Thursday, February 01, 2007

In a world made of paper

So, here is my bookshelf in the new house I have shifted into (as if shifting across cities wasn't enough, I do it within a city too). Ok, this is how it should look although there is a slim chance that it would stay this way for long (and it already has transformed while I write this post). I am glad that this house (where I need to bow at each doorway) has a decent place for the books I brought to Bangalore. I know, I know, I know. You would love to see a nice oak or mahogany book almirah for them, but hey! I don't think I can afford it. Not from a monetary POV but, as a dear friend of mine said: I am nomadic. Given that I seem to carry my house on my back, adding a nice chestnut or better, an ebony almirah to my sagging shoulders wouldn't be what the ol' mountain monk calls wise. So let's just enjoy this setup.
Come, let's swim togetherLet me describe the layout (rather, let me keep a note of what I intended to do). On shelf (1) you will find novels. To the rear and shying away from the curious onlooker is Virginia Woolf with her immensely interesting novellas. Sitting beside her, lending her support, are Jane Austen (Literary Classics) and the Bronte sisters (Literary Classics). The latter two books are gifts from a very dear friend. John Irving, Tagore, Annie Proulx (and how on earth do I pronounce that? Prowl-ks? Proo? Proox? Gosh!), Heller, Ha Jin, Maugham, Mann, Pico Iyer (with a poor attempt at fiction in Abandon. He is better writing nonfiction, you know. I would say that Lady and the Monk was an exception, but...), Hesse, Nabokov (the finest master of the art), Steinbeck, Graham Greene, Kazantzakis (why didn't someone give me a name like that?) and Vonnegut complete the novel party. How many have I read? My, my, what an impudent question to ask!

On Shelf (2) are my favourite books. Was I Dennis the Menace, I would say favouritest and I would still fall short of what I feel for them. They delight me when most other things fail. These are my collection of short stories. I still believe that the short story is the purest form of prose and requires masters to write them. I believe it is the sheer difficulty in writing a good short story which has left the literary community invent ways to circumvent the demands of short stories and create high-brow phrases like "postmodernism", "modernism", "post-postmodernism" and the like. Forget about being able to tell a wonderful story, these contemporary "short stories" are neither short (they can go upto 25 pages) nor do they have a story in them. I wish people would leave the art alone and do something else if all they can do is break the art with their incapacities. But I shall ramble about this in another post.

Come, come. Sit down and listen to what I have here. 2 rows of books. See? 2 (nearly) full rows of books. Lip-smacking, isn't it? Come closer. The most non-coforming book, lying on top of all of them is Oscar Wilde's collections. A treat but what a misbehaved book. To the rear is Joyce Carol Oates (Faithless). She is the queen of contemporary writing and I am still to figure out why. I would call her works as deliberate and having demanded effort, but beyond that, I see little merit in them. Yes, yes, yes, another post. The next book is the 25th Anniversary collection from Pushcart; interesting at places. The Paris Review's Anthology (very disappointing and vulgar), O'Henry's stories (about 200 of them), Coomaraswamy's Indian Tales, Jhumpa Lahiri (she got the art of creating a good story alright, but how about telling it with feeling?), Poe (Oh! Why weren't more of him created?), R.K.Narayan, Graham Greene again, Roald Dahl (Oh! He is such a treat!), Woody Allen's complete prose (he is good but at places he tries too hard to make you laugh with all those exaggerations), Anthologies (edited by Milton Crane and others) and Dostoevsky complete the battalion to the rear.
Lined up in front for their sheer beauty and art are: Saki (Oh! I could kiss his feet for the kind of stories he told), Maupassant (more feet kissing), Oxford book of American Short Stories, Alice Munro (she is good), Carver (I sense great talent in him but am unable to put it in words), O'Henry Prize Winners 2006, Joyce with Dubliners and Scott Fitzgerald (he is good, very good. He writes with so much feeling).
Then in purple is the man who could taste and smell purple: Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov. He is and will always remain to be the master of the art of writing. Sad, he died a year before I was born. The man loved languages and loved English although he felt that couldn't find in it the versatility of his mother-tongue. He was careful about each word he introduced, each sound, each stray cat that walked alongside the protagonist and each leaf that fell in the story set in Autumn. He wanted you to hear the sounds of the distant fountain dripping on the verdant pool while you frowned in irrational concern over the main lady character and the way she wasted her life thus. You were left sheared of all clothing and skin with your nerve-endings naked to the cold Winter wind, although the most raging sensation is of the heat of passion between the lovers who meet every night in the story. When he describes the girl's eyes as "shards of green glass" I hastily look at my fingers suspecting that I have pricked them. "Shards": the "r" is what creates the desired effect of sharpness in that word, a pinnacle of unforgiving brutality and iciness. Taste it for me, please. Nabokov's stories are very, very delicately composed. He was both artist and craftsman. Care to know more about him (do check out "Nabokov: A Life in Pictures")? Believe it or not, I have spent the last 2 hours reading more about him. That purple book is the collection of short stories by Nabokov. Leaning on him (like most writers should) are works by Truman Capote. Ray Bradbury and Updike are at the far end with another book serving as an Introduction to Short Stories completing the collection.

The shelf marked (3) contains poetry, nonfiction and philosophical works. Here you would find JK, Osho, Capra, Gibran, Hof..Hofsta... the guy who wrote "Godel, Escher, Bach", Will Durant, Sri Aurobindo and a few others. The nonfiction collection has Pico Iyer, McCourt, John Wood, R.K.Narayan, Dalrymple, Andrew Motion (poetry) and a book of Chinese poetry.

(4) contains books on writing, on sketching, strategy, decision making theory, management and some notebooks.Computer science and the whole business of software creation is stored in (5). (6) contains printouts related to the world, literature, management, insightful articles and books on interior design and blueprints of farmhouses and cottages.

The 4 people who were struggling to lift the carton of books that I had packed looked at me through snorting sweat and hissed: Are you carrying the entire library of a college? I beamed as if I was just complimented for my exquisite body (which it isn't!!). I wanted to tell them that this is just a fraction of what I have in total (most of it being left behind in Madras), but I was busy instructing them to be careful and gentle. 150+ books in all and they were complaining. Humph! Philistines!

That's it, ladies and gentlemen. Good Night...


  1. Hi Eroteme,

    I don't know how you do it, but you write well.. It really is a treat. These I route my way directly to your blog even before I check my mail!
    I wish I could write like you. You bring to life even the inanimate of them all. What seems to me like a big mountain to climb is such a simple task for you.
    Once in a while, it is really wonderful to getting to know persons like you.
    Congratulations dear. You got the gift. Do keep writing.

  2. Dear M,
    Thank you for your generous compliments. If you must wish, then I am sure I can recommend some wonderful writers who are definitely better off as benchmarks! It is indeed a pleasure having you come over to this blog and read/comment. Once again, thank you.

  3. Anonymous3:10 AM

    Hi! [Kazantzakis]!

    Simply magnificient...if that is the apt word for this post.

    Almost a tribute to some great writers.

    This is a real treat...quite a party you have there.

    Thanks [or should i say lip-smacking]

    Good night ...but if you find any books/shelves missing especially No.3 ...[who could it be?!...kiddin]

    On a serious note...your words help me in understanding that one can Hear and Taste the words too! Reminds me of my fav song..."words and words are all i have..."



    your comment on Woody Allen makes me smile...and the feet kissing bits haha:)Hope it's okay to say that.

  4. Parvati9:23 PM!!!!!!!!! And now, Eroteme will ACTUALLY start reading the books he has so lovingly collected!

    And once you have actually read them, we will savour the different flavour in your posts about the books you thus cherish.

    # A beautiful beautiful post. Full of love and dedication.

  5. Dear Anon-U,
    Glad you liked it. I don't mind Kazantzakis but would prefer something as machine-gun-like in invocation as that word. :-) Touch my books and I'll kill you!! :-D Of course you are free to say anything you wish on this blog as long as it is well-intended!

    Dear P,
    It will all be done in due course! ;-) Glad you liked the post.

  6. There is something so sweet about this post! I almost felt like I was standing right behind you in front of your bookshelf, listening as you explained all this! And thanks for that link there, under 'friends'. Made me smile :)

  7. Dear S,
    Glad you enjoyed it! :-) Of course, I would have placed you earlier in that column were it not for my laziness to update my template... :-)