Parker on a Friday

Like I just said on the bookblog, I found out via Mammadamen (thanks!) that The Paris Review have put some of their interviews with significant authors online, amongst them Dorothy Parker, and who doesn’t love Dorothy?

So I thought it fitting to post a little poem of hers, despite it being almost impossible to choose which one. Here’s to you, on a Friday:

Neither Bloody Nor Bowed

They say of me, and so they should,
It’s doubtful if I come to good.
I see acquaintances and friends
Accumulating dividends,
And making enviable names
In science, art, and parlor games.
But I, despite expert advice,
Keep doing things I think are nice,
And though to good I never come-
Inseparable my nose and thumb!

— Dorothy Parker

This is good enough to quote in its entirety

As a mixed-race novelist (hell, just as a novelist), I would like to say to your leader writer (The trouble with Brick Lane, October 27) that I reserve the right to imagine anyone and anything I damn well please. If I want to write about Jewish people, or paedophiles or Patagonians or witches in 12th-century Finland, then I will do so, despite being “authentically” none of these things. I also give notice that if I choose, I intend to imagine what your muddled writer quaintly terms “real people” living in “real communities”. My work may convince or it may not. However, I will not accept that I have any a priori responsibility to anyone – white, black or brown, let alone any “community” – to represent them in any particular way.

If Monica Ali isn’t brown enough or working-class enough or Sylheti enough for you, then, well, that’s your weird little identity-political screw-up. Presumably she’s not white enough for someone else. I’m sick of all this cant about cultural authenticity, and sick of the duty (imposed only on “minority” writers) to represent in some quasi-political fashion. Art isn’t about promoting social cohesion, or cementing community relations. It’s about telling the truth as you see it, even if it annoys or offends some people. That’s called freedom of expression, and last time I checked we all thought it was quite a good idea.
Hari Kunzru

Letter to The Guardian.

Though it’s not Kunzru’s subject as such, he succintcly summarises most of what I feel is wrong with political trends in literary criticism and theorising (such as feminist literary theory or post-colonial literary theory).*


* The other problem, of course, is that political literary theory is political, not literary. It hardly ever says anything useful about literature and tends to just rehash political truisms that all intended readers agree with anyway.

Dear John

We need a break, my love and I. (No, not the husband. We, in fact, have had an involuntary break of a couple of days and it was horrible, so no more breaks there, please.) My other love, my first love, really: Fiction. We’re in a rut, s funk, the dumps. Peevishly glaring at each other. Finding faults. Niggling. It’s not pretty.

I don’t know what it is, precicely, but I can’t seem to find a novel I’m happy with these days. Ok, so it’s only a few weeks since I finished The Unbearable Lightness of Scones, and that was indubitably a wonderful experience and a book worth climbing mountains and fording rivers for (should such things be necessary), however, that is the only piece of fiction (unless you count what’s in the newspapers, which, possibly, you should) I’ve finished since August, and it’s getting me down. I tried reading Are Kalvø’s Nød and almost threw it across the bus. I tried Jan Kjærstad’s Kongen av Europa and considered writing to Jasper Fforde to ask if he could send a hired killer for the main character (or possibly the author, but that wouldn’t stop the book, so why bother?). I started Cornelia Funke’s The Thief Lord and put it away almost immediately because I really do want to read it so I didn’t want to get far enough to get mad at it. I’ve looked at the books in my tbr pile (the physical one) and I can’t find a single one that says “read me now!”. I’m in that mood where I crave a good nove, but every novel I try seems contrived and petty and full of silly mistakes that the editors should really have exterminated. I’m reading Anne McCaffrey’s Freedom’s Landing and I ought to love it but she used “specimen” twice when I’m pretty sure she means “species” and I get impatient with her for creating minor characters that are petty, ignorant, prejudiced and blatant fools, when all she is trying to do is portray human foibles.

What is a girl to do?

Well, I’ll finish Freedom’s Landing, and then I’ll take a nice long break from Fiction. I’ll see other genres, and I’m pretty sure he’ll see other people, and then in a few months we’ll fall in love all over again. I hope. Facing a future without Fiction is too bleak a scenario to contemplate.

Books to look for

This has apparently gotten rave reviews from Richard Russo no less:
Dear American Airlines

Speaking of Richard Russo, since I last checked he has published another novel:
The Bridge of Sighs

A reviewer on Amazon compared Russo to John Irving and Robertson Davies, and while I can’t entirely see the Irving connection (though A Widow for a Year did grow on me), perhaps one should check out Davies?
The Deptford Trilogy

Jasper Fforde has announced his new novel, unfortunately it’s not due out until July 2009.  A bit of a wait:
Shades of Grey

Oh, and check out Chris Bohjalian.

Oh no

I’ve missed this, but apparently Waterstone’s want to take over Ottakars. The deal was halted because of investigation by The Competition Commission, but now the commission has come to the conclusion that the deal’s ok. It’s not going to be a problem, apparently, because bookseller’s are meeting such tough competition from supermarkets anyway. Ms. Bookish links to an article in The Guardian which has me fuming, especially at the last sentence, proclaimed by Diana Guy who led the commission’s inquiry: “We felt that the big publishers can probably look after themselves.” Yes, well, I’m not sure anyone is worried about the fate of the big publishers. What everyone, including the big publishers, but excepting the commission, is worried about is the possibility of publishing titles with a small or unknown market if the only avenue for sales is the bookshelf at the supermarket. Don’t get me wrong, I love browsing in Waterstone’s and Ottakar’s is, after all, just another chain, but so far there’s been a point of going to both, because they’ve had different titles on their shelves, after a merger they’re all going to look the same.


So it turns out aardvark is not the first word in the dictionary. Not by a long shot. Not THE dictionary, anyway. The OED has several entries preceeding aardvark. I assume most other dictionaries would also have “a”, as in “a word”, as an entry, but the OED has other stuff also, some obsolete, being the OED. Anyhoo, I’ll let the aardvark keep the honour of being top of the list for the time being, since it’s the first creature – South African, in case you didn’t know – in the dictionary (also THE dictionary). Following hot on its heels (possibly also literally, though you’d have to check with a zoologist) is “aardwolf”, also South African (blame the Dutch). So now we know.

Voice in my head: Vera Lynne singing We’ll meet again (blame the husband, it was his farewell tune this morning, except he sang “We’ll meet again, got-a-clue where, got-a-clue when”, whereas Vera is sticking to “don’t know”. She is, however, singing “You’ll muddle through just like you always do”, rather than the more conventional “Keep shining through”, and, if you think about it, it actually makes a lot more sense that way, though it sounds less heroic, I suppose.)

About books

I’ve been tidying the bookblog. A few days ago (it may be weeks by now, actually), I decided I really needed a category for book-related posts. I could just put them in this blog, obviously, but I like being able to include them in the bookblog, I feel they belong there somehow. Still, they obviously don’t belong under a specific author, so hence the new category “Aardvark – on books in general, booklinks, bookmemes and such”.

Aardvark because it’s the first word in the dictionary and so likely to keep the category on top of the alphabeticised list.

Today I decided to do something about the stupidly long category list I’ve aquired by reading books by too many different authors. It’s not a problem as such, obviously, but MT creates one file with the individual entry and one for the category archive and for all these 1-book authors those two files were basically the same. So I created a one-hit-wonder category for all those books that, for some reason or another, are likely to be the only entry on that specific author for the foreseeable future. It’s not a reflection on the quality of the book, at least not necessarily, in some cases the author simply hasn’t written any more books (like Sylvia Beach), in some cases I mean to read them, but not any time soon (like George R.R. Martin). Sometimes, of course, it’s because I didn’t much like the book, but those are actually the exceptions rather than the rule. It should be obvious from the entry which category the book in question falls into.

The question now, of course, is: What is the second word in the dictionary. I need to get the category listing moved up from the O’s.