Sunday, October 24, 2004

A Short Political Post
You, dear reader, know that I try to keep this blog non-political, not because I'm not passionate about politics, but because there are so many other poliblogs already. I am once again breaking that rule, however, to inform you that if you'd like to volunteer for John Kerry from the comfort of your own home go to From there you can get a script and a list of people in swing states to call. The people you call are Kerry supporters so all you have to do is invite them to canvassing events. You can call as few or as many people as you want and you don't need a broadband connection to do this. Good luck!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Booker Announced
Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty won the Booker. According to The Age, the judges disclosed afterwards that Hollinghurst's book , David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, and Colm Tóibín's The Master had "all been incredibly close". They said the result was not unanimous and a final vote had been forced. As others have already noted, Henry James plays an important part in both The Line of Beauty and The Master. David Lodge and Emma Tenant also have new novels about Henry James out. Kitabkhana has more on the minute-by-minute blogging of the Booker ceremony as well as the gay issue.

Monday, October 18, 2004

What I Want for Christmas

The Dick Cheney Code

From the Publisher:
A bestselling, Harvard-bred humorist plans to knock out a slapdash, quick-buck parody of a wildly successful, head-spinning, clue-laden thriller in a flagrant attempt to cash in on the publishing sensation of the decade, but the tousle-haired satirist's sleazy scheme goes awry when his two heroes -- beautiful, brilliant Sandra Damsel and brawny, brainy Professor William Franklin -- stumble on an explosive and frankly preposterous centuries-old secret that plunges them into a puzzle-packed, plot-crammed, prose-swollen Washington intrigue whose flabbergasting finale will determine the outcome of the 2004 presidential election.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Breaking Rushdie News

Rushdie read an excerpt from the beginning of his new novel "Shalimar the Clown" yesterday. Googling "shalimar the clown" gives me nada, so this may have been his first public reading from the novel. Shalimar is part of a traveling village of Kashmiri entertainers. In the first chapter he is virtually raped by his girlfriend Bhumi, a half-orphan who is also part of the circus. Bhumi's mother, who died during childbirth, appears to her as a ghost at various points, and Bhumi herself is fated to have an early death, possibly during childbirth. I was glad to see that the prose style has been toned down from the baroquery of "The Ground Beneath Her Feet." The references to myths, too, are not only sparing but also diagetic. Specifically, the myths of Hindu astrology and the influence of other planets on the earth undergird the book, Shalimar having been educated in these myths by his father. The narrative oscillates between present and past events, much as it did in "The Moor's Last Sigh." Overall, the novel sounds more promising than "The Ground Beneath Her Feet" and "Fury." Its publication is slated for fall 2005.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

An Excerpt from Where to Find Digital Lit

A New York Times review of literary and publishing-related blogs

The London News Review -- Books Diary
Easily the funniest of the lit blogs, Books Diary speaks not softly to the objects of its scorn. When the poet and critic Tom Paulin suggested in a recent essay that Wordsworth's use of the word ''mountain'' was actually intended as a reference to the Jacobins (''la montagne'' being the name for the highest benches in the French National Assembly), Books Diary responded with typical restraint: ''This is so eccentric, so semi-demi-hemi-rational, that there's really only one way to argue. . . . 'Stop saying weird, dull stuff. And get a prose style.' '' The ashes of Tom Paulin's critical corpus will be scattered over the Atlantic by Aer Lingus this Thursday. Tough as it was on Paulin, though, nothing can compare to the opening line of Books Diary's recent post on Plum Sykes's novel ''Bergdorf Blondes'': ''This is the most fascinatingly bad book since 'Swan' by Naomi Campbell.''

Monday, October 04, 2004

Rough Notes on Salman Rushdie's First Lecture "Proteus"

When he speaks, Rushdie shows the same fondness for digression that he shows in his novels. For someone with Rushdie's wit, though, these digressions are mostly a good thing. Even Rushdie occasionally seems in love with his own cleverness, though, as I was reminded when he stated the pedestrian and trite fact that "Play it again, Sam" is never said in Casablanca.

I mention the digressions because he opened with about 25 minutes of digressions. The body of his lecture, though, was on the Protean phenomenon of change as it applies to human beings. These changes create a self that has little or no constancy, so the idea of a self is itself problematic. Rushdie is not breaking new ground here, but his delivery of this idea and the accompanying illustrations were interesting.

According to Rushdie, the self's changes occur because life isn't "realistic" inasmuch as one's life is jarred by implausible surprises. Rushdie defended the surreal and magical touches in his novels by stating his need to incorporate these strange, surreal, uncomfortable shocks that shatter (and perhaps deconstruct) one's reality. and thus change one's mental self.

He didn't specifically state that the ordinary lives of most characters in "ordinary" novels were unrealistic, but he may have been trying to make that case. Certainly, the ordinary unmagical lives of, say, Isabel Archer or Catherine Sloper aren't subject to earthquakes in the way Rushdie's characters in The Ground Beneath Her Feet are. But by the end of Portrait of a Lady and Washington Square there has been an unmistakable and irreversible shift of tectonic plates that neither Isabel nor Catherine could have foreseen.

The problem that novelists face is that it's hard to be both bold and subtle in the same novel, but life is at once bold and subtle. Rushdie opts for more boldness whereas Austen adopts subtlety, evincing that both styles can lead to rich novels. Certainly both styles can also be adopted by poor writers and overextended in a manner that turns boldness into hysteria and subtlety into inertia. (Tangentially, why can't James Wood cultivate an appreciation for boldness?)

Anyhow a challenge, if some current novelist is looking for one, is to marry both styles. Any takers?

A Political Footnote
Rushdie slid in a clever pun on the word "bushes," which went over swimmingly with the audience. But this is the same Rushdie who wrote a poem and novel prior to the 2000 election claiming that George W. Bush and Al Gore were the same. Now I realize this was a common opinion then but there was plenty of evidence pre-election that they weren't the same -- see Bush's record as governor or the Texas Republican party platform -- so I think the uninformed and irresponsible but oh-so-clever editorializing of Rushdie (among others) is partly to blame for unenthusiastic support for Gore. Not everyone learns from history, though, and this election has seen innumerable people complain that both George W. Bush and John Kerry were children of privilege who went to Yale, so they must be just a dime of difference between them. Thus a lazy, conventional stereotype is applied to all privileged Yale graduates by the same people who would balk at a wide stereotyping of, say, graduates of an inner-city school.

Another Footnote
Rushdie's lectures will be published by Harvard UP.