Thursday, November 30, 2006

Hollingshead wins Bad Sex prize

From the Associated Press: Iain Hollingshead beat David Mitchell, Mark Haddon, Will Self and Thomas Pynchon to win the 'Bad Sex prize' which aims to skewer "the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel."

Iain Hollingshead won the literary award for his first novel, Twenty Something. The judges said that his description of "bulging trousers" and "a commotion of grunts and squeaks, flashing unconnected images and explosions of a million little particles," won him the prize.

Hollingshead, 25, received his award from rocker Courtney Love in London ceremony, said he was delighted to become the prize's youngest winner. "I hope to win it every year," he is reported to have said.

Other cringe worthy erotic writing of the past year were:

Tim Willcocks, The Religion: "In the pit of his stomach a cauldron boiled and some seething and nameless brew rose up through his spine and filled his brain with the Devil's Fire,"

David Mitchell, Black Swan Green: for a passage in which one character's breasts are compared to "a pair of Danishes" and another's to "two Space Hoppers."

Tom Pynchon, Against the Day: a scene involving a spaniel that ends: "Reader, she bit him."

Mark Haddon, A Spot of Bother: "Images went off in her head like little fireworks. The smell of coconut. Brass firedogs."

But one feels none match last years winner, food critic and novelist Giles Coren for comparing a male character's genitalia to a shower hose.

Full story:

Rent a blurb

From Outlook India.

Khushwant Singh says, "It's dishonest ... you're not judging a book by its merits but to please your friends. I do it because I can't say no."

Pankaj Misra says, 'We don't have a critical culture in English ... we rely on celebrity endorsements to assess a piece of writing.'

Whatever it is, it appears that Indian writers have developed name-dropping to a high art form. We are, of course, talking about the two or three line blurb on the back cover that helps to sell a new book.

Sheela Reddy reports how celebrity writers are wooed by publishers and new writers "to provide jacket blurbs for books they have neither the time nor enthusiasm to read."

William Dalrymple is described as a 'most promiscuous blurber' for "providing craftily worded lines of praise for books ranging from Suketu Mehta's Maximum City, Edward Luce's In Spite of the Gods and most recently Malvika Singh's Freeing the Spirit - The Iconic Women of Modern India ..." the report says he "gets 4-5 manuscripts a month from either first-time authors or their publishers."

The report also says how Kushwant Singh was approached by an MP who prides himself as a Punjabi writer 'with an English translation of his short stories.' "I like the fellow, so I gave in," he says, and how he "... kept ticking off more and more stories for me to read until I had to tell him: 'For god's sake, don't make me read the whole lot'."

Full story:

Six-year-old boy writes novel

The Independent: A six-year-old boy who turned stories of his toys' adventures into novel and whose book will be published in the UK claims as the world's youngest author.

'Christopher Beale completed his 1,500-word, five-chapter novel This and Last Season's Excursions when he was six years and 118 days old, beating the previous Guinness World Record by 42 days.'

Christopher who is from Zug in Switzerland, is now seven. He has landed a publishing contract with Aultbea Publishing and his book will be launched in London on 25 November.

'His story follows a boy and his favourite stuffed animals, his puppy Biscuit, his kitten Daisy and the fierce Big Hinnies, as they rescue owls, fight lions and search for a mysterious moving city, Quarles.'

Christopher has his own website,, and he says he is working on his second novel, in between playing football. (there is no mention of him going to school, but we suppose he does.)

Full story:

The Robert Pirsig interview

It was 1974 and I had not been long out of college when I was introduced to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Fooch. (I don't even know where he is now.) Was it the book I had been looking for? Maybe it was the book a lot of people were looking for at that time. It blew my mind away. The author was writing from so close to the edge - the verge of insanity - it was freaky. I loved it. (The only other time I have felt that was listening to Kurt Corbain for the first time). It was a new age book, long before the term New Age became fashionable and spawned a whole spew of wannabes. (Please don't even mention Deepak Chopra.)

According to The Guardian, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is the biggest-selling philosophy book ever. He was rejected 121 times (the most, according to the Guinness Book of Records) before he was published and has sold 5,000,000 copies.

Robert Pirsig, 78, who had an IQ of 170 when he was nine years old picked up Buddhism as a young GI in Korea. He was a 'radical, manic teacher in Montana making his freshmen sweat over a definition of 'quality'.' 'No two classes were the same. He made his students crazy by refusing to grade them, then he had them grade each other …'

Diagnosed as catatonic schizophrenia by a psychiatrist, Pirsig was treated at a mental institution. He had 'no job and no future in philosophy; his wife was mad at him, they had two small kids, he was 34 and in tears all day.'

When he was released, he got worse. He got crazier; pointed a gun at someone, he was committed by a court and underwent comprehensive shock treatment - they zapped his brain like they did the Jack Nicholson character in One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Zen came out in 1974, edited down from its original 800,000 words. George Steiner in the New Yorker likened it to Moby Dick. Robert Redford tried to buy the film rights but Pirsig refused.

Full story:,,1951397,00.html

Censorship in Iran

From The Guardian: Girl with a Pearl Earring has been banned in Iran after six print runs. This and 'Dozens of literary masterpieces and international bestsellers have been banned in Iran in a dramatic rise in censorship that has plunged the country's publishing industry into crisis ... under a cultural freeze instigated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.'

The report says that several thousand new and previously published works have been blacklisted by Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance.

Newly banned books include Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code 'for upsetting clerics within Iran's tiny Christian community'. (What, not bad prose?) And William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, Also banned are books featuring lyrics by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Doors, Black Sabbath, Queen and Guns n' Roses

Wasn't there a time when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wanted to allow women to watch football games?

Full story:,,1950280,00.html

Friday, November 17, 2006

Alice Munro's new book

From The San Diego Union-Tribune: In her new book The View From Castle Rock Alice Munro mixes stories with autobiography.

'Alice Munro has been writing fiction since 1950. She has only published short stories, unless one counts Lives of Girls and Women (1971), which is labeled a novel but is really a series of interlocking stories ...'

This is indeed remarkable, given how we live in an age where 1000 page plus footstools have become the norm, and where most publishers (particularly in the UK which publishes 200,000 books a year) will not even consider looking at a collection of short stories. Ask Tash Aw. But where would most readers be now if not for our diet (in our formative years) of Poe or Dahl? Or for that matter even PG Wodehouse? Or Phillip K Dick, Murakami and, of course, Borges. The list is too long. (Another short story writer I admire tremendously - especially for her technique - is Bharathi Mukherjee.) Yes, it is true that short story prizes are (slowly and, it appears, grudgingly) coming back, but the truth is it has become unfashionable to be seen (reading or not reading) a small book in public. The thicker the better it appears even if it is airport fiction or Harry Potter, like as if people who read thick books look more intelligent then those who read small ones. Try telling JM Coetzee or Milan Kundera that.

The San Diego Union-Tribune continues: But her new book surprises, for while it's billed as a collection of stories, it resides in a halfway house between fiction and autobiography ..." They were not memoirs," she writes in a Foreword, "but they were rather more personal than the other stories I had written, even in the first person."

Kenyans Ignore Their Own Writers

The East African Standard reports: "... the professor (Ngugi Wa Thiong'o) of comparative literature sat behind a lonely table for the launch of the second instalment of Murogi wa Kagogo ... launched a controversial novel and as silently as he arrived, departed ..."

Here are some extracts from the story:

"When I am through with this exam, books aside as my search for a job begins in earnest."

"There was no point in trying to stock books that my clients would not want to borrow ..."

"From the total respondents, 80 per cent said that they would subscribe to the library, with most of them preferring romantic and thriller novels ..."

"In many ways, the school curriculum has been blamed for the half-baked readers that the school system releases into the job market ..."

"Most of new graduates do not value reading for leisure and broadening of knowledge. Many admit that they read only when they have exams ... during literature lessons, learners are drilled for exams ..."

And finally this:

"Those who are not reading should not try to force others to think that no one reads any more," says Munene Wa Mumbi, a Nairobi-based journalist.