Excursions Of A Bibliophile

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Archive for December, 2010

Book Closing For 2010

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on December 28, 2010

In the world of business “Book Closing” has a definitive interpretation. It essentially involves deciding on a cut off time and date to take stock of all the financial transcations for a given period to arrive at a view on the state of financial health of the business entity. This practice of taking stock is deemed not only healthy but also mandatory for it gives an opportunity to balance ones books, assess the overall position and decide on the course of action for future periods. As 2010 comes to an end, I intend to do a book closing on my literary pursuits and take stock of what I had done, what I gleaned and think through what I intend to do in 2011

The first half of year 2010 has been a washout with reading momentum picking up vigour only towards the latter part of the year. Despite this slow start, the self introductions to new authors remained creditable. In the gallery of read authors, I managed to find place for writers like William Styron, John O Hara, Truman Capote, David Mitchell, Anita Desai, William Trevor, Kiran Desai, Ruskin Bond and Daniyal Mueenuddin. This is besides revisiting some old faces like Ramachandra Guha, William Dalrymple and V.S.Naipaul. If there is one book that I can claim to have discovered in 2010, it will have to be Arthur W Ryder’s english translation of “Panchatantra“. The book is full of practical wisdom that I realise I need to internalise, apply for a improved quality of life and hopefully propagate the ideas and wisdom there in to my near, dear and known ones. I simply pray that I find at least one book of this substance every year to enable me prepare for my latter years with confidence, joy and certainty

If there is one area where I am genuinely happy about 2010, it will be the discovery of two rich literary sources viz.  The NewYorker and Paris Review. Both have been outstanding treasure troves for book reviews, generous servings of short fiction and introductions to a variety of writers. Courtesy these two sources, I now have an archive of 150 short stories and an equal measure of very finely structured and detailed interviews with a number of accomplished writers – many of whom I would like to read in future. The sole disappointment has been NYTimes which in the past has been a good source of literary inputs. In 2010 for some strange reason it displayed an inexplicable literary anemia. Hope it will recover fast

On the prizes and awards front, a happy development has been the institution of the annual book award for fiction by “The Hindu” group. To me it is an indication that there is a serious market and platform developing for Indian fiction in English.  Manu Joseph’s Serious Men” is the first winner of this prize. To express my half solidarity and support, I promptly bought the book. Hope to complete extending full solidarity by reading it in 2011. Moments of despondency enveloped me when I realized that the list of unread Booker prize winners has only been growing. However, that did not deter me from buying “The Finkler Question” by Howard Jacobson and Amitava Gosh’s A Sea Of Poppies“. That the Nobel prize for literature has gone to Maria Vargas Llosa has reminded that there is yet another writer whose work is waiting to be feasted upon 

Book buying binge continued unabated in 2010. What I lost in www.amazon.co.uk, I gained through www.flipkart.com –  to a large extent. The triggers in 2010 for buying books came from various sources. A brilliant article on the life and times of the famous director Elia Kazan in New Yorker goaded me to buy the complete plays and short stories of Tennessee Williams. A chance reading of the first essay in Zadie Smith’s collection of essays titled “Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays” at Bangalore airport prompted me to buy an unknown classic “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston. James Wood’s brillaint essay “The Floating Library” covering the oeuvre of David Mitchell pushed me to buy his “Black Swan Green“, “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” and most of his other books. Similarly, another brilliant essay by Wood titled – “Tocquville in America” urged me to buy Peter Carey’s “Parrot & Olivier in America” 

Last year, I had promised myself that during Christmas season, I will read some literature related to Christmas and I did fulfil the same by reading two fine short stories of Truman Capote titled “A Christmas Memory” and “One Christmas“. The former will go down in my top ten all time favourite short stories. It is what I would call a perfect short story from which ever angle I look at it. Of the eminently forgettable reads were Kiran Desai’s Hulabaloo in Guava Orchard” and Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Nocturnes” – don’t want to say no more about my disappointments. One collection of short stories that I intend to revisit again with a better frame of mind will be William Trevor’s – “A Bit On The Side“. I don’t want to live with such a disservice done to myself – for Trevor is a great short story writer and most of his stories are simply haunting and depict the small turmoils of life with a refined gravity and a frightening clarity. In my view that is a hallmark of any good literature

As much as I love reading, I would want my children to pick up the habit of reading. Besides the regular Harry Potter and Percy Jackson series, 2010 saw me introducing Ruskin Bond to them. After a couple of books, it was I who realised that Bond is a fantastic writer. Books that I wanted to re-read but could not were ” Idea of India” – By Sunil Khilnani, “Siddhartha” – By Herman Hesse and “Lemon Table” – By Julian Barnes. I already feel it in my bones that passing time, changing priorities and growing list of writers and books may not allow this luxury of revisits. Well, I still believe in that one thing that Pandora has managed to shut in the box.

Noticed with a tinge of sadness that 2010 has taken away some of the greatest and well known writers like J.D.Salinger, Beryl Brainbridge and Kurt Vonnegut. Can’t afford to forget that time and tide wait for none.

What books, what authors, what generes and what periods – that is the big question for 2011. If past is any pointer, then it is better that I learn to be open about my reading choices and influences. I extend a warm welcome to 2011 with all its literary rollercoasters and enable me have a ride of my life. To sum up, my act of book closing is appearing to yield a picture of unbalanced entries with more credits to writers and the writing of the world than my ability to read or assimilate. Unlike in the world of business, in the world of reading this is a happy situation to be in for unbalanced books in the world of letters is a richer, promising and joyous state to be in than unbalanced books in the world of business

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Knowing Holly Golightly

Posted by Vish Mangalapalli on December 7, 2010

Some books are essentially about the characters that populate them. The greater purpose of the author’s writing effort, storyline, narrative context and style, metaphors and language inexplicably fade into relative insignificance. The character gets so overpowering that even the author has to compete with his own creation for a  place in reading public’s collective conscience.Truman Capote’s, Holly Golightly in  “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is one such character that I have come across in my recent reading who belongs to this community of powerful characters

Holly is a complex person with multiple facets. She is fascinating, a natural at curiosity rousing, irreverant and effortlessly sporting a “devil may care” attitude on her sleeve. It is this that prompts one of her admirers O.J.Berman to say ”

You can beat your brains out for her, and she’ll hand you horseshit on a platter” or “Even when she is wearing glasses this thick; even when when she opens her mouth and you don’t know if she is a hillybilly or an Okie or what. I still don’t. My guess, nobody will ever know where she came from. She is such a goddamn liar, maybe she don’t know herself any more.”

 But Berman appears to have a superficial understanding of Holly. On the contrary, Holly knows herself very well and has a strong self reflective streak which is unsparing and in some sense unerring and full of clarity. This is so very evident when Holly in a roundabout way describes herself as a wild thing

 “Never love a wild thing Mr.Bell“, Holly advised him. “That was Doc’s mistake. He was always lugging wild things home. A hawk with a hurt wing. One time it was full grown bobcat  with a broken leg. But you can’t give your heart to a wild thing: the more you do the stronger they get. Until they are strong enough to run into woods. Or fly into a tree. Then a taller tree. Then the sky. That’s how you will end up Mr.Bell. If you let yourself love a wild thing. You’ll end up looking at the sky

and Doc is her husband from whom she had run away

Yet for all the wildness that she attributes to herself, Holly is troubled, insecure and in some sense enveloped in a thin layer of vulnerability. This is evident when she says

 “No, the blues are because you are getting fat or maybe it is raining too long. You’re sad, that’s all. But the mean reds are horrible. You’re afraid and you sweat like hell, but you dont know what you are afraid of. Except something bad is going to happen, only you don’t know what it is. You’ve had that feeling?”

It is Tiffany’s with all its material glamour, richness and polish that drives the mean reds away for Holly and hence occupies a central place in Holly’s world as a comfort provider. Holly is well aware of her insecurity and the uncertain place she inherits. Consequently, she has a very evaluating eye towards the relationships she maintains and it is this that prompts her to say about her cat

poor slob without a name. It’s a little inconvenient his not having a name. But I haven’t any right to give him one: he’ll have to wait until he belongs to somebody. We just sort of took up by the river one day, we don’t belong to each other. He’s independent and so am I. I don’t want to own anything until I know I’ve found the place where me and things belong together. I’m not quite sure where that is just yet

There is a sense of abandon with which Holly lives her life. It is at times risky, daring and almost bordering on recklessness. It is this that allows Holly to have associations with the likes of Rusty Trawler – a playboy, Sally Tomato – a convicted and sentence serving mafia leader and Jose – a highly placed bureauacrat. Despite these wild associations, Holly carries with her a very distinct view of men which is brilliantly expressed when she says

Oh, he is not my idea of absolute finito. He tells little lies and he worries what people think and he takes about fifty baths a day; men ought to smell somewhat. He is prim, too cautious to be my guy ideal; he always turns his back to get undressed and he makes too much noise when he eats and I don’t like to see him run because there is something funny looking when he is runs. If I were free to choose from everybody alive, just snap my fingers and say come here you, I would’nt pick Jose. Nehru, he is nearer the mark. Wendell Wilke.. I’d settle for Garbo anyday. Why not? A person ought to be able to marry men or woman

 (I’m not sure if Nehru would have been flattered to hear this from Holly)

Under the veneer of this happy go lucky, irreverant and maverick lives a person with an uncontaminated heart and it is this that prompts Holly to say at one point

 ” …but the answer is good things only happen to you if you are good. Good? Honest is more what I mean. Not law type honest – I’d rob a grave, I’d steal two-bits of a dead man’s eyes if I thought it would contribute to a day’s enjoyment – but unto thyself type honest. Be anything but a coward, a pretender, an emotional crook, a whore: I’d rather have cancer than a dishonest heart. Which isn’t being pious. Just practical. Cancer may cool you. But the other’s sure to

As I read through Breakfast at Tiffany’s, I could not but feel sorry for Holly, for she gave me a sense of running away from herself – where to and what for remains an enigma – as enigmatic as the old prairie song that she plays so well on her guitar: Don’t wanna sleep. Don’t wanna die, Just wanna go a-travelin through the pastures of the sky

Capote’s genius in creating an outstandingly endearing, enigmatic, endurable and iconic character of twentieth century literature is truly remarkable. Holly is as sparkling and as everlasting as the diamonds she disdained

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