Letter from Asturias

I am in Asturias, in Spain. Up in the hills above a town called Santa Marina on a little peak called Pico Los Rozos.  We are staying in a small farmhouse here, composed of three or four buildings of which we occupy a room.  From here the views are extremely pleasant, full of contours and angles and on top of some hills are wind power generators. I notice most of all the silence, so profound that each noise, when it does reach me, is magnified and travels long distances.  The sound of bees and flies and insects of all types, which I think I recall now only from childhood (so much urban living), almost numbs my ears if there are more than just a few buzzing past.  I hear the clanking bells around cows’ necks, but it is difficult to pinpoint the source of the noise, as the wind — a noise in itself — spreads the sonic waves, so that you feel at times surrounded. Continue reading →

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Time for Real Communication

A London acquaintance of mine, John Freeman, was on the Diane Rehm Show last month discussing his new book, The Tyranny of Email.  Some of what he talks about is obvious, and the discussion occasionally veers toward a radio call-in sentimentality, but there are some nice moments in the conversation about letter writing in particular.  It reminds me that just as important (and difficult) is taking the time to consider — really consider — the people and experiences one has in life.  I only met John once in person, over coffee at Paul near the Granta offices.  He seemed hurried (and was late), but I remember enjoying the book I was reading while sipping coffee on the sidewalk that morning as much as the brief chat we had about supporting Granta’s work.  It would have been nice to have had time for a longer discussion, but in many ways that’s the point.  We’ve emailed a few times since that meeting and gone about our working lives.  Good to see he’s doing well.

At McDonald’s August 14, 2008 or What Happens When You Read Naipaul

(written on the back of my appointments schedule)

That became the tread of my days.  Some days up and then suddenly a fantastic low, a mood that hollowed me out; where I sank into an approximation of gloom burdened with a nagging guilt at my unease.  It felt wrong to be ungrateful, and this was the worst part of those down days.  One day I envisioned what a graph of my life looked like and saw a sine wave, like a radio frequency with sharp oscillations of static noise.  Was that really what life was meant to be?  It seemed illogical really — here I was with every opportunity (including the opportunity to be left alone if I so chose) and daily I struggled still.  There were few useful comparisons and even less sympathy for my condition.  My family couldn’t understand my lack of conviction, to them it seemed I was creating problems where none had existed.  This was because they lacked the capacity for self-reflection.

There were many who had moved on of course. Often I noticed that these types quickly became possessed by a missing zeal which is ever present in American society — to “do good” or “give a voice to the voiceless.”  The ferocity with which they began to champion causes of all sorts astounded and unnerved me.  Sometimes I found myself engaged in a debate about a topic for which I cared little or not at all.  Often I sounded ridiculous, as anyone might who was arguing a point about which he didn’t truly have a a feeling one way or another.  Before I became too disturbed by my losing record as a debater, though, I began noticing a commonality in the people I argued with.  They all showed signs of — and some eventually became — a strain of nihilism in their discourse.  Behind the passion and conviction lay the real sense that there was no answer, that things, all things, would in the end fall short, achieve little, and bring ruination.  The world had become (frequently “because of the West”, whatever that meant) hopelessly corrupted and broken.  Even if they won their argument with me, they lost.  The game had been pre-cooked.  It was beautiful how their notions contained a rejection of fate and repudiation of any natural balance to the universe.

A Mediocre Medium

Sometimes, as I anguish over the number of books, articles, blogs, Op-Ed pieces, reviews, and commentaries that I attempt to read, just sometimes, I recall a simple truth: I love words. That passion, which is not expressed in any knowledge of poetry nor in an ability to rattle off and insert literary quotations into my everday speech, is why I cannot escape the desire to tap on computer keys or dangle a pen from my fingers or carry around a scrap of notebook.  This is a constant presence — the belief that I may have something to write. Continue reading →

This is What I Did

It’s been a week to obsess about – what else? – writing.  The Kolkata Book Fair got off to a fine start by ending before it began — the High Court ruled against it being held in Park Circus, the Booksellers Guild said okay, then we’ll have to cancel it because we don’t have a Plan B.  Mad scramble as everyone looked for alternative venues to host the writers who had traveled serious distances to attend .  And it even rained one day.  Still, the US folks hosted a nice reception. Paul Theroux, Bharati Mukherjee, Amit Chauduri, Governor Gandhi, Chris Merrill, and others attended and I had a chance to interact with these literati, who I have to say were quite entertaining. Paul Theroux may be a sourpuss, but he’s effing hilarious. Blunt, uncowed, and really very interested in the world around him. I was impressed. Continue reading →

Ok, Sir, put down the magazine and step away

I’ve been trying since the 2nd half of 2007 to catch up on my New Yorkers. For a long time I remained about two months behind, unable to break that 8 week barrier. I’ve made progress though, and I think it was the switch to reading backwards from the most current issue that has somehow sped things up. Who knew? But it’s given rise to the unexpected — I’ve begun to think about my life as a New Yorker article. Continue reading →

Speaking

Last year I wrote briefly about listening to Amit Chaudhuri, a well known Indian author. In that post, I found him to be…well…arrogant. I was wrong. I had the pleasure of participating with him on a panel discussion earlier this week about fiction writing. The topic was “creativity” and he spoke about his experiences discovering what kind of writer he was. I hadn’t prepared much – not knowing the audience, being on planes for hours on end the past month, and because I tend to prepare at the last minute – but it’s getting easier to be calm about these sorts of things. It also helped that the first panelist delivered a quasi-academic, not well thought out lecture that meandered through stereotypes of creativity. Continue reading →