Friday, June 24, 2011

Friday Links: The June Swoon Edition

So, as typically happens post-blogathon, I fell into a bit of a June swoon. This one was delayed temporarily by the V.S. Naipaul flap, but it arrived nonetheless.

These links have been piling up, and the time has come to share them. I'm hoping that this time of rest in June will stoke my blogging energy again, so that I'll be back more regularly in July. Until then, a lot of links!

The India Links

The New York Times is running a series of pieces about India, and it's not surprising I'm finding them fascinating. A couple of weeks ago, they ran a piece about Gurgaon and how the city has been built up basically without any infrastructure. I had never spent any time in Gurgaon before Sunil moved there, and it is a very strange place. I went to one mall that is glitzier than any mall I've ever been in in the U.S., and I've watched Sunil's street being torn up for a very belated installation of sewer pipes. I've seen the fleets of cars waiting outside the multinational companies whose offices are in Gurgaon, and I've bumped along the truly terrible roads right next to them. It's rare to think of Delhi as organized in any way, but compared to Gurgaon it is.

Jim Yardley's article on Gurgaon

Jim Yardley answers questions about the piece and Gurgaon

The NYT Gurgaon slideshow

The slide with evidence that more than one pink-topped rickshaw exists!

My final India link is unrelated to Gurgaon. A few weeks ago, I had one of those frantic meet-in-the-aisles-of-Trader-Joes catch-ups with an old friend. She had her 3 month old baby in a front pack (last time I'd seen her, she had only a toddler; now there are 2!) and was supposed to be buying food for dinner. While her very patient baby waited, we gabbed hurriedly in the frozen food aisle. And she told me about a blog I'd never heard of about Indian food. The blog, Eat and Dust (a play, of course, on the title of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's 1975 novel, Heat and Dust, made into a movie in 1983 with Julie Christie, Greta Scacchi and Zakir Hussein) is written by a British woman, Pamela Timms, who's lived in Delhi for a number of years with her family. (Her husband is the South Asia correspondent for the Telegraph.) Her specialty is Delhi street food. I've only begun to explore the blog, but it's right up my alley.

A Telegraph article about Pamela Timms (They call her the "Delia of Old Delhi.")

The Obituary Links

It seemed an interesting coincidence that on the day when there were already all these India-related pieces in the NY Times, there was also the obituary of M.F. Husain, one of the most famous painters to come out of modern India:

M.F. Husain

Husain died at 95. It was clearly a bad week for talented nonagenarians, as the next day, obits for the travel writer Patrick Leigh Fermor appeared.

I had only vaguely heard of Fermor before Anthony Lane wrote a fascinating profile of him in the New Yorker in 2006. It may only be available to subscribers, but it's totally worth a read.

Anthony Lane on Patrick Leigh Fermor, 2006

Anthony Lane's response to Fermor's death, June 2011

Patrick Leigh Fermor Guardian obit

Patrick Leigh Fermor New York Times obit

The Local Links

We've had good news and bad news here in Western Massachusetts in the past 10 days or so.

The good news is that Amherst College, my alma mater, has named Carolyn "Biddy" Martin to be its 19th president. She will be the first woman president and the first openly gay president. Amherst was founded in 1821 and went coed in 1976. That's 155 years of being a men's college. When I was there in the mid-late 1980's, it felt more like a men's school that let women attend than a truly coed college. That's changed in the past 20 years, certainly, but this is a big step, and I'm delighted that they've finally taken it.

Amherst's announcement on Biddy Martin

New York Times piece on Biddy Martin

The bad news came a few days later. Our beloved local video store, Pleasant St. Video, announced that they are closing in July. They've been a fixture in downtown Northampton for 25 years. I've been a member for 16 of those years; I joined when I moved back to this area in 1995. Not only do they have a great collection, it's the kind of place where you might run in to pick something up and end up staying there much longer than planned because you're chatting with the folks at the counter or watching whatever movie is playing on the TV in the corner.

They are going out on their own terms, at least. The store didn't close overnight, and they are undertaking a fundraising effort to save their huge, varied, quirky collection by having people donate to the Forbes library in Northampton. For every $8 donation, they'll give Forbes a DVD. They're letting people donate generally or to save specific titles. (I wanted to save "Slings and Arrows," but someone else had claimed it, so I saved the films of Mira Nair instead, even though I haven't actually seen all of them.) It turns out that you can donate credits to save films also, and I have more than 30 credits on file with them. (I always bought credits in advance, and I have to admit that I wondered when I bought my last batch of credits last fall whether I'd use them all before the store closed.) I've already donated some to bolster my crush on Bill Nighy by saving the UK version of State of Play and a somewhat obscure but quite wonderful British film called The Lawless Heart, which Alex and I watched years ago and which I've always wanted to see again. I have a bit more time to decide. Meanwhile, according to the local NPR station, they raised $20,000 the first week, about a third of what they need to save whole collection. Let's hope the momentum continues.

Pleasant Street Video's Save the Catalog page

The local NPR station on Pleasant Street's Closing

The Valley Advocate on the end of Pleasant Street Video

Saturday, June 4, 2011

V.S. Naipaul is a pompous ass: an addendum

I wanted to add one more link to yesterday's list of links about V.S. Naipaul's recent comments about women and writing.

Roxana Robinson wrote an eloquent piece about the dangers of views like Naipaul's and how they're reflected in the way books are read, judged and rewarded these days. One of the key paragraphs:

Naipaul’s pronouncements are antediluvian. I won’t dignify with a response his comments on the mastery of the household; Diana Athill, the editor-turned-writer whom Naipaul denounces, is quite right to treat his maunderings as absurd. But if we can agree that this is absurd, then why do the numbers show, year after year, that our literary culture supports Naipaul’s belief? Why is it that men’s writing receives more prizes, more attention and more public acclaim than women’s? How is it that we accept this as a cultural norm?
"Do Women Write 'Tosh'?": Roxana Robinson's response.

I also wanted to post a quote, which is pretty much the first thing I thought of when I read about Naipaul's comments, in particular his comment about women's "sentimentality, the narrow view of the world . . . And inevitably for a woman, she is not a complete master of a house, so that comes over in her writing too."

Years ago, in graduate school, I read Annette Kolodny's essay, "Dancing Through the Minefield: Some Observations on the Theory, Practice, and Politics of a Feminist Literary Criticism." (The full text can be found here.) I don't remember many of the details, but there's one bit that remains, after all these years. It's this:
The (usually male) reader who, both by experience and by reading, has never made acquaintance with those [sex-related] contexts [out of which women write]--historically, the lying-in room, the parlor, the nursery, the kitchen, the laundry, and so on--will necessarily lack the capacity to fully interpret the dialogue or action embedded therein; . . . Virginia Woolf therefore quite properly anticipated the male reader's disposition to write off what he could not understand, abandoning women's writing as offering "not merely a difference of view, but a view that is weak, or trivial or sentimental because it differs from his own."
Virginia Woolf said that in 1929; Annette Kolodny wrote her essay in 1980. It's now 2011; isn't it time to move on? Aren't there other, better ways to spend our time than having to defend the writing of half the population against one arrogant bastard (as eloquent as some of those defenses have been)? Maybe we could actually be writing instead. Imagine.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Friday Links: The V.S. Naipaul is a pompous ass edition

Not surprisingly, V.S. Naipaul's comments earlier this week that he found no woman author equal to him have provoked an outpouring of comment. Naipaul went on to say that Jane Austen, in particular, was overly sentimental, and that his former editor, Diana Athill, wrote "feminine tosh." Let's hear it for open-mindedness and humility, Sir Vidia!

Here's a roundup of some interesting links about the controversy.

First, the Guardian's piece on Naipaul's original comments.

A few sum ups from American publications:

Delia Cabe in the Boston Globe

The Christian Science Monitor

A few responses from writers who happen to be female:

Diana Athill's response, also in the Guardian: Naipaul's attacks "just made me laugh."

The lovely Diana Abu-Jaber on NPR: From One Writer to Another: Shut Up, V.S. Naipaul

Jennifer Egan (no stranger to controversy about gender and writing) in the Wall Street Journal: "He sounds like such a cranky old man."

A Quiz

The Guardian included a quiz to see whether people could determine the gender of the writer by a paragraph, as Naipaul claims he can.

Take the quiz yourself.

I got 7 out of 10 right. What was more interesting to me was that there was only one passage (from Mary Wesley's novel Harnessing Peacocks) that I actually recognized, but it turns out that I'd actually read 6 of the 10 books on the list. (And of the 3 I got wrong, I'd read 2 of the books--go figure!)

About the photo:

I thought I'd be like the L.A. Times, which used a picture of Jonathan Franzen in an article about Jennifer Egan winning the LA Times book prize (and Jonathan Franzen losing it). So, I'm heading this with a picture of that pervasive sentimentalist, Jane Austen, so as not to have a photo of Naipaul on my blog. So there.

The Last Word

This last is a blog post linked by my old grad school pal, Kristen Lindquist, on Facebook. I'm grateful to her for it. I think this serves as an excellent final word, of the many that will be written, about Naipaul and his opinions.

Dawn Potter: A small response to V.S. Naipaul