- The International literary community rallies around an imprisoned Turkish publisher and activist.
- Steve Jobs tops the best-seller list.
- Rebecca … the musical!
- Heart of Darkness … the opera!
- Blue Nights … the movie!
- Lisbeth Salander … the clothing line?
- Salman Rushdie on Kim Kardashian. On Twitter. In limerick.
- Speaking of strange bedfellows: Groucho Marx and T. S. Eliot.
- J. K. Rowling considered killing off Ron “out of sheer spite.”
- Speaking of spite, Didion vs. Kael.
- Awesome people reading.
A few weeks ago I found myself accidentally enacting the drama of a book I was reading. The book was Homesickness: An American History, and I was reading it on the subway, somewhat embarrassed by the title, which, held up right in front of my face, was like a sign saying: Here in New York, I can’t cut it. I comforted myself with the idea that I was only a few stops from home, where I could read safe from potential pity. But when I got to my door, I discovered that I’d locked myself out.
I looked up at my windows. I wished I could use the bathroom, foreign bathrooms costing at least a coffee. But it struck me that I didn’t long to be in my apartment. My place, with its card table in the kitchen and mattress on the floor, is unsettled—I would feel as dislocated inside of it as out. I can’t imagine what feeling settled here would look like; the only settled place I’m familiar with is the home where I grew up.
How long does it take to cultivate the feeling of home? I’ve been in New York for three years, on the East Coast for eight, and I’ve never suffered from acute homesickness. But still, when I’m called to define “home,” I think of El Granada, a town of 5,436 that staked itself twenty-six miles south of San Francisco down the coast. I mean staked quite literally: between 1906 and 1909, Ocean Shore Railway, which was building tracks from Santa Cruz to San Francisco along what is now Highway 1, planted thousands of fast-growing, blue gum eucalyptuses with the hopes of flipping El Granada into a seaside resort for train-traveling San Franciscans. The railroad company also commissioned the eminent architect and city planner Daniel Burnham (famous for the Flatiron building) to plan the streets. They go in two directions, up the hills and around them, so that it looks from above as if a four-square-mile spider web has been draped over the thousands of trees. But the dream of El Granada was not to be. Two years later the railway company collapsed. The tracks were abandoned. Some speculators bought land, but the place never really caught on until computers did in the late eighties and nineties, and intrepid commuters from Silicon Valley bought BMWs and began building houses. Read More
Arundhati Roy’s 1997 Booker Prize–winning debut novel, The God of Small Things, helped transform her into an overnight literary celebrity and something of a poster author for the boom in Indian writing. (Billboards across the country trumpeted her Booker victory.) She followed up the novel, however, with a stinging essay condemning India and Pakistan’s nuclear showdown, entitled “The End of Imagination,” and set off, as she’s said, “on a political journey which I never expected to embark on.” She was soon taking up the pen on a range of issues—big dam projects that were displacing communities, India’s occupation of Kashmir, political corruption, and Hindu extremism. Suddenly, she was seen in a very different light at home: a voice of conscience, perhaps, but also a shrill and uncomfortable reminder of what lurked behind India’s democracy.
But perhaps nothing quite prepared her for the virulent response to her March 2010 cover story for the Indian newsweekly Outlook, an inside report from the jungle camps where Maoist insurgents (and tribal villagers) were locked in a deadly and drawn-out battle with government forces over mineral-rich land. “Here in the forests of Dantewada [in central India],” she writes, “a battle rages for the soul of India.” That article forms the centerpiece of her new collection, Walking with the Comrades, from Penguin Books; while Kashmir: The Case for Freedom, out now from Verso, also includes pieces by Roy as well as Tariq Ali, Pankaj Mishra, and others. She’ll be making two rare appearances in New York next month, at the CUNY Graduate Center on November 9 and the Asia Society on November 11. I recently spoke with her by phone in Delhi. Read More
“Moments are the elements of profit,” Karl Marx wrote in Capital, quoting from an 1860 report by one of the British government’s factory inspectors. Marx believed that the uniformity of time underlay the fungibility of money; the time it took to make a commodity was, according to his theory, the basis of its value in the marketplace. If it takes ten hours to make an overcoat and ten to make a wheel of Stilton cheese, the coat and the cheese can be fairly traded. After all, a coat maker’s ten hours mean as much as a cheesewright’s. Or, as Thoreau put it, somewhat more poetically: “The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.”
Andrew Niccol’s new movie In Time brings the labor theory of value to the big screen with bold literalness. In the future, thanks to genetic engineering, everyone’s physical appearance ceases to develop or decline at age twenty-five, at which moment, with a silent, monitory thump, a stop watch on the left forearm—a cross between an Auschwitz serial number and a lime-green digital alarm clock—begins ticking down from one year. To get more time, one must beg, borrow, steal, or work, and with sufficient wealth, one can live forever. Read More
Even the most confident of writers can be excused for wondering if words, mere black-and-white glyphs, can compete in a world filled with ever more animated, flashing, full-color, special-effects-crammed and interactive visual media. At such times, it’s helpful to remember a passage from Norton Juster’s children’s novel, The Phantom Tollbooth, describing a visit by the hero, Milo, to the archives of the Soundkeeper in the Lands Beyond.
The Soundkeeper boasts that her vaults contain “every sound that’s ever been made in history.” To prove it, she opens a drawer and pulls out “a small brown envelope,” explaining that it contains “the exact tune George Washington whistled when he crossed the Delaware on that icy night in 1777.” Milo, Juster writes, “peered into the envelope and, sure enough, that’s exactly what was in it.” The narrative moves briskly on.
Like much of the best fiction for children, this scene illustrates how writing well consists not only of knowing what to put in, but also of knowing what to leave out. Read More