Sunday, April 29, 2007

Claire Messud reviews Hermione Lee's Edith Wharton (yes, yes, I am still going to be gifted this. The trick is to reward yourself I think) in the NYT Sunday Book Review:
In her short story "The Fullness of Life," Edith Wharton wrote that a woman's life is like "a great house full of rooms," most of which remain unseen: "and in the innermost room, the holy of holies, the soul sits alone and waits for a footstep that never comes." In spite of the many books written about Wharton and her work — including R. W. B. Lewis's Pulitzer Prize-winning 1975 biography — it is Hermione Lee's determination to provide an unprecedented tour of all the rooms in Edith Wharton's mansion. The text is unquestionably authoritative, impressively — indeed, almost alarmingly — exhaustive (it includes lists of Wharton's neighbors, of fellow hotel guests, of the ads surrounding her published stories, of the wines in her cellars); and it seeks, with meticulous care, to approach the soul in her innermost sanctum.
read on

It's all about taste

The latest Boldtype theme is Food. Many books on the theme are reviewed. For example, consider the one that caught my eye instantly: How I Learned to Cook: Culinary Educations from the World's Greatest Chefs. Had someone asked me that question, I'd have needed just a couple of words to answer, sheer necessity!

Talking about food, the rather recent book review that stayed in my head was the one Lotus did on Madhur Jaffrey's Climbing the Mango Trees. I am not much of a food books reader, yet I wanted to read this memoir because Lotus made it sound so inviting.

A few days ago, during one of my conversations with MIL, she asked me if I'd tried Vasantha Mami's recipes (the Mami here is the actual relationship of MIL to Mrs.Vasantha Moorthy). I mentioned that Mrs.VM had gifted us with her The Complete Vegetable Cookbook on our wedding and that I treated the book like my bible, not failing to refer to it everyday (do you ever wonder, looking at all your vegetables, now how do I make it differently today?). Indeed, it is one of the few cookbooks that I am aware of other than trademarks like Meenakshi Ammal, Tarla Dalal and Sanjeev Kapoor. Of course, over the course of many years, MIL had asked me the same question several times and I had offered the same answer. Yet, it has become one of our fillers when the conversation veers towards cooking.

Like every summer, the trivia in conversation has started to turn in the mango direction. Did you find good ones yet? Which is the best tasting one this season? On and on. I haven't found very many inviting ones in the market yet. But May appears promising.

My neighbour offered me a tip to make sambhar the way Rathna Cafe makes it. So I am going to try it on the unsuspecting husband in a day or two. Psst...sometimes it is good that Lord L doesn't read this blog!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

I couldn't resist ranting about the Akshaya Tritya hype
So many patterns to keep in mind, so many shops to walk in and out of. And the crowds! Good Lord, she mutters as she finds the road packed with policemen. I am sure The Hindu would have mentioned special bandobast. She hurries in the direction of GRT, oh no, not that crowded one in Usman Road, but the new one in North Usman. Maybe, just maybe, after buying the rhodium coated bangles she will cross the road to Sundari Silks and find a matching saree to wear it with.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Penguin Book of Art Writing

The Penguin Book of Art Writing

For every reader of books on art, 1000 people go to look at art. Thank heaven!
-Ezra Pound (filched from the footnote)
The book is fat. Nice blue colour. My copy smells of age and loving readers (the copy is intact). If we ignore my melodrama and move on, the book is an engaging collection of writings on art. There are artists writing about fellow artists, critics reviewing art and the artist, art watchers sharing memorable experiences, artists commenting on what art means to them and so on. In other words, this book is an anthology.

The book opens with a chapter titled In the Studio: The Artist at Work. The first piece in the chapter is about Pierre Bonnard refusing to pose for a photographer. Their meeting appears to have taken place not many months after Marthe's death. The photographer Brassai notes that Bonnard's studio does not have an easel. Instead he finds several canvases nailed on the wall in their half-finished state. Apparently Bonnard liked to work on several canvases, a touch here, a dab there. Brassai mentions the postcards of Bonnard's favourite works, also pinned up, but on a shelf. Vermeer's Street in Delft, Monet's Nympheas,...

Other chapters talk about many things and carry within an amazing number of interesting snippets. In the chapter Gallery-going: The Experience of Looking at Art, there is a note from Rembrandt to one Constantin Huygens, dated 1639, instructing the latter on how to hang a Rembrandt: My Lord, hang this piece in a strong light, so that one may look at it from a distance, and it may appear at its best.

In What is Art?, Andy Warhol remarks, Art? Isn't that a man's name?. Francis Bacon (ah no! not that Francis Bacon) and David Sylvester discuss how photography has influenced art in a positive way. On a related note, Margaret Thatcher, on a visit to the Tate, is said to have said of Bacon (when informed that he was the greatest living painter), Not that horrible man who paints dreadful pictures! JMW Turner thought art a rummy business; Georges Barque that in Art there is only one thing that counts; the thing you can't explain.

Then there are pieces like Henry James tearing apart Lord Leighton's work; Julian Barnes talking about Edgar Degas' portrayal of women; members of the Bloomsbury group praising the work of Walter Sickert (a Jack the Ripper suspect)...

The Penguin Book of Art Writing is filled with such ones. I'd have said worth buying oneself a copy if I hadn't checked that the price reads a 100 USD. Nevertheless, worth borrowing several times. Go seek in the library, now!

This and that

Been wanting to mention a word about the Writers' Rooms series in the Guardian. You know, if I were to pick writers to read based on pictures of their rooms, I would choose these: my winner, runner up -1, -2, -3. Guess it is all about old polished desks, plenty of light and absence of clutter. Err...anyone still believe that untidy desks host the most creative minds?

I've only heard of Chennai's famous Broken Bridge, umpteen times. Yet, it never struck me that it was worth a visit. However, a sunset and a story can change a perspective. Also, an old article on spooky places in Chennai.

While searching for Heyer's Reluctant Widow, I came across this very charming discussion (dated '04) on BBC Radio 4. Margaret Drabble, the one who blurbs every new edition of Georgette Heyer, talks with such excitement. Tut, Heyerians everywhere are irrepressible.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

A weekend fragment...

Turn now, listen. This is how it is done. It is not your brand of frivolousness. My fun is serious. A thousand things on my mind you know. Every minute. Thousand different things. You won't understand. It is the types. Your type, my type, other types. Nah, all is not one. All is a thousand things. There are only fragments. Always. In everything. Nothing follows, nothing leads. Law of the land, such crap. Multitudes, also crap. No, not everyone is a loner. Yes, claimers all. It cannot be understood. It is sensing see? What starts, what connects, who you are in thousands of links. A discovery. A disaster. Not saying. Hiding. Showing. Assuming, the original rubbish. Certainty, also rubbish. Wobbling footsteps, splitting headaches. Heart shrouded in mettle. The farce of it all, you think. Such blindness. Yours or mine?
John Banville talks to Benjamin Black... (via)
We are, of course, coevals, BB and I. How to describe him? Nowhere near as big as Quirke, the bull-man whom no woman can resist. As he crosses between me and the window—he is rarely still, preferring I suppose to make a moving target—he seems to me peculiarly blurred. He is less himself than the shadow of someone else. Does this explain the unease I sense in him? He avoids my eye; I suspect he avoids everyone’s eye.
read more

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


What? jhankarBeats is a website (in alpha at the moment) that hopes to provide a global platform for budding Indian musicians. Some music already up and very good.

Why? Quoting from here:
There is a lot of talent in the Indian music space with a lot of talented artists performing in their local space. jhankarBeats brings to them a global platform and exposure to a global audience. Local artists can hope to receive feedback from a global audience and market themselves to the world at large in an efficient, free and open manner.
How? A million ways. Find some, Tell some.

So what's in it for me? I knew you'd ask, my non-musical mirror self. Quoting FAQ:
You are utterly precious. You are the music lover for whom the artists produce music.You can certainly rate any song and provide feedback/comments on any song that you like. As of the Alpha release, we allow anyone to rate and provide feedback on songs.
Okay, who? Two friends, Anand S & Chetan C, shaped jhankarBeats over many many conversations.

And you, agent? Yeah right. Didn't you know all my friends are called Anand? Well, at least all such posts definitely talk of an Anand or another Anand!

While we are on the topic, let me use the chance to make Anand squirm a bit and perhaps even wonder why on earth he made my acquaintance:
Anand, a very happy birthday to you! Hope this year plays a haunting tune. And a song for you of course. *L vanishes in a trice

Monday, April 09, 2007

Katherine Mansfield

The first I heard of her was in connection with Virginia Woolf. She was mentioned in one of the Woolf biographical works and was rated very highly as a short story writer. Once you register a name, you keep coming across it now and then. So it was with Katherine Mansfield. A mention of John Middleton Murry or DH Lawrence usually dragged along with itself Mansfield's name. And whenever someone was seriously discussing the short story, after Anton Chekhov, one invariably heard of Katherine Mansfield (Mansfield is said to have been heavily influenced by Chekhov).

For a month now, I've been reading, savouring, Bliss and Other Stories. A story a night, few nights a week. Each of her stories in the mentioned collection are stunning. Not a wasted word, not a wasted rhythm. As a reader, you are that invisible witness at the scene, watching the playing out of an hour or a day or a week. You are suddenly in the mind of the players and suddenly at their side, provided with all the tools of omnipotence, yet lacking the power that comes with them. Until the story ends, you are not quite sure which way it will go. Once it ends, you are not quite sure of its full import. What a delight to have a question mark play in your head!

Bliss and Other Stories - very highly recommended.

Friday, April 06, 2007

I intend to get my hands on Hermione Lee's Edith Wharton quite soon. Therefore, any writing about the book really grabs my interest. Here are a few:



Hermione Lee

(ahem...Lord L...this is a birthday gift hint)
I do not need the police of meaningless labor to regulate me...
Does Wisdom work in a treadmill? or does she teach how to succeed by her example? Is there any such thing as wisdom not applied to life? Is she merely the miller who grinds the finest logic?
I asked myself why I might not be washing some gold daily, though it were only the finest particles, -- why I might not sink a shaft down to the gold within me, and work that mine.
-Quoted from Thoreau's Life Without Principle

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Reading Jane Eyre

Last weekend, I reread Jane Eyre. I'd suspended my reading of Ulysses for a few days because it was all going over my head. And I wanted to read something I'd read earlier so that I might enjoy the text better without watching out for twists in the story. Jane Eyre was a book I read long ago; I was ten or eleven years old I think and it was one of those books that I borrowed from my neighbour A. She was five years my senior and was forever initiating me into new things. Looking back, this means that I got to Bronte before Austen. And even then it was just Pride & Prejudice and Emma I think. The rest of the Austen works were long after I'd fallen completely in love with Georgette Heyer.

During the summer holidays back then, I would wait for the first chance to rush into A's house and look at her books. Usually I found A lolling in her bed, grumpy and curt at being disturbed by a hyper kid. In order to get me out of her way, she would pick up some random book, offer me its praises and shoo me away. And gullible that I was, I would trust her taste and rush back to my room with the new treat. That is how I first read Jane Eyre. I remember being fascinated by the word Eyre and saying it aloud several times. My impression of the book was not very favourable then. I found it very gloomy and, needless to say, I did not understand most of the book. The parts about her boarding school and her little-girl conversations were about all I could relate to. Perhaps some of the pages about Adele's descriptions of her frocks as well. But that was it. The conversations of Eyre and Rochester were boring, the love in the air was literal and equally boring. But I remembered the book and some of its images. For instance, Jane Eyre was always clad in dirty brown in my mind. She seemed to enjoy reading and knowing about things (which I liked). After I was better at understanding what books I liked, I used to always append gloomy to Jane Eyre whenever I heard the book mentioned.

Years later, I flipped through parts of Jane Eyre to refresh my memory but I never sat and read it from cover to cover. That is why last weekend was so enjoyable. I'd started the book on Saturday, found it very entertaining and absorbing and read several pages. On Sunday I got rid of my chores and curled up with the book early in the afternoon. I missed phone calls, did not turn on the computer, offered monosyllabic replies to the husband and read away for hours until the book was completed. While reading, I thought of Chenthil's post on literary crushes and wondered if Rochester might make it to my list. I liked him very well in this reading. And I would have boxed St.John 's ears had I been Jane.

This morning, while writing this post, I got to wondering how many men liked the Jane Eyre kind of book. A few days ago I mentioned reading Jane Eyre to a friend and he offered an aaaargh. Nandhu, in this post, mentions that he tried reading Pride & Prejudice and did not get to the end of it of course. My husband (now, now he needs a better manner of allusion. Should I resort to Mr.L or perhaps use the initial V or say Lord L [ha, how furious he would get to hear this one!]?) refuses to read any book by a woman that I strongly recommend! He liked Mansfield Park because I pretended it was just okay. Now, how many men have actually read a Georgette Heyer? And if yes, did they actually enjoy it? I think the answers to both will throw up very few men with good taste (yes, pick up the fight). Therefore such brand of wonderful feel-good literature thrives because of its loyal women readers who can see that behind the formulaic love story sits tremendously delightful humour, perfect for those Sunday afternoons when we want to say to the men, go take a walk.

PS: for the interested:
Jane's Art and Her Story
Paul Rego's Jane Eyre, from the Tate magazine