Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A short version of War and Peace

From The Independent Online:

It was 1,500 pages long, and by the time I reached the end I had forgotten what it was all about. I asked for it. I was about fourteen or fifteen and had just seen the movie - it was with Audrey Hepburn and Natasha is the only name I still remember. The movie was long enough. But I was a glutton for punishment. I also had to read Boris Pasternak and Dostoevsky. Now apparently they have discovered a shorter version with a difference - only 900 pages.

But the report says not everyone is pleased ... 'Academics fear many will be tempted to settle for what they regard as an unfinished version.'

This new book is, apparently, the life's work of a Russian scholar, Evelina Zaidenshnur, 'who for 50 years pored over thousands of pages to assemble Tolstoy's first draft, matching different inks, changes in handwriting and types of paper to piece together the author's earliest version.' Talk about no life!

An English translation of the work by Andrew Bromfield will be published by Fourth Estate in April. And the title? War and Peace: The Original Version. Expect to risk wrist injury.

Full Report:

Free Banned Book

An Independent report said that it would give away an exclusive hardback edition of A Clockwork Orange free with every copy of The Independent print edition on Saturday 24th February. And then every week, starting from Saturday, 3 March, print edition readers will be able to buy a new hardback copy of the featured title for the week at a special discounted price of only £3.49 (RM 24.50) with the newspaper in the UK.

The report says: 'Banned Books is an exclusive collection of 25 cutting-edge titles, censored classics and literary landmarks by authors including Ernest Hemingway, Vladimir Nabokov, Franz Kafka, Andre Gide, Maya Angelou, William Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut, Henry Miller and Ray Bradbury…'

And further adds: 'Their survival is a triumph of independent thought over the forces of repression, and a reminder of how exhilarating fiction at the cutting edge of the imagination can be.'

Anyone with friends in the UK?

Full report:

Cab drivers recite poetry

A Guardian Unlimited report by Michelle Pauli. Unsuspecting passengers visiting York this year can expect their cab drivers to recite WH Auden's poems. In a bid to promote his city of birth and to celebrate the centenary of Auden's birth, York tourism Partnership has come up with this great idea to train local cab drivers to recite his poems to their passengers.

Cabbie Dionysis Bekatorus who has special lessons says: "I'm really excited to be part of this project … As taxi drivers, we are often the first port of call for visitors to York so it's good that we can give them a taste of what cultural York can offer - and I'm looking forward to putting my new performance skills into practice."

Malaysian taxi drivers reciting Usman Awang? Nahhh ...

Full story:,,2017896,00.html

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Arundhati Roy's new novel

Arundhati Roy's last (novel to date) was published 10 years ago. Few books have been loved or hated (or, more accurately, rubbished) as much as The God of Small Things. As a publisher I hear this often: I want to be write like Arundhati Roy - meaning I want to make a lot of money like she has. As a reader and bookseller I am often cornered; it has been either gush or rubbish. I won't talk about the former; it is not pretty dealing with a grown person gushing about anything. About rubbishing: did you actually enjoy that book, it was awful, how could you have enjoyed that book, she most definitely didn't deserve the Booker, do you think she deserved a Booker?

There are no halfway meeting points when it comes to Roy. Declare your views: do you love her or hate her?

Time to be honest here: Did I like the The God of Small Things? Yes. But I have to admit, I was uncomfortable with several parts (as was my friend J) about the way it overly pandered to the western reader with the 'Indian stereotype'. Several sections appeared to have been included at a later stage under someone else's 'advice' - to make it more 'exotic' perhaps? Is that why she said at that time that she was not going to write any more fiction?

Anyway in an interview with Reuters, she says that she is now working on a new novel after spending 10 years 'championing grassroots activism as a social and environmental activist' and penning four works of non-fiction including The Algebra of Infinite Justice, Power Politics, War Talk and An Ordinary Person's Guide to Empire.

She is quoted: "The argument has been made, the battle remains to be fought - and that requires a different set of skills."

I am not holding my breath, but I am curious.,,2012148,00.html

Surprise! Indian writers live in India

'For many years India's literary culture has been focused on London and New York. But things may be changing', reports Kathleen McCaul, writing for Guardian Unlimited. Absolutely, because that is where the market and money is. This is not dissimilar to the brain drain of scientists and professions to America, except they would be involved in more mundane chore.

The most famous of these NRIs is Salman Rushdie who rubbished all Indians who didn't write in English in his Introduction to the Vintage Book of Indian Writing, and whose essay in the TIME Magazine for India's 50th year of Independence conveniently forgot that India is closer to 5000 years old than 50. Excuse me, sir, Mr Rushdie, you may not have noticed that Valmiki, Vyasa, Kalidasa, Kabir and Tulsi Das - to name very very few - didn't write in English. And if you want more modern names in Indian vernacular writing how about Siva Sankaran Pillai, Vasudevan Nair, Anantha
Moorthy, Asokamitran … gosh I haven't even moved beyond south of India yet.

Anyway, I digress.

The report says that many NRIs are moving back to India to write. Altaf Tyrewalla spent years in America as a journalist and poet but returned home to work on his first novel. "I wouldn't have been able to work full time on a book in America because there's no question of living there without a job," he explains. "You need the health insurance."

"I don't know how, for instance, I could write from the perspective of an imaginary butcher in a chicken shop if I wasn't also suffering the humidity like him, suffering the noise of a ghetto like him, and yet trying, like him, to think amidst this discomfort, this cacophony ..." Talk about suffering for his art ...

More important is what are Indian (or any other non-European) writers allowed to write about. Pankaj Mishra's new book is about China and Rana Dasgupta's second novel is set in Bulgaria.

One writer says: "I have a lot of pressure from my publishers to write about India … it is a colonial hangover in publishing to think that writers in India, Africa and the Caribbean must write about their home cultures while writers from the West could write about anywhere. Mature literary cultures should feel like they can write about the world.",,2012008,00.html

The literary spin cycle

From Reuters: 'Doing the laundry has taken on a new meaning for New Yorkers who can now watch their wash and spin cycles while listening to poetry and prose.'

According to the report, New Yorkers traditionally bury their head in a book or head to the nearest coffee shop to beat the boredom of waiting for their laundry to get done. Writer Emily Rubin has the solution. It is called Dirty Laundry: Loads of Prose, and it is coming to the nearest laundromat near you if you live in New York.

"Just mixing laundry and writing seemed completely natural to me because truly in life and metaphorically as a writer, everyone has dirty laundry," she says in the report.

'So New Yorkers can wash their dirty laundry while listening to a poem or short story. During the first of the 2007 series writer Carolyn Turgeon read some of her work while people loaded the dryers and washing machines.'

Some of the people attending the reading felt a bit odd initially but got used to the idea. "It was a little strange, it was kind of wild," one person is quoted.

Translating dangers

Hindustan Times reports:

There should be a warning label: beware, translating books can be hazardous to your health. Umesh Saxena, a home science teacher in the Jwala Devi Vidya Mandir (JDVM) Inter College probably didn't think her job was dangerous. But now she has been forced to leave her house to save her life from persons threatening her life. Her crime: she translated a cookbook by Krishna Arora, Theory of Cookery (Frank Bros). 'Right wing organisations are baying for her blood because some recipes published in her book Sugam Vayvsyaik Pak Vigayan published by Bharat Prakashan Mandir, Meerut have beef as an ingredient.'

District president of the Bhartiya Janta Yuva Morcha Krishna Dixit says, "Being a Hindu, the teacher should have known the consequences of including a beef dish in her book. It was a deliberate attempt to hurt the public sentiment and her services from the college must be terminated for the offence she has committed."

Hmmm ...

Full story:,0015002500030000.htm

Agoraphobic writer wins coffee prize

An Associated Press report:

Stef Penney has won the US$49,000 the Costa Book of the Year Award for her first novel, The Tenderness of Wolves, after earlier winning the first-novel category. The book is a murder mystery set in Canada in 1867.

Penney, 37, says she suffers from agoraphobia after leaving university and could not travel to Canada to research the book. Instead, she studied maps and texts in the British Library, near her London home.

Now I had to look that up: agoraphobia - an anxiety disorder which primarily consists of the fear of experiencing a difficult or embarrassing situation from which the sufferer cannot escape … Agoraphobics may experience severe panic attacks in situations where they feel trapped, insecure, out of control, or too far from their personal comfort zone. (Wikipedia)

Hmmm … in those days when it didn't have a name for it, we would have been simply told to 'get a grip'.

The Costa Awards were known as the Whitbread Book Awards until last year and is Britain's longest-running literary competition. It was started in 1971. The awards are open to residents of Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

Tash Aw won the last Whitbread for best new novel.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

If you don't read, lie about it

According to a new survey in Britain a good one third of adults in that country lie about reading a book simply to appear more intelligent

"... 33 percent of adults have confessed to reading challenging literature to appear well-read, when in fact they haven't a clue what the book is about." 40 percent lied so they could join in with conversation and one in ten men lie about reading a certain book to impress the opposite sex. (The last reason is perfectly understandable.)

The poll was conducted by the Museums, Libraries and Archive Council (MLA).

Strangely, the younger generation is out to impress the most. 50 percent of 19 to 21-year-olds are guilty of "expanding the truth" about the books they read.

And the most lied about? Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien (after the movie, no doubt).. The others are War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy (perfectly understandable, watchthe video), Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte (don't worry, people read that only when they have to in school) and Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus - John Gray (oh my God, why lie about that?! I would be embarrassed to admit if I read it).

Another interesting title in the list: Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone - J.K Rowling. Go figure.

Full story:[@stateId_eq_left_hand_root]/@id=4289&Document/@id=27005

Malaysian reading: mixed signals

Based on a report from The Star:

On one hand we have arbitrary censorship and restriction of books coming into the country: Arabian Nights, SpongeBob SquarePants, Midnight’s Children, etc, etc, etc. You name it.

Now a report says: 'The Government is targeting to have Malaysians read at least 10 books yearly from 2010.'

'According to a survey, Malaysians only read an average of five books last year, Culture, Arts and Heritage Deputy Minister Datuk Wong Kam Hoong said in Penang ...'

And which survey is that?! In the last survey we read the figure was two books a year. Some consider even that figure to be exaggerated. Now we are hearing a new number – five. Is the real number really that embarrassingly low?

Let’s move on ...

The report further quotes the Deputy Minister: 'He said this should gradually increase to reach the targeted number in four years from now ...' (Oh, he is talking about the end of the year 2010, that should make things easier.)

He adds: 'People in Britain and Japan read an average of 20 books a year.' Dear Mr Deputy Minister, do you have any idea at all about the size of the book industry in those countries?

Full story:

Are titles unconstitutional?

Are titles unconstitutional?

From the Hindustan Times: '... Kerala literary critic and political commentator Sukumar Azhikode has turned down the Padma Shri, terming the awards are unconstitutional ... according to the Constitution, no citizen should be awarded because it leads to discrimination. "This is not like a literary award," said the 75-year-old writer and speaker, known for his razor sharp tongue and views.'

That is a new one. Quite good, though.

According to Wikipedia: 'Padma Shri (also spelt Padma Shree, Padmashree, Padma Sree and Padma Sri) is an award given by the Government of India generally to Indian citizens to recognize their distinguished contribution in various spheres of activity including Arts, Education, Industry, Literature, Science, Sports, Social Service and public life ... It stands fourth in the hierarchy of civilian awards after the Bharat Ratna, the Padma Vibhushan and the Padma Bhushan ...'

The report continues: Supreme Court judge KT Thomas, who has been awarded the Padma Bhushan, said the apex court has ruled that these awards should not be used as a title ...

Full story:,000900020003.htm