Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Voices from the Other Side: SWF

Had this opportunity to attend the Monday evening session mysteriously called “The Other Voice - Writings from the Other Side” though by mistake I missed out on Aniruddha Bahal's talk on investigative journalism in India. I had somehow thought that Bahal's session will follow the Voices session but, no, I was wrong. Why do festival organisers do this? There should not be any simultaneous sessions at all! It makes our life tough guys.

The charming Deepika Shetty of CNA was again compering the panel discussion. The participants were an eclectic mix of writers: Suhayl Saadi from Scotland, Ouyang Yu from Australia, Laksmi Pamuntjak from Indonesia, Dr. Rudhramoorthy Cheran from Canada and Felix Cheong from Singapore. The panelists attempted to look at the issues of identity especially in the context of living and writing in an alien culture and sometimes in a second (alien) language.

Deepika had an interesting way of introducing the topic. She clarified that the session was not about the voices from the "other world" (horror of horrors!) but was about identities and how writers struggled to deal with them.

First, Felix recited some poems and enlivened the atmosphere with his performance. I loved his poem about the anguish of an abused wife. Terrific imagery!

Ouyang is an angry young man and he brought out the frustrations of a migrant life in his talk. His discussed some episodes of hostility faced by Asians in Australia. The Western people think that the only interesting book to have come out of this part of the world is the Wild Swans, he said! How funny! He read a poem on the future of the world, which was hilarious but biting.

Lakshmi read two of her poems but what I liked most was her introduction on the question of identity and of belonging to the other side--and who decides what? It was brilliant skeptical look at the issue of majorityism and minorityism. I wish I had recorded her intro.

Dr. Saadi, a medic turned novelist, read from his latest work, Psychoraag. He came across as a guy with deep knowledge and understanding of issues of racial stereotyping in the Western world. He has a powerful sense of words and he mixes languages beautifully. Even his novel has an interesting smattering of Urdu and Punjabi words redolent of lost languages and lost connections. "I am monolingual," he said. "English is my first language. But in a way, my using Urdu and Hindi and Punjabi words in my novel is an attempt to connect to the languages of my ancestors. I try but I fail and there's a struggle in that." "Probably people who know and use more languages are better at writing," he opined.

During a question answer session later on Dr. Saadi said that the publishers in UK were still trying to pigeonhole writers and their material in accordance with their skin color. He said that if he wrote stuff like Monica Ali he would be far more successful (his novels were not published by big publishers). He said that in fact agents and publishers in the West wanted him to write Monica Ali kind stuff. Depressing, isn't it?

I salute Dr. Saadi for speaking the truth. He also gave some tips on writing short stories that I am going to cherish and practice.

Dr. Cheran's work is mostly in Tamil and he shared with us a few of his poems. He talked about the struggle of straddling the two worlds of Tamil and English. His creative language, he said, was Tamil even though he was at home in English.

I enjoyed my interaction with Dr. Saadi after the session. Walking off, I saw Anirudhha Bahal talking with Bruce Sterling at the Kinukuniya Book Bar. Bahal is as tall as his fellow Tehelka-ite Tarun Tejpal but seems to have developed a paunch. Earlier in the evening, I had seen Sterling buy a copy of Wei Hui's Shanghai Baby. Clearly, Hui had a made an impact on the sci fi writer):

Enough for tonight. More later. Cheers!

Tarun Tejpal reading from "Alchemy of Desire" Posted by Picasa

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Alchemy of Desire: SWF

I have always admired Tarun Tejpal, India's ace journalist, editor, publisher and now a novelist. I was excited knowing that Tarun was coming for a talk in the Singapore Writers Festival. Yesterday, an anxious crowd listened to this man who knew the secrets of The Alchemy of Desire (the title of his novel). The organizer of the Bali Writers Festival had especially flown in to listen to Tarun--such is the pull of this ponytailed creative powerhouse! In the audience, I could see writers like Manju Kapoor (Difficult Daughters) and Suhayl Saadi (The Burning Mirror), and Ruttawut L. (Sightseeing).

Tarun was introduced by Channel NewsAsia anchorperson, Deepika Shetty. She had already interviewed him for her Off the Shelf programme (here is the transcript). She spoke glowingly about this man who had changed whatever he had touched. His Tehelka expose, the discovery of Arundhati Roy through his publishing firm, IndiaInk, and now a novel that was getting noticed in the literary circles.

Tarun read from his novel several passages. The language was powerful, magical and poetic. Then questions and answers followed.

Tarun said that he was first and foremost a journalist but at heart a lover of literary fiction. He didn't see much conflict between the two vision: the journalistic vision and the novelist's vision. Though this is a debatabale point, he held forth by saying this: "A novel presents the inner world of its characters whereas journalism or non-fiction is about the manifest realities."

"In that sense, by playing that role, literature will always survive. Books will always survive, more than many of the physical forms of today's world," he said.

Tarun did not have much regard for the fame and hoopla surrounding his novel or many Indian novels of late. "This is the fluff of art," he said. "The true worth of a book will be known only 10 years or 15 years down the line--we will have to see if the readers still reached for this book, if it was still wanted." I could not agree more with this Naipaulian truth. I must mention here that Tarun and Naipaul are very good friends.

Tarun wrote the novel in 16 months during the toughest period of his life, he said. "I was being hounded by the government after the Tehelka expose and the novel was his 'centre of calm'," he said. "I returned to it everyday to find my calm."

"Did he always want to become a writer?" I asked him.

"In India, anyone who could write a straight line of English dreamed of writing a novel one day and I'm no different," he said.

He said that he was looking for his voice, the tone of the novel, for a long time but it only came during the worst period of his life.

About the Tehelka and its aftermath, he said: "I don't regret it. I am proud of it, and I am proud of it that it happened in India. I know scores of countries where it could have happened and the journalists would not have come out of it alive. I felt, during this time, I have lived a four or five lifetimes."

During the Tehelka expose, Tarun confronted fear. "Yes, fear came to me but once I crossed the line of fear, I felt so free. Fear is just a line in the mind. Once you cross it, that's it. Ater that it's a different experience. Once I had decided that at most they would put a bullet through my head, I thought: big deal! Then it was over for me. Everything became different..."

On the art of writing the novel, he said: "Writing journalism is like hugging the shore, to use an Updikian phrase. But writing a novel is like navigating in the open sea. You need to have your senses gathered to navigate the ship to a piece of a land. That's the ability needed to write a good novel."

He was influenced by Kafka and Orwell, among many other writers. No wonder as Tarun has gone through Kafkaesque experiences during the investigation and the crackdown on his office. He admired Orwell a lot. "Here was a courageous guy who went to fight someone else's war just because of his convictions. I don't think we are like him any more. We have much more secure lives. Even at the worst of the times, I had 24-hour police security with me!"

On the whole, it was an enriching session. After the talk, Tarun was surrounded by his admirers. There were many people who wanted his autograph on a copy of his novel. I gently slipped out of the room.

Sex and Desire in Asian Writing: SWF

There were two interesting sessions in the evening yesterday: "Sexuality and Desire in Asian Writing" and "The Alchemy of Desire."

"Sexuality and Desire in Asian Writing" was a panel discussion consisting of writers Gerrie Lim (Invisible Trade), Wei Hui (Shanghai Baby; Marrying Buddha), and Isa Kamari (Kiswah in Malay). After basic introductions to their life and works, the floor was thrown open for a discussion. So far, this was the most crowded event, thanks to the theme.

The svelte Wei Hui with her long straight hair and a "notorious writer" reputation was the cinesure of the gathering, and the other two panelists, expectedly, kept turning to her for her nodding approvals every now and then. Isa even thanked her for inspiring him to write his controversial novel "Kiswah". The novel has been deemed pornographic in the Malay circles, Isa informed us. But he said that since the novel had gone into a second edition, it was enough proof of its being successful. "I write about things that disturb me," he said. "Through this novel, I wanted to explore the sexuality of a Malay male."

Wei Hui writes in Chinese but she was catapulted to fame by her debut novel, Shanghai Baby, a poetic, bittersweet and subtly spiritual tale of one woman's quest for personal fulfillment and drive for creative expression in Shanghai. Banned in China, Shanghai Baby brought Wei Hui fame and notoriety in the country of her birth. One of China's new generation of bad-girl novelists who write candidly about sex, drugs and nightlife, Wei Hui's latest novel is Marrying Buddha, a continuation of Shanghai Baby and her second semi-autobiographical novel of desire and lust, this time set in New York.

"I combine sex and spirituality in my novels," she said. "I say don't be ashamed of your sexuality. I show that even Buddhism can be sexy," she added. "Sex serves as a sugar coating to convey messages in my books."

I wanted to ask her what messages was she trying to convey through her books. Didn't get the chance to ask the questions. Poeple were really enthusiastic and were ready with many questions on sex and sexuality. Someone asked whether they were ashamed of writing such sexy stuff. Obviously, they were not.

Wei Hui dismissed the claim that the East was more prudish than the West. It is stereotyping, she said. During her tour of America, Wei claimed that she found the country to be far more prudish than Asia (barring New York). The Kamasutra, The Perfumed Garden, The Inner Chamber (?)--all came from Asia, the authors opined.

Gerrie Lim, the author of Invisible Trade, the best-selling expose of the escort business in Singapore, said that he wrote the book not because he believed that sex sells but because he wanted to study a subculture (of escorts, karaoke girls, S&M workers, etc). Gerrie has an interesting career. He wrote the porn star interview column Cinema Blue for Penthouse Variations and was nominated for an AVN Internet Award for his work as an editor for Swelinda, the official website of the Swedish porn star Linda Thoren. His new book, Idol to Icon: The Creation of Celebrity Brands, is the result of his 25-year relationship with the entertainment industry, which he reported on for numerous magazines in the United States, most notably Billboard, Details, Playboy, LA Style, LA Weekly and The Wall Street Journal. The book had been launched in the afternoon the same day.

Gerrie has finished writing a new book and is going to announce it soon, in one of the festival events. Should be interesting.

I will write about the "The Alchemy of Desire" in my next post.

SWF: Women and Crime

I was late when I reached to attend a session on "Women and Crime" late in the afternoon yesterday. The panel comprised three writers: Kathryn Fox (Australia), F T Batacan (Philipines) and Nuri Vittachi (Hong Kong).

When I entered the Black Box, a Q&A session was on. Members of the audience were keen to know several things. Some of the questions were interesting: Why is there so much of crime writing in the West? And why is there so little of crime writing in the East?

Vittachi said that love and death were two primary human emotions and that's why almost all bestsellers belonged to the genre of either romance or crime. He said that even the best children's fiction writers such as Philip Pullman were writing about love and death in their novels.

Batacan said that death is such a personal inevitability, an experience that everyone has to go through that there is a certain affinity to it. We are curious to know about it, and that's what we do through the crime novels.

Kathryn Fox said something that I don't remember. She was so good looking! She is a doctor turned writer.

As for why so few crime writers from the East, Vittachi said that it was not just about the crime writers published internationally from the East but in general about writers in English from the East. He said that the simple reason was that there was no machinery to promote writers from this region: no literary agents, no publishers, no editors. But there was hope, he said. Two literary agents are now setting up office in Asia: one in China and another in Hong Kong.

Vittachi himself is one of the few Asia-based novelists to be internationally published in multiple languages. He has written more than 20 books, and has more than 100,000 books in print. He is best known for comedy-crime novel series The Feng Shui Detective, about a Singapore-based feng shui master. Born in Ceyon, he now lives in Hong Kong with his English wife and three adopted Chinese children.

Vittachi jokingly added that there used to be a literary agent in Hong Kong. She unfortunately had no writers to represent and so she had to shut shop! Too bad.

Things would be better now, I guess.

Singapore Writers Festival: Glimpses

Writers' Festivals are exciting events. Just to see the writers read, speak, laugh, retort and become friendly with their readers and fans is an electrifying experience in itself. It makes me believe that yes, there are still people around who care about writing and writers.

I was looking forward to the Singapore Writers Festival 2005. The event was publicised in different media, including roadside hoardings. It was marketed like any other event. The venue for most of the events is the newly-opened futursitic National Library Building. All exciting stuff!

I could not, however, manage to attend the opening ceremony. The first event I attended was "Writing Sci Fi." The speaker was Bruce Sterling, the well-known American science fiction writer. Bruce was one of the most prominent voices of the cyberpunk revolution. Well, to be honest, I haven't ready many science fiction novels, and definitely none of Bruce's works. So I will not comment on that side. But yes, if you want to know why I was there to listen to a sci-fi writer, the answer is very simple: I had never heard or met a sci fi writer before. All my gods are literary fiction writers and yet I was there to listen to this sci fi writer. I wanted to stretch my imagination.

Bruce, sort of, spoke in a gentle monotone and his observations often contained insights about the future world. Bruce has been teaching futuristic design in an American school for about a year now, apart from writing his novels. He spoke about sustainability, bio hazards, futursitic industrial design, and spy chips. He said that in future, the disctinction between the real world and the online world (internet) will more or less disappear and each and every object on the earth will be traceable, be it solid or liquid. He talked about the need for biodegradibility of material substances. Otherwise, he said, the toxins would seep into our bodies and become part of it, alterning and damaging our systems. He talked at length about the spy chips and how they could come handy for terrorists' purposes. But all these developments, he said, will come at the cost of our privacy. There will be no privacy in the world in future. I shuddered.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Novel vs. Short Story

Personally, I have always been a fan of short stories. I like my Carver and Chekhov better than Hemingway and Updike but no doubt all of them are oh so good.

There is no special enmity towards novels though. Mark it down to my laziness and short attention span. Big, fat novels scare me. So, I am always drawn to short stories. But in the last few years, a writer was not supposed to have made it unless he had done a couple of novels before his short stories could be taken seriously, even though veterans like Naipaul had declared the form (novel) to be dead.

Recently, there was this news that non-fiction was beating fiction (read novels) in the book shops. I was not surprised to hear this. I had been noticing the trend. After all, we are living in the age of reality TV and 24-hour news channels. How could they not succeed when there was hunger in people to know the real-life stories around them?

The latest news is that the short story form is being given a new lease of life by The Spectator in the UK and by in the US by constituting awards and making them especially available in digital formats (in the case of the latter).

"Alex Linklater, deputy editor of Prospect magazine, spoke out today in support of the short story. "The novel is a capacious old whore: everyone has a go at her, but she rarely emits so much as a groan for their efforts," he said. "The short story, on the other hand, is a nimble goddess: she selects her suitors fastidiously and sings like a dove when they succeed. The British literary bordello is heaving with flabby novels; it's time to give back some love to the story."

No body will complain but the fact is a lot of people have been writing hundreds of thousands of short stories on the web. There are a large number of e-zines on the web already promoting short stories, and honestly, they are doing it without any hope of earning profits or increasing their bottomlines.

So, what will happen after constituting the new awards and opening new platforms? More established writers will now get a chance to get their stories published there. You will see the same old literary mafia over there, with an occasional lucky chik or lad getting the crowning glory for the sake of credibility. Skeptical, uh? Yes, I am. I always am. Look what is doing: "Authors on board for the launch include Audrey Niffenegger (author of the bestseller The Time Traveller's Wife), with a short story about a man with a celestial infection, crime writer James Lee Burke with a coming-of-age-drama and Richard Rhodes with an essay on the birds of the Pacific."

Coming back to the topic of novels, does everyone has a novel inside them? Tim Clare ponders over this question here. Tim thinks no. Publishers need to be selective and most of them are fair to the new talents. So, everything is all right in the publishing world except that there are publishers like MacMillan who are promoting writers who are evidently less talented through special programmes.

Tim says:

"Every industry needs quality control. One thing that differentiates the publishing world from, say, the medical world, is that stitching an abdominal suture requires specific qualifications, whereas writing a novel calls for skills which, though far less quantifiable, are absolutely necessary for success. Just because hospitals lack the resources to field hundreds of requests a week from people wanting to perform open-heart surgery, it does not follow that the medical world is some kind of shadowy clique.

Queuing is what made our nation great. If anything, the British publishing industry is too open to new writers at the expense of skilled stalwarts. Cheap as chips enterprises such as the Macmillan New Writing imprint saturate the market and harm the prestige of publication. Picking authors before they're ripe represents a bad deal for all concerned. Instead of promoting an attitude of "everyone has won and all shall have prizes", the industry needs to remind people that brilliant writing is very, very hard, that there are many dragons to be fought on the way to publication, and that perishing in the battle is no shame."

So, all writers will have to stand in the queue, waiting for their chance, telling themselves until they die: "perishing in the battle is no shame...perishing in the battle is no shame...perishing in the battle is no shame..."


Monday, August 22, 2005

Islamic World's Road to Perdition

Read my op-ed piece "Islamic World's Road to Perdition" in today's Bangkok Post.

Any comments?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Arundhati hints at writing a new novel

In this brilliant interview in The Outlook, Arudhati Roy hints at the possibility of writing another novel. After her award-winning debut novel, The God of Small Things, Roy had veered off into the realm of political activism and non-fiction writing. He scathing essays and speeches on American hegemony, nuclearisation, globalization and human rights violation in India and the world have won her many admirers all over the world. Her fans, however, wondered if she would ever pen another novel. In this interview, she says she might. Excerpts:

It has been eight years since ‘The God of Small Things’. Is there a second novel in you or has too much politics meant the end of Arundhati Roy’s imagination? You have also been talking of disengaging from political writing?

All writing is political. Fiction is especially subversive. But it’s time for me to change gear. I am sort of up for anything right now, which is exciting. Let’s see what happens.

Read the full interview here. It's interesting.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Where will the next Arundhati Roy come from?

In his essay, "The lost sub-continent" (The Guardian, Aug 13 ), William Dalrymple argues that the next batch of successful Indian writers in English will emerge from the Diaspora, not from amongst those writers who are living and working on the Indian soil. He says:

"If the last few years are anything to go by, I suspect that in the years ahead the main competition Indian writers aspiring to win the Booker will face will not be the Alan Hollinghursts or the AS Byatts, so much as their own cousins born and brought up in the west."

And why this will be so:

"Writers such as Kunzru, born in Hounslow or Edgware or Brooklyn or New Jersey, have a clear and built-in advantage over their cousins brought up in Jhansi or Patna. They have far more confidence in English, and their ethnicity and geography makes them natural bridges between cultures, able automatically to translate an Indian sensibility for the west - if that is what they want to do. Certainly, their background effortlessly puts them in a position to draw together a range of different influences, to work with ease in India and Britain and the US, and to produce art that is readily comprehensible at both ends of the globe."

I guess William has a point here. But the fact is that this has always been the case, with the exception of Roy (incidently, Amit Chaudhuri has returned to his native Bengal from Oxford). For example, what did Picador discover in India? Only Rajkamal Jha and Siddharth Deb?

The fact is the market for Indian (and even African) writing in English is not in India but in America and Europe. It is natural that Indian writers, who have degrees and addresses in London or New York, will succeed as they have better access to literary agents or publishers. Also, the lack of a literary culture in India, especially in centres like Delhi as noted by William, will not be a problem for Indian writers in the West.

Agreed that a majority of 'successful' Indian writers in English will emerge from the diaspora, but I am not sure if all of them will be delivering masterpieces. We never know when another Roy emerges from the shadowy towns of Jhansi or Patna! Who had imagined that such a "Tigerwoodsian" debut-making writer from Kerala would take the literary world by storm? In literature the possibilities are always there.

I had noted the "there is much money in crearive writing these days" scene in Nair's Monsoon Wedding. But to me, that came off as more of satirical comment than anything else. In India, whoever can afford, is either going for a foreign MBA or Creative Writing or Filmmaking course. For Indians, what matters is money and the limelight ('the obsession with sucess'). That will always be the attraction. Remember the "Miss India" craze a few years ago after Aishwarya-Sushmita success?

I liked the description of Delhi mushairas in the essay. Yes, that culture is, alas, gone now. Then artists were patronised by rich nobles. Not any more.

The lack of non-fiction writing in India is because of the incestous nature of the world of Indian publishing. Editors will commission books to only those whom they know only, and won't give chance to new people or look for new talent. Also, where are the lit agents for the Indian market?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Singaporeans celebrating National Day at Padang on Aug 9
 Posted by Picasa

The Irascible Prophet

Time for a quick literary quiz.

He does not like what Graham Green did to himself.

You know, he took the Graham Greene figure to the Congo, took him to Argentina, took him to Haiti, for no rhyme or reason.

His heroes are Tolstoy and Dickens.

He followed Conrad in his journey.

He finds Proust ''tedious,'' ''repetitive,'' ''self-indulgent,'' concerned only with a character's social status.

He does not like ''Ulysses'' too -- ''the Irish book...and other works that have to lean on borrowed stories.''

He also finds Stendhal ''repetitive, tedious, infuriating.''

And his greatest disappointment is Flaubert.

Who is he?

Who else but the cantankerous prophet, V S Naipaul.

Naipaul always raises important issues. He declared the novel form dead long ago, and yet he writes one or two every few years. He says, in a recent NYT interview, that he found the non-fiction form much more satisfying and honest. Excerpts:

''If you write a novel alone you sit and you weave a little narrative. And it's O.K., but it's of no account,'' Naipaul said. ''If you're a romantic writer, you write novels about men and women falling in love, etc., give a little narrative here and there. But again, it's of no account.''

What is of account, in Naipaul's view, is the larger global political situation -- in particular, the clash between belief and unbelief in postcolonial societies.

Read this fascinating interview with this great writer with Rachel Danadio here. Includes MP3s. Go for it.

The Booker Longlist

So, there is going to be blood on the carpet.

I'm back to the Booker issue. The Independent carries a cantankerous take on the Booker tamasha.

"Every year in the August dog days, the conclave of five Man Booker Prize judges sends out smoke that's not yet white but a tantalising shade of grey. They deliver an interim report on the state of British, Commonwealth and Irish fiction in the form of a long-list. Every year, critics duly play the game of lauding, trashing or carping at the choices made. More of that later. But who ever bothers to judge the judges?" asks Boyd Tonkin.

"This selection reads more like an invitation to an upmarket vicarage tea-party than to a showdown in a blood-stained warehouse," he says.

I love it man!

Don't miss this Boyd piece.

And there are some more tidbits about the Booker Prize here:

As per The Telegraph, the longlist announces a fight for the PRIZE among the bigwigs like Rushdie and McEwan and Coetzee. So, what are the new comers doing here? "But among them are three first-time novelists, who add human drama to literary suspense," says Nigel Reynolds.
Adding human drama to literary suspense! Sounds like a theatre, no?

And there is more dope.

Harry Thompson, 45, one of television's most successful comedy producers - who has been long-listed out of the blue for his first work of fiction - was recently found to be suffering from inoperable lung cancer.

That is sad.

In contention for the first time is Zadie Smith.

John Sutherland, the chairman of the judges, said after yesterday's 90-minute long-list meeting: "This has been an exceptional year, and in the judges' opinion may rank as one of the strongest ever."

We know how Mr Smith must be feeling. Is that being mean?

Fiction: Rise or Fall?

So, fiction is back in the debate. Two views, it seems, are running concurrently about fiction, one for it and one against it.

On August 7, the U.K.'s The Guardian and the U.S.'s The New York Times ran a piece each on fiction's current status in our mindscape.

In The Guardian Jason Cowley painted a hopeful picture. He said that novels have made an invigorating comeback after the despondency that followed the 9/11 watreshed:

"Yet the evidence from the new novels I have read so far this year is quite the contrary - our writers have not allowed the extremity of 11 September and the wars that have followed to silence or defeat them; their imaginations seem far from meagre. The 'culture' is not overwhelming them. Quite the opposite, in fact, because this is, I think, perhaps the richest year for contemporary British and Commonwealth fiction since the launch of the Booker Prize in 1969, with most of our best novelists ...Having read most of these novels, as well as outstanding books from emerging writers, I would argue that the novel, so often declared dead or moribund by VS Naipaul and other cultural pessimists, is as vital now in this time of profound political crisis as it has ever been - and continues, through the popularity of reading groups and the huge influence of television programmes such as the Richard and Judy Book Club as well as the astonishing popularity of global bestsellers such as the Harry Potter books and Dan Brown's conspiracy thrillers, to be the principal artistic form of our times."

On the other hand, Rachel Donadio, sees the emergence of creative non-fiction as the substitute for the space so far claimed by fiction--short stories and novels. She has Naipaul and McEwan to buttress her argument. Naipaul said in a recent interview that "nonfiction is better suited than fiction to capturing the complexities of today's world."

The novelist Ian McEwan expressed similar sentiments when he said that after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, he turned to history books, and books on Islam and imperialism. ''For a while I did find it wearisome to confront invented characters,'' McEwan said on ''The Charlie Rose Show'' in March. ''I wanted to be told about the world. I wanted to be informed. I felt that we had gone through great changes, and now was the time to just go back to school, as it were, and start to learn.''

Rache says: Magazine editors apparently share these writers' sense of things. This spring, The Atlantic Monthly announced it would stop publishing fiction regularly, except for an annual summer issue. Around the same time, the new editor of The Paris Review, Philip Gourevitch, said he wanted the literary magazine to feature more nonfiction. GQ hasn't published fiction since 2003, and is undecided about whether to resume. Esquire, once the glimmering showcase of the postwar liter-ary scene, has also scaled back in recent years.

She further argues: Which is in part why the editors of The Atlantic Monthly decided to scale back on fiction. ''In recent years we have found that a certain kind of reporting -- long-form narrative reporting -- has proved to be of enormous value . . . in making sense of a complicated and fractious world,'' Cullen Murphy, the magazine's departing editor, wrote in an e-mail message. ''Certain kinds of nonfiction writing have claimed some of the territory once claimed by fiction. Not because nonfiction writing has become 'fictional,' in the sense of taking liberties, but because certain traits that used to be standard in fiction, like a strong sense of plot and memorable characters in the service of important and morally charged subject matter, are today as reliably found in narrative nonfiction as they are in literary fiction. Some might even say 'more reliably' found.''

I tend to agree with Rachel. Personally, for every novel, I am reading at least 3 non-fiction titles these days.

For an idea, look at my current reading list:

In fiction, the last novel I read was Hari Kunzru's Transmission. And a graphic novel, Sin City.

After that I have been reading non-fiction: The Lexus and The Olive Tree; Good Muslim, Bad Muslim; Holy Wars; and Living to Tell the Tale (memoirs of Marquez).

Creative non-fiction is so germane, so no-nonsense and so gripping that at times it is difficult not to believe the cliche that truth is stranger (and stronger) than fiction. What do you say?

Parade & Booker

Day before yesterday I went to see Singapore's National Day Parade at Padang. It was an impressive show but after sitting in the sun for close to three hours, I returned home with a fever. I was gounded for a day. Was it the price exacted by my jealous Indian patriotism? I don't know.

Returned to the blogospehere today. Everyone is talking about the Booker Longlist. As expected all the bigwigs are there: Coetzee, Rushdie, Ishiguro, and Ian McEwan. Haven't read any of the selected books but Coetzee's Slow Man sounds most interesting, followed by McEwan's Saturday and Rushdie's Shalimar The Clown.

I wonder why Vikram Seth's novel (to be released at about the same time as Rushdie's Shalimar The Clown) did not make it to the longlist.

Any way, my Malaysia friends are especially happy for Tash Aw. His Harmony Silk Factory has been longlisted; and undoubtedly, it is an achievement in itself.

Two other firt-timers who have been longlisted include Marina Lewycka (A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian) and Harry Thompson (This Thing of Darkness). Marina's novel was a contender for this year's Orange also.

In all, I'd say, we have three Asian immigrant writers on the longlist: Rushdie, Ishiguro, and Aw. Three cheers!

The big question is: who is going to win the prize? Does it matter, actually? I find the prizes a little silly but my hunch is it will be McEwan. Otherwise, it can be one of the non-biggies. Let's keep our fingers crossed.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Has Rushdie lost it?

Has Rushdie lost it?

Amitava Kumar thinks so. In an article in Tehelka, he declares:

...A remarkable passage, and because everything in Rushdie is ultimately about him, it can be said that the inhumanity of the fatwa and the celebrity that has been his fate has left him with a prize. Is this what he wanted? His characters in the last few books — Max Ophuls, Malik Solanka, Vina Apsara, Ormus Cama— are all stars. All his books now are about the house of power and fame. On the strength of what he has written in the past, Rushdie has the right to feel contempt for “the envious, impotent crowd,” but who is to bring him the sad news that he is only writing self-help manuals for those who want to be counted among the bold and the beautiful?

Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown--the story of a cuckolded taxi driver who murders his wife's paramour--is going to be out soon. Going by this piece, things don't augur well for him. But I wish him all the best! Anyway, I love his non-fiction better.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Slush pile superstars

We all dread the slush pile. No one wants to get there, but sometimes one could get lucky.

An experienced editor bares it all:

On the first day of my new job in the editorial department of a small publishing house, I found a note from my predecessor. "Open all unsolicited manuscripts," it read. "Log them in the slush pile book. Read them and reject them." It was 1984.

Twenty-one years later, the climate appears to be changing.

Read the complete piece here.