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Writers and booze.

Saturday, March 8th, 2008

We all know the clich√© of the alcoholic writer. Lots of painters drank like fish, but for some reason people like to think of drunken writers. It’s romantic somehow. Like tuberculosis. How anyone thinks vomiting and/or coughing up bits of your lung is “romantic” truly escapes me.

But I am a sucker for anecdotes and this little article has a few good ones.

In the early 1980s, Norman Mailer was asked by director Sergio Leone to write a screenplay. Mailer showed his enthusiasm by locking himself in a hotel room for three weeks with a case of whiskey. Leone, says a biographer, recalled hearing Mailer in his room “singing, cursing and shouting for ice cubes.” He did not use the script.

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Pamuk: prophet or poseur? by

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

This is a review of a book review.

Apparently Orphan Pamuk is cleaning out his closets and has swept the oddments into a new book: Other Colors.

Just in case his name doesn’t ring any bells, he’s a Turkish writer who won the Nobel for literature in 2006. (I was a bit miffed, as I could make a list of people I think deserve it more.) I read Snow and thought it was passable. I came across a review of his new book by chance and was skimming through the beginning, which listed his creds when I bumped into this:

Pamuk is a talented writer, but no one in his right mind believes this was an award based on literary merit.

Ooow. Now she’s caught my interest. A lot of book reviewers tirelessly swoon about many an emperor’s tattered or non-existent garments. It frequently feels like a cosy, elite club. Everyone knows a certain author is brilliant and so everyone praises and grovels and they are obviously floating in the same ethereal circles since they’re brilliant enough to appreciate such talent.

And even holier, is when all this is done for political reasons. Sometimes a… not a hero exactly, but a face, a representative for a certain idea or movement is needed. (Sadly, many truly heroic people are overlooked — I can’t help but think of Hrant Dink: obit and excerpts from his last article.)

So openly criticizing the writings of the symbol of intellectual freedom in Turkey is not something most are prepared to do.

Enter Claire Berlinski:

The collection has been received with rapture by many critics, who celebrate this offering as a unique window into Pamuk’s interior life. Indeed, it is precisely that. Unfortunately, it seems that Pamuk’s interior life is largely that of a lugubrious poseur.

Now here is someone not afraid to have their own opinion.

For page upon page, Pamuk stresses in these self-enamoured tones that he is a man who really likes to read books. Good ones, too, by famous writers like Dostoyevsky and Borges - not, you know, easy ones. He’s different from other Turks, you see. But he’s not like the Europeans, either. He’s an outsider, eternally apart, rejected by all, accepted by no one (the Nobel committee aside). Life hurts. A seagull croaks.

Oh, I almost peed myself at that last line.

“Time passes,” Pamuk scribbles in his notebook. “There’s nothing. It’s already nighttime. Doom and defeat. … I am hopelessly miserable. … I could find nothing in these books that remotely resembled my mounting misery.” I suppose sentiments like these are not uniquely Turkish; teenagers around the world fill their diaries with this kind of drivel. But usually they read those diaries when they grow up, cringe, then throw them out along with their old Morrissey albums.

But the rest of the book is the kind of thing you can only publish if you have won a Nobel Prize and feel entirely confident that no matter what you say, everyone will buy it and the critics will be too afraid to point out the obvious: Sometimes it is best to keep your interior life to yourself.

Read the witty and well-written article here on her website. I plan to check out her new book. And don’t miss the gorgeous photo slideshow of the stray cats of Istambul (her partner is a photo journalist).

So, thanks to a delightful and thoughtful review, I’ve discovered a new author. A good day.

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Tolstoy Madness!!!

Saturday, December 1st, 2007

Okay, I’m one martini into it, but this is my blog dammit and I can rant about Tolstoy again if I want to!

So he’s popping up everywhere. I’m so thrilled. The world can’t be completely going to hell if Leo is getting this kind of column space.

The New York Times has gone even more mad than me. This is like a fantasy. Here’s a screenshot (of page one of three), just in case it disappears one day and we want to relive it (please tilt your head to the left):

Tolstoy frenzy

I also just discovered this New Yorker article but I am way too overstimulated to read calmly. How can they not give more info on the photo? I know Tolstoy’s wife was big into photography — was this one of hers? It looks like an autochrome… is it? What year?

I was in my local English-language bookshop (one of two! Help! Please send English language books to: …) and saw the British edition of the Pevear and Volokhonsky War and Peace translation in person and fell in love. In the online photo it doesn’t look like much, but in person it’s beautiful: grey cloth, red text… I wanted desperately to buy it, but the only copy they had (?!?) had been in the window and had somehow gotten horribly water damaged.

Cruel, cruel fate…

But I think I’ll order a copy (ISBN-10: 0099512238 / ISBN-13: 978-0099512233). What the hell, it’s gonna be Xmas soon. I’m tired of counting centimes. After all, this isn’t something useless like rent or food — this is a book.

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Shakespeare

Thursday, October 25th, 2007

What to read? It’s only a difficult decision because there is so much to read.

Sometimes you walk into a room and you just find yourself walking towards a particular shelf with your arm outstretched, fingers in the book-gripping position. Sometimes you pace back and forth, completely unable to choose, (while carefully, utterly ignoring the ceiling-high “official” to-read stack). Sometimes you happily go about your reading business, following a microscopic-breadcrumb trail, perhaps visible only to you.

Then there are the times when a reference comes up over and over from the such disparate sources that it begins to feel like a conspiracy. This is how I came again to Shakespeare, bane of my high school existence. All I wanted was to smack Hamlet upside the head and tell Juliet that no guy was worth offing yourself for.

But then again, there were a few wonderful moments. I remember the second time I did Romeo and Juliet, (I’d changed schools). We each had to learn a soliloquy and one girl got up in front of the class and actually broke down in the middle of hers. That’s when I got it. Suddenly Shakespeare wasn’t just something schools invented to torture young people, these were real characters, struggling through their lives just like us.

But mostly bored or indifferent teachers managed to squeeze the life out of things. The saddest part was, that every time I’d read one of his plays I’d never been able to relax and enjoy it. Not once. They were dissected, analyzed, “decoded”, paraphrased and summarized to death. Then we’d have to rake through the carnage one last time in two, hour-long essay questions on themes and symbols in the final exam. Before that girl started crying, I probably would have put Shakespeare in with the sciences.

So there were a lot of little calls to return in the past few months and then I saw a lovely every-last-doodle-included edition “commissioned by The Royal Shakespeare Company”. Who am I to say no? So, here I am again, after a long time away.

I’ve started with The Lamentable Tragedy of Titus Andronicus which I’ve never read before. So far it’s quite good. And no one has asked me why a character said the word “the” in line 84 and what the symbolism means vis-a-vis his previous use of the word “is”. The footnotes are frequently entertaining (does anyone really need that explained?!?), disturbing (oh dear, maybe they do…) and enlightening.

Two interesting examples of the latter:

prodigies: ill-omens/unnatural events

I looked this one up in my giant Oxford and sure enough the earliest definitions had seriously negative connotations: “Of a person: (in bad sense) A monster” I’m hard-pressed to imagine how you could call someone a monster in a good sense…? And: “An amazing or marvellous thing; esp. something out of the ordinary course of nature; something abnormal or monstrous.” Isn’t it fabulous that we walk around now blithely chatting about “child prodigies”. I love how words have such complicated histories.

Solon’s happiness: the ancient Greek philosopher and lawgiver Solon observed that man is only securely happy when dead

Fun at parties, that one! I wonder if he ever actually gives his definition of happiness anywhere? I suppose if all you require to be happy is the absence of utility bills and consciousness, then that might work for you.

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