Not so long ago, I was sleeping with the bedsheets rolled up into a pillow. What struck me, would give this blog another dig at existence. Looking often at the ceiling, I do what most self-proclaimed poets do to kill time. Imagine situations that will haunt me in dreams and further taunt to enlighten the public. Other's nightmares are manufactured like this. Unlike a good littérateur, I thought, I don't give enough updates about the universe I float in. Of hard-bounds and paper backs.
I happened to be at the recent Landmark sale where I picked up few books. Mostly hard-bounds. That has been the protocol for the book sale. Hard is good. Nevertheless, there were few paper-backs which got into the cart. This is the list of books.
Two Lives, Vikram Seth
Agent Zig Zag, Ben Macintyre
The Best American Poetry (2007): Various poets, literary giants, midgets and nobody.
Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson
The View from the Castle Rock, Alice Munroe
Loot and other short stories, Nadine Gordimer
Butter Chicken in Ludiana , Pankaj Mishra
My risks are really risky. So, I tend to go by the popular names in the literati, for my picks. Another definite yard stick is a Nobel Prize. Nadine Gordimer above. A writer friend of mine and I, have a pact to meet in Stockholm one day and throw open the banquet dinner at the Academy. I try in my small, nibbling ways. Chewing literature mote by mote. Our definitive plan would make a best seller. That's a different story anyway.
Among the listed loot, I have finished reading Two Lives. A really long book. But I never felt it, because of the flow in the story. I had to sit up for some chapters about Holocaust. And this is not the first time I have sat up to imagine the horror that's not described. This is a story of Seth's grand uncle and aunt, a German. She flees to England just in time to escape the deportation to the camps. The story goes back and forth, in letters, photographs and memories. Seth's description never leaves you time to turn the page.
Agent Zigzag, is the true story of a spy during WW II. I am half way through the book. It goes, more or less, in a chronological way describing the life of Eddie Chapman, the spy who works with Germans. He later turns into a double agent for Britain. What struck me is how personable and yet impersonal were the spy masters at Abwehr, the German counter intelligence agency. There could have been a greater description of the emotions of Chapman as a double agent. There are one or two letters written by the protagonist that throw some light. They bring forth the opinions of the spy on war, patriotism and on the times. Again, I should warn you, I am only a half way through the book. But I think I can conjecture about the style of writing. That it is drab and not much of a surprise.
Poetry without end rhymes or a pattern is like a wild horse. There are no rules at all. That is what people would make you believe. I look for an occasional rhyme, alliteration, metaphor, some familiar sound when I write. But modern poetry, apparently, is not just that. All this wisdom I get from The Best American Poetry, 2007. Here are the poets who have been published. I mean, unlike me. There are poems which make me wander in the empty space the writer leaves in the middle of a line. It almost looks like a "Fill-in-the-blank" section from school days. This particular poem was titled "Marriage" albeit with so many gaps. Anyway, I move on to further pages. Poetry published in "New American Writing" has both good and bad parts. I could see imagery relating to 9/11 and its after effects (Guantanamo, Iraq, Afghanistan) . Something about war is raging in New American Writing. Another piece with this tag is titled "Super-Clean Country" that ends up throwing "shit" at the readers. I understand that this poem is about covering up a scandal. But somehow it doesn't sit well with the setting. Some Post-Modernist shit I guess. I reproduce it here:
A Super-Clean Country
You(almost) never see it in public so
You have to conjure it up all day long
Drag it into every conversation
To flesh out the corporate picture.
It's an inevitable verbal tic -- wouldn't you say?--
For a super-clean country.
Holy shit, that shit's wack.
She thinks she's hot shit but she ain't dogshit.
There's nothing but shit on the internet.
Why are you so hung up on shit like that?
I got some good shit at home, some far-out shit.
You're so full of shit, you dumbshit motherfucker.
Bill Bryson amuses me with his opening lines. For example "I come from Des Moines. Someone had to." from the book "The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America". He has a touch of humor to the travels and even travails at times. Most of the traveling I do is from my arm chair and cot. And I am never bored when I am with Bryson. In "Mother Tongue" Bryson charts the story of the English language and inadvertently takes us back to the times of Middle England where people spoke differently within a small town's distance. The formative years, so to speak. It is amusing, informative, surprising and at times universal about where it all came from. I am past the mid-way mile stone and not out of gas (petrol) yet.
The rest of the books are yet to be opened. May be next year. Again, years pass by and some never get picked. Just like us who are trying to hitch a ride to Stockholm.