Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I wrote this back in January and forgot about it. Still here's my much outdated grumpings about year end lists.

I like these end of year lists. Partly because they make me grouchy. That is, I am happy to sit in bed dunking banana bread in coffee then munching, then grumping, then loving grumping at the various barbaric picks of barbaric pickers of best of books lists.

How? How, I ask again, can anyone consider Cormac McCarthy's The Road worthy of inclusion in any list other than perhaps a list of books that roasts babies on spits for effect. Yes, for effect. Do writers sometimes abuse readers? Yes. Do some readers find happiness in being abused? Sadly, yes.

I am also made grouchy because the various year end lists restrict list makers to year of publication or this being the end of a decade, the decade of publication. But what if the books you read in the last year that absolutely will haunt you for years to come were published not last year, nor even last decade, but oh decades ago.

Independent People by Haldor Laxness. The book was published in 1946. He went on to win the Noble Prize. Oh the appalling humor of the small life crushed by enormous planetary weights --that of nature, class, unweening pride, and sheep. Yes, sheep. It is no small feat to raise sheep. A complex enough life can be lived in the pursuit of this labour. And thats pretty much what the book is about - the complexity of life and sheep. The language of this book is rich, alluding to traditions Icelandic as well as those merely human. The business of writing from a place so remote it may well be a place of myth--writing from there as if it were in fact the very place one must turn to take the pulse of the universe, is what makes this book an object lesson to the IWE (Indian Writing in English) writer. Do you think if Laxness were to have written in English there would have been an Icelandic version of the IWE debate? The same acronym would have conveniently applied, but I think not.

Murakami. I discovered him in the 2000s. But my favourites by him were published before then. Still what matters in all of his books (even in those less favourite ones written in the correct decade for the purpose of list making) is the atmosphere he creates. Yes, he is definitely an atmospheric writer. But his is the understated atmosphere of our lives. I have yet to read any writer who does more for pinning down the mood of loneliness. No, not the existential loneliness, not the madness of the loneliness that haunts Kafka or Coetzee but the very very quiet horror of the loneliness that all of us live. Murakami cracks that hard nut to persuades us there is sweet meat within.

I read Coetzee's Foe and his Youth years ago. I think, in fact, Youth was published in the last decade. An insipid book. It is the subject that determines the book. But I read his much older (1978) In the Heart of the Country about two years ago. I was stunned by the depth of his understanding of everything under the sun, but especially about the way in which racism and insanity go hand in hand. But understanding isn't everything. Insight is what I prize in writing, but the art of writing is inseperable from the ideas of the writer. That is each writer has to create the language in which the hitherto unimagined idea can be expressed. Coetzee does this beautifully  profoundly.

Ishiguro's When We Were Orphans. Heartbreaking. Perhaps one of my favourite books ever. Also, his Never Let Me Go.

Another book I value for its mood of surpressed horror - Paumk's Snow.

Hemon's The Lazarus Project is mentioned by many list makers. The book is valuable in so many ways. Not the least among them his matter of fact deployment of odd syntax--as if writing in other than standard English is not something to be feared.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders--I admire Daniyal Mueenuddin's craft. And am a little too envious of it. This is getting confessional. So will stop here. Or I will stray too close to home, to those writers who I not only envy but actually see around town.

Books I want to read:

Breyten Breytenbach's Intimate Stranger - I'm midway through Intimate Stranger and very moved to be addressed so directly by a book. Neither the writer nor the reader is anonymous in Breytenbach'swork.)
Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternative History
Orhan Pamuk's The Museum of Innocence

1 comment:

  1. Pamuk, Murakami, Gulzar, Bashir Badr and Vikram Seth's poetry - my long lasting companions.

    do read Pamuk's book of essays titled 'Other Colors'. i'm reading it so ever slowly 'cos i feel every page to be precious. and for the same reason, i've a recently bought copy of 'The Museum of Innocence' that i pick up, read the first page and then put down again. and again.