The 2006 round up

(December 26, 2006, Speaking Volumes, Business Standard)

(I thought this was a bread-and-butter round-up, and was very surprised when it was ripped off by a young journo working for a paper that shall not be named. {oh go on, guess.} The journalist’s defense was that many other columnists had written about Frey and Potter, if not Arundhati Roy and Dalrymple. I pointed out that all of us had used our own words, whereas he had used mine. He didn’t seem to see the irony of plagiarising, in particular, the para about plagiarists. I deplored not the plagiarism but his judgement-he could’ve had the decency to rip off some of my better stuff.)

Truth or Dare: 2006 was the year of the fake memoir and fake memoirist, of true lies and plagiarists. James Frey admitted that he had a small problem with his bestselling true-life story of addiction and recovery, which was the part about the “true”.

Another bestselling memoirist, the flamboyant JT LeRoy, turned out to be the creation of two enterprising souls armed with a splendid piece of fiction that they chose to peddle as fact. Kaavya Viswanathan kept the Indian flag flying high in the True Lies stakes by ripping off chunks of her teenage-angst chicklit bestseller from the works of Megan McCafferty, Tanuja Desai Hidier and a host of others. Some blamed the book packagers, some blamed the young author, and everyone made Opal Mehta jokes.

Then Judith Regan, better known as the bitch goddess of publishing, lost her job over a scheme to offer a possibly true-life story in fake form. She commissioned US sportsstar O J Simpson, tried and controversially acquitted for the murder of his wife, to write If I Did It, a “fake” account of what might have happened if he’d done what he’s sworn he didn’t. Regan was canned after making even more controversial remarks about a “cabal” of Jews in publishing who were out to get her, which saved at least some of us the surgical gloves and tongs you’d have needed to handle a book as repellent as the OJ project. (*The book came out anyway.)

Young and Younger: J K Rowling announced the title of the next Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

. Will no one rid me of this meddlesome series, thought this columnist and a hundred other reviewers afflicted with terminal Hogwarts fatigue. We spoke too soon; in the wake of the success of Christopher Paolini, who published the dragon-saga Eragon at the age of just 16, publishers hunted for the new, younger Paolini. That’s probably Nancy Li-Fan, commissioned at the tender age of 11. India has a bid on the table with the Guptara twins, positively venerable at 17—but they began writing their seven-book saga when they were mere eleven-year-olds. So are any of these authors the new Paolini, and was the new Paolini anywhere near the old Tolkien? Nope, but I’m an optimist—there must be a six-year-old out there somewhere who’s writing the next Narnia series, you think?

Activist Positivist: Arundhati Roy started her year by turning down the Sahitya Akademi award, something of a pastime among writers—six authors have previously refused the award. But she became a rallying point for those disturbed by the Indian state’s eagerness to prosecute “traitors” in the wake of the December 13 attacks on Parliament. Vikram Seth set aside his strong preference for personal privacy in order to speak up for the gay rights movement in India and to ask that homosexuality be decriminalized. Salman Rushdie and hundreds of the world’s authors rallied around Orhan Pamuk when Turkey put their most famous author on trial in January 2006 for “insulting Turkishness”. They must have felt pretty stupid when he won the Nobel Prize for literature later in the year.
R.I.P: Far too many, but the ones I’ll miss most: feminist Betty Friedan, science fiction maven Stanislaw Lem, philosopher and author Raja Rao, inimitable publisher Ravi Dayal and Egypt’s gentle, incisive Naguib Mahfouz.

Book launches: William Dalrymple launched The Last Mughal in grand style in Delhi, in a durbar setting complete with hookahs. General Musharraf kind of topped that by having his good friend G W Bush virtually write a blurb for his memoir. Baby Haldar, the domestic worker whose biography was a big hit at the Frankfurt book fair, was a favourite with audiences. Vikram Chandra’s massive Sacred Games got a lot of press, and after Kiran Desai’s sleeper Booker win for Inheritance of Loss, everyone claimed to have attended the very quiet Delhi launch of her book, betting that no one else they knew would have been there.

But the real high came from two Tibetans, Sonam Bhote and Wangdi Gyalpo, who became the first authors to launch their books atop Mount Everest. Guests were thin on the ground, but we hear the yetis enjoyed the poetry and the canapés.

Miscellaneous: Listed in Bookseller’s Oddest Titles of the Year: How People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It by Gary Leon Hill (Red Wheel/Weiser).

Awarded the 2006 IgNobel for Literature: Daniel Oppenheimer for his report: “Consequences of Erudite Vernacular Utilized Irrespective of Necessity: Problems with Using Long Words Needlessly.”

Favourite and unfortunately unforgettable phrase from this year’s Bad Sex Awards: “Now his skin was glazed like roast pork. Now she made a noise like a tortured Moomintroll.” (David Foster Wallace, Black Swan Green)





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