“Lahiri’s short-story collection won better reviews in the USA than in India, where critics panned what they believed were her negative portrayal of immigrants and questioned whether she was a ‘true Indian’ who could write about India. “That pushed all my buttons,” she says. “It’s what I’ve struggled with: In India, I’m told, ‘You look Indian, you speak Bengali, but you’re really American.’ In America, I’m told, ‘You sound and act American, but you’re really Indian.’ ”
Hang on, this is pushing all my buttons. Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies drew generous, warm reviews in India, though several critics pointed out that the stories actually set in India were far weaker than the ones set in the US. The Babu doesn’t recall any major reviewer panning her negative portrayal of immigrants, except for one or two exasperatingly swadeshi souls. He does remember another writer commenting of Lahiri’s India-based short stories: “Ah. Yes. Better than usual, but definitely part of the memsahib-writing-about-domestic-servants genre, isn’t it?”
Throwaway line from The Las Vegas Mercury: “The fiction market is a bit more focused. With the exception of some “serious literary” (read: inescapably boring) stuff from the Indian subcontinent, most of the work imported from abroad has passed a fairly rigorous screening process–that is, it’s seen as having mainstream profit potential by a publishing world that’s increasingly narrow, selective and bottom line-oriented.”
Arundhati Roy pays tribute to Noam Chomsky. She also recycles what has become a favourite line in her rants against the Evil (US) Empire: “I speak as a slave who presumes to criticise her king.” This is why the Babu can’t help liking the author; to paraphrase a famous quote, the love affair between Arundhati Roy and Arundhati Roy is one of the most touching tales of our times.
“If we follow Derrida, we face the prospect of an architecture of death for the new millennium.” Thank you, Nikos A Salingaros. The Babu remembers attending a Derrida lecture on deconstructionism years ago. He taped the lecture, transcribed it, and read it with increasing bewilderment. In desperation, he trotted off to a professor of philosophy who also had a degree in mathematics and asked her to decipher “this barrage of apparent nonsense”. Two days later, the prof returned the transcribed lecture, with just a brief note appended. “This is not a barrage of apparent nonsense. It is a barrage of unmitigated nonsense.” (Thanks to Motormouth-2003, whoever you are, for sending me this link.)
Snoopy immortalised Bulwer-Lytton (“It was a dark and stormy night…”), the Bulwer-Lytton bad fiction contest enshrined the man in stone, but perhaps it’s time for posterity to be a little kinder to him. Two reviews from The Complete Review…here and here.
Little People: Learning To See The World Through My Daughter’s Eyes; Loser Goes First; author of The New Psycho-Cybernetics Audio program. That’s Dan Kennedy, prolific author of eclectic tastes–all three of them.
“It’s petulance like this that make it hard for me to believe that the Believers’ plea for less snark is really just a way of asking reviewers to “engage” with a book. I think that “a feel-good, criticism-free climate, where all ambitious literary books receive special treatment, just because they’re ‘literary'” is exactly what Julavits and her colleagues want, and I can think of no better proof than their using Fenton’s review as their first example of snark’s perniciousness.” The Antic Muse weighs in on the Great Reviewing Debate.
Over here in my little corner of the world, we get rooked three ways: we’ve got the feelgood climate down pat for some books (it helps to be i) a serving bureaucrat ii) a friend of the Newspaper Editors or iii) both; we have homegrown petulance, thank you very much; and Incredible Shrinking Book Review (Is Two Hundred Words Too Long?) Syndrome has spread faster than the latest Microsoft virus across the media world. (Link courtesy Bookslut.)
The Guardian’s reviewer begs to disagree with Tibor Fischer’s assessment of Martin Amis’ Yellow Dog . “Begs” is the operative term: “Actually, your first reaction on reading a novel as mind-tinglingly good as Yellow Dog is not so much admiration as a kind of grateful despair. Mostly this is because, like all great writers, he seems to have guessed what you thought about the world, and then expressed it far better than you ever could. It isn’t even possible to feel envious towards him without realising, with a sigh, that he has managed to get there first, too.”
“Mind-tinglingly good” is an interesting phrase. The Babu has absolutely no idea why the phrase “bootlickingly obsequious” flashed through his mind, but there you are. Yellow Dog hasn’t yet reached India; however, Tibor Fischer’s Voyage to the End of the Room has, and “disappointing” is about the kindest adjective the Babu might use to describe a work that looks like a fugitive from a Creative Writing 101 chain gang.
My Heart Belongs To Daddy, And Perhaps Carlos Castaneda: “When the father I adored died in 1990, within two years I had found a surrogate in Carlos. I was ‘engaged’ to a substitute daddy — virtually the same age as him, an equally best-selling and ground-breaking author for a generation. I was only half-aware of my motivations.” Amy Wallace, Irving Wallace’s daughter, on her affair with the sham shaman.