Literary Passings: VS Naipaul, Anglo-Indian Novelist

Our VS Naipaul books here

From this obituary:

Over the years, I have kept coming back to an image: a young writer, a twenty-six-year-old Indian man, sits at a desk in a small flat in Streatham Hill, a modest area of South London. It is 1958, and he is working on a long book that will become, in time, one of the great novels of the twentieth century. The young writer is unimaginably confident and unimaginably vulnerable: privileged in some respects (he went to Oxford, and he knows that he is more talented than his literary peers), utterly powerless in others (he is an Indian at work in the old, disdainful imperial metropolis, but he is not even from India—he grew up in Trinidad, where his grandfather was brought over as an indentured laborer to work on the sugarcane plantations).

This is the first extraordinary fact about “A House for Mr. Biswas,” the masterwork by V. S. Naipaul, who died on Saturday, at eighty-five. This book, so full of comedy and pathos, uncanny wisdom and painful compassion, containing a comprehension both of human motive and of a society’s dynamic that might take most writers a lifetime to achieve, was written by a man in his mid- to late twenties. (The only comparable achievement that comes to mind is “Buddenbrooks,” published when Thomas Mann was twenty-six; Cervantes was probably around fifty-five when the first part of “Don Quixote” appeared.) The young Vidia Naipaul’s compassion—a quality that apparently dried up as he aged—was brought to bear on the life of his father, Seepersad Naipaul, the model for Mohun Biswas. Seepersad, like Mr. Biswas, lived a short life (he died at the age of forty-six) that was both an astonishing achievement and a relative failure, and it is this stereoscopic vision that gives “A House for Mr. Biswas” such shattering power. The achievement was to have raised himself up, from very modest origins, in a tiny society of fiercely limited opportunity, to become a writer, or a kind of writer: Mr. Biswas, like Seepersad Naipaul, became a journalist for the Trinidad Guardian (renamed, in the novel, the Sentinel). But, in the larger scheme of things, Mr. Biswas’s life amounted to little: the Trinidad Guardian was just a local island paper (Seepersad Naipaul complained to his son about the tedious unimportance of most of his assignments); and, though Seepersad, like Mr. Biswas, would live vicariously through his clever children, who won scholarships and left the island to study in England, he himself never left. He ended his brief, circumscribed life in a small house in Port of Spain that, to many people, would resemble a shack—“a box,” writes Naipaul’s biographer, Patrick French. “A hot, rickety, partitioned building near the end of the street, around 7 square metres on two floors with an external wooden staircase and a corrugated iron roof.”

 

Featured Author: Barbara Ehrenreich, Social Journalist (Nickel and Dimed)

Barbara Ehrenreich Is a journalist and writer who is willing to tackle some very tough subjects.  You may have heard of her book Nickel And Dimed: On Not Getting By In America. The author took a series of low paying jobs to see if you could actually make ends meet.  It makes for some pretty interesting reading!

My other favorite book by this author is Bright-Sided.  This book has a very interesting idea: that Americans mistake critical analysis for pessimism and this inability to address our problems damages social discourse.

Recommended for anyone who wants a good read and people interested in current affairs.

Link to review of Nickel and Dimed in Dissent Magazine

Five jobs and three cities later, Ehrenreich concludes that many of today’s jobs don’t pay enough to support one person—much less a whole family. She works two jobs at a time andeats “chopped meat, beans, cheese and noodles.” But in all three cities, rent gets the
better of her economy. “You don’t need a degree in economics,” she writes, “to see that
wages are too low and rents too high.” But this is a mathematical conclusion, which could
have been made with the aid of a calculator. By taking these jobs herself, Ehrenreich is able to capture the material details of workplace indignity.”

Read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain material here.

The world lost a great foodie and educator in Anthony Bourdain.

We knew Anthony Bourdain first as the host of No Reservations, but before that TV gig, he was a multidecade veteran of the restaurant biz.

Kitchen Confidential ocuses on his initiation into the restaurant industry – both as a worker and later as an owner. It is invaluable reading for anyone thinking – like some of my entrepreneur students – of opening a restaurant or bar.

This is how it goes down – the rhythm of work, your inevitably dysfunctional staff, how the kitchen is run, how to pay for food and secure supplies, etc…

A lot of hilarious and insightful information.

Literary Passings: Sci-Fi Master Harlan Ellison

Harlan Ellison works here.

From this obituary:

Ellison produced more than 1,800 pieces of writing, beginning in 1949 when his hometown Cleveland News gave him his first byline when he was 15.

His best-known published works include his 1959 debut novel, Web of the City; the novellas Mefisto in Onyx and A Boy and his Dog — which was turned into a 1975 post-apocalyptic feature starring Don Johnson; and the short story “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream.”

Stephen King, in Danse Macabre, his 1981 homage to horror fiction, praised Ellison’s Strange Wine collection of short stories for being among the best published between 1950-80.

Television beckoned throughout his long career, and Ellison wrote scripts for incarnations of The Outer Limits decades apart. He lent his expertise to The Twilight Zone revival in the 1980s and to Babylon 5 in the 1990s. In

Featured Author: Abraham Verghese, Medical Nonfiction Writer

All Abraham Verghese books here.

I first became aware of Abraham Verghese through his best-selling book, My Own Country, which chronicled the AIDS epidemic in a small Tennessee city (which also happens to be my hometown). Dr. Verghese wrote the book based on his own experiences, and I can tell you that it is completely accurate.

Since then, Dr. Verghese has gone on to write nonfiction about losing a tennis partner to addiction as well as fiction. Dr. Verghese currently works at Stanford University.

Read more in this biography

 

Literary Passings: Tom Wolfe

Our Tom Wolfe holdings here.

From the NPR obituary:

In a career that spanned more than half a century, Tom Wolfe wrote fiction and nonfiction best-sellers including The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and The Bonfire of the Vanities. Along the way, he created a new type of journalism and coined phrases that became part of the American lexicon. Wolfe died Monday in Manhattan. He was 88.

Wolfe didn’t start a novel with a character or a plot, but rather, with an idea. In 1987, wearing his signature white suit, Wolfe told me how he began his first novel, a panoramic story of New York Society:

“I looked at the whole city first,” he said. “I wanted to do New York High and Low. I figured Wall Street could stand for the high end, and also some of the life on Park Avenue. And at the low end, there would be what you find caught up in the criminal mechanism in the Bronx. Once I zeroed in on these areas, I would then find the characters.”

The novel that grew out of Wolfe’s research — The Bonfire of the Vanities — was the tale of Sherman McCoy, a wealthy bond trader who loses everything after a wrong turn in the South Bronx with his mistress in the passenger seat. It was a huge critical and commercial success. Wolfe had written the novel from the same “you are there,” stream-of-consciousness, first-person perspective that he pioneered in his nonfiction 20 years earlier.

Literary Passings: Philip Roth

Our Philip Roth material here.

From the New York Times obituary:

The Nobel Prize eluded Mr. Roth, but he won most of the other top honors: two National Book Awards, two National Book Critics Circle awards, three PEN/Faulkner Awards, a Pulitzer Prize and the Man Booker International Prize.

In his 60s, a time of life when many writers are winding down, he produced an exceptional sequence of historical novels — “American Pastoral,” “The Human Stain” and “I Married a Communist” — products of his personal re-engagement with America and American themes.

And starting with “Everyman” in 2006, when he was 73, he kept up a relentless book-a-year pace, publishing works that while not necessarily major were nevertheless fiercely intelligent and sharply observed. Their theme in one way or another was the ravages of age and mortality itself, and in publishing them he seemed to be defiantly staving off his own decline.

Mr. Roth was often lumped together with Bellow and Bernard Malamud as part of the “Hart, Schaffner & Marx of American letters,” but he resisted the label. “The epithet American-Jewish writer has no meaning for me,” he said. “If I’m not an American, I’m nothing.”

And yet, almost against his will sometimes, he was drawn again and again to writing about themes of Jewish identity, anti-Semitism and the Jewish experience in America. He returned often, especially in his later work, to the Weequahic neighborhood of Newark, where he had grown up and which became in his writing a kind of vanished Eden: a place of middle-class pride, frugality, diligence and aspiration.

 

Featured Author: Rsyzard Kapusckinki, World Journalist/Storyteller

Interested in writing nonfiction, international journalism, or some of the best reportage ever put on paper?

Check out our Rsyzard Kapusckinki books (yes, we have them in English).

Kapusckinki wrote about colonialism in Africa, the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Soccer War in Central America (my personal favorite and you’ll have to get the book to get the whole story).

Often travelling outside the major cities, Kapusckinki regales us with stories of lemonade stands in Central Asia, the circular logic of policeman at an African road checkpoint, mountains of frozen ice from perpetually broken pipes in Siberia, and his comical attempts to navigate a city during a wartime blackout.

Featured Author: Jim Thompson (The Grifters, The Getaway)

All Jim Thompson books here

Jim Thompson wrote a lot of dark crime thrillers set in the southwest.  They are classic American noir: doomed characters, cheap hotels, lonely towns – the works.  Since you are living in San Marcos, you should know that one of his most famous novels – The Getaway – was made into a classic film that was partially filled right here in San Marcos!

From Contemporary Popular Writers

The Getaway (1959) provides a telling example of just how Thompson can alter the boundaries of normal crime fiction; it begins as a relatively orthodox big caper novel about the usual daring and capable crook who plans a perfect crime that inevitably goes awry. He takes the premise much further, however, when the criminal mastermind, Doc, must escape by, among other difficulties, being buried alive and tunneling through excrement–a characteristic Thompson touch–before ending up at the perfect hideout, an expensive resort designed especially for crooks on the lam. Once there, however, Doc realizes that he has descended into a version of Hell itself, truly a last resort.

Some of Thompson’s titles, like A Swell-Looking Babe (1954) and A Hell of a Woman (1954), suggest the rather quaint raciness and directness of his pulp antecedents; others, like The Killer inside Me (1952) and The Nothing Man (1954), neatly sum up the perversity and emptiness of his vision. Like the later Pop. 1280 (1964), which it resembles in plot, narrator, and murder-by-murder progression, The Killer inside Me details the virtually motiveless violence of a pure psychopath, a man who is almost beautiful in his entirely conscious, unsullied madness. The narrator-protagonist, Deputy Lou Ford, beats women for his (and sometimes their) sexual pleasure, commits a series of brutal murders, and, most horribly, enjoys conversing in a series of exaggeratedly idiotic platitudes that mock his listeners, readers, and perhaps even himself. His thoroughly insincere harangue about sending black people back to Africa, as well as his reiteration of sentiments about clouds with silver linings, heat and humidity, rain bringing rainbows, and so forth, betray his cunning madness and his wholesale hatred better than all his terrible violence. Even worse than the banality of evil, for Thompson, is the conscious banality of its utterance.

Extending its despair even further than The Killer inside Me, The Nothing Man may serve as the best example of Thompson’s vaunted nihilism. Its protagonist, a newspaperman named Clinton Brown, who talks occasionally like Lou Ford, has suffered essentially the same war wound as Jake Barnes; his lack of a penis defines his nothingness and impels him to destruction. He drinks, scorns, hurts, and kills, but is so much a nothing man that he cannot even get himself blamed for the crimes he commits; his doom is to continue his life as a nothing man.

Although his style often breaks down into the mixture of urgent pacing and heavy facetiousness of too many pulp writers, and his dialogue seems less acceptable than his narration, Thompson’s characters, actions, and themes underline the originality of his achievement. Within a narrow and violent world his work attains a special and most disturbing originality; some of his peers write better, but none, like it or not, attains so bleak a vision of human emptiness.