thin, sheet-like something, the dhoti he wore not quite touching his knees. Only if you looked carefully could you discern that his staff was not so well seasoned, and had not been pared, while Gandhi’s staff had been of seasoned bamboo, finely-pared and polished with oil. Cut-Ball did not hold such a finely-pared bamboo in his hand. 

Read on ...

Last days of a real writer

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Luis Borges quote

 “I write for myself and for my friends, and I write to ease the passing of time.”

Friday, September 6, 2013

The curious case of a Bengali writer being shot dead in Afghanistan

Sushmita Banerjee

How do you react to the news of a writer - a lady Bengali writer at that - being shot dead in Afghanistan by suspected Talibans?

Sushmita Banerjee captures the headline in all of Kolkata's morning dailies today. She is the author of Kabuliwala's Bangali Bou (A Kabuliwala's Bengali wife), a bestseller.

I haven't read the book - it's the not the kind of stuff I usually read - but I've come across her name in my newspaper  many a times. She was quite a daring lady, had her own set of rules in social life, but she was not what we call a non-conformist; she was also a bit of an adventurer. She married  a Kabuliwala who was a money-lender by profession, not by any means respectable to Bengali culture to which she belonged.

She had a miraculous escape from the clutches of Talibans when she went to Afghanistan the first time to live with her husband. Since then she had been living in Kolkata. But she went again recently, after a gap of some some fifteen years, to meet her husband. The Talibans did not miss their target this time.

How sad and bizarre!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Jáchym Topol interview

If there’s anything I hate more than the newspaper business, it’s the literary machinery, the author reading system, the festivalization of literature, the fact that nowadays authors aren’t just read but maybe even more so seen and heard.

via The Quarterly Conversation

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Cormac McCarthy quote

I’m not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.

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