We’re not big on themes here at the Review, but our new Summer issue was designed with the poolside in mind—we did everything short of printing it on sunscreen-proof paper. At its center you’ll find a portfolio curated by Charlotte Strick, an essay by Leanne Shapton, and a short story by Rafil Kroll-Zaidi all on the subject of swimmers, lifeguards, and lane etiquette. Read More
- This writers’ workshop is inspired by the 7-train commute.
- Feel-good alert! A good samaritan bails out an endangered Vermont bookmobile.
- One affair, two sides of the story: when both cuckold and cad give their versions, and, by the way, the latter is John le Carré.
- The Marriage Plot, coming to a multiplex near you. (Okay, maybe not a multiplex.)
- Jay McInerney: “I was fortunate to get a lot of mileage out of my vices.”
Paint Samples, suitable for the home, sourced from colors in literature. As seen in our two-hundredth issue.
This is the second installment of Testard’s culture diary. Click here to read part 1.
9:47 A.M. I have a mild headache and I am only on life number three of Dalrymple’s Nine Lives. I’m beginning to think that it’s quite difficult to get any reading done at a literary festival. When we got home last night I asked Forty to pick me up at 9:30 A.M. He asked me for two cigarettes as a token of goodwill. I complied. He never turned up.
10:34 A.M. I’m attending a showcase panel on “Why Books Matter” with Kiran Desai and Penguin CEO John Makinson. It’s being filmed for the BBC and the spotlights are on the audience. It’s quite painful on the eyes. According to Sunil Sethi, who presents the only literary show on Indian television, book sales are rising by fifteen to eighteen percent per year in India. I find that very hard to believe. One interjection from the floor offers an interesting insight into this phenomenon. “It is not true Mr. Sethi,” says Mumbaikar. “In Bombay the Encyclopaedia Britannica is very popular but that is because it matches the furniture.” That’s more like it.
1:15 P.M. It’s lunch time. I’ve just had my photo taken by a dozen journalists as a smiling Indian man with neat white hair placed a piece of naan bread onto my plate. I might be in the papers tomorrow—his name is Javed Akhtar and he is a very famous lyricist for Bollywood songs, I’m told. I was an extra in a Bollywood film once. I had to wear a tweed suit at a beach party and pretend to swig from a magnum bottle of vodka.
7:40 P.M. Salman Ahmad has just taken to the stage. The Guardian has described him as Pakistan’s answer to Bono. Kamila Shamsie wrote a piece on the rise of pop music in the Pakistan issue of Granta last year on the emergence of pop music in the eighties which charted Ahmad’s rise and his turn to Sufi Islam for inspiration.
10:36 P.M. I’m sharing a drink with Samrat, whose debut novel The Urban Jungle came off the press yesterday. He’s just given me a signed copy of it—it’s a modern rewriting of Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Samrat tells me that Sunil Sethi’s statistics on the growth of the book market in India are inaccurate. An English language best-seller in India sells no more than five thousand copies, according to Samrat. I’ve since been looking online and cannot find any information either way. Surely that’s too low?
We were in a used bookstore, the girl and I.
We were there, roaming the dim, musty aisles on an early summer afternoon, because the girl loved books and because I had lied to her about loving books. I was fourteen years old, as dumb and desperate as countless fourteen-year-old boys before me, and I had been sucked into a black hole of obsession from the moment I first saw the girl sitting three seats in on the second row in my first-period geometry class. Those narrow, discerning brown eyes. Those plush, effortlessly taunting lips. The thrift-store ensemble that improbably fused the elegance of Jackie O. with the edge of Liz Phair. I was ruined then and there, and devoted that first year of high school to studying the girl from afar, confident that it was only a matter of time before we would “accidentally” collide in the hallway and end up making out as the sprinkler system inexplicably went haywire, drenching the clothes we would soon be tearing off one another.
By late spring, however, the one thing I had gleaned for certain about the girl was that she liked to read—an unfortunate discovery. My logic was simple: If you were reading a book it meant you were likely sitting alone somewhere, and if you were sitting alone somewhere it meant that you were not making out under any sprinkler systems, and if there wasn’t at least the prospect, however delusional, that any given activity would result in your making out under a sprinkler systems, what, really, was the point? Regardless, I did the only thing that made sense; I adopted a completely false personality, approached the girl as she was waiting for her bus on the last day of school, and asked what she was up to over the summer.
“Cause there’s, like, this used bookstore I love,” I lied.
“You should check it out sometime. With me.”
For whatever reason, she said yes. And now inside the store she pulled every other book from the rickety shelves, offering brief but eloquent commentaries on each one before asking if I’d read it. Sometimes I said yes. Sometimes I said no. Best to keep it vague, I figured. But after half an hour or so something happened that, in a bizarre, circuitous manner, would turn out to be arguably the most profound moment of my sexual coming of age.