Monday, April 14, 2008

How To Write About Authors In The Indian Media

Worried that a lack of knowledge or an unbiased attitude will get you nowhere in the exciting world of journalism? Don't fret. Follow these simple steps and you, too, could get your byline in respected weekly magazines, making the rich and famous quiver at your approach. Let us take as our model, Sanjay Suri's piece in the latest issue of Outlook, "Sir Talk-A-Lot", which purports to be an analysis of the literary status of Salman Rushdie on the publication of his The Enchantress of Florence. (All the extracts that follow are from this piece.)

# 1. Ignore facts. They only get in the way.

Trumpet this ignorance right at the start, by proclaiming that the title is "Salman Rushdie's ninth book...." In fact, it's his tenth novel and 14th book, but don't let that bother you.

# 2. Fire over someone else's shoulder.

Say there's one specific publication that's published a bad review of the book. Use this to inform your entire argument that of "all the novels he has written, there isn't another whose readability has been challenged quite as rigorously as this one." In Suri's case, he lavishly quotes from Peter Kemp's review in The Times: " a long chalk, the worst thing he has ever written." (In passing: Kemp is certainly entitled to his opinion, more so because he's actually read and quoted from the book -- something that you, following Suri, should give no indication of.)

In order to appear even-handed, you should also quote from other reviews that are more favourable, such as the one in The Guardian -- but indicate for no reason that this isn't because of the book's content, but because it "will have takers for the subject alone". (In such ways, you can also cast aspersions on the Guardian's rave review, by one Ms Ursula Le Guin. Ursula who? Calm down, it doesn't matter if you haven't heard of her.)

To show you've done your homework, throw in some more phrases from other reviews, stressing the negative and grudgingly acknowledging the favourable points the reviewers have made. See, you're nothing if not fair. In fact, speak to people who share your views and quote them -- it helps if one such person (Alok Rai) also reviews regularly for Outlook. Also throw in a (suspiciously-unnamed) "fellow Indian writer" who says, "Rushdie's recent books have been long and awful and this new novel doesn't sound any good." (See this chap hasn't read the book, too. You're on the right track, after all.)

# 3. If you can't impress, baffle.

This is when you really come into your own. Throw in words such as "style" and then proceed to demonstrate your point of view in ornate sentences. Such as: "...more than the subject the style is intended for, it's come to say only that this is a place that Rushdie wants for himself, a place where the signboard he has put up announces universality of reach, oneness of civilisations, and the power of the narrator to remind you of it." (When talking of matters such as style, don't get into quicksand by being specific. Far better to be vague.) Be generous with generalisations: "[Rushdie] thrives now on the loyalty of a band with a sense of the progressive, almost a brand now of intellectual acceptance than a great read....For too long now, a declared admiration of Rushdie has been our forged passport to literary standing."

# 4. End with an ungrammatical outburst.

"The Rushdie talk is now into its new round. And between this book and the next we will have no doubt another Rushdie affair to keep us going." See? How knowledgeable and world-weary and impressive that sounds. Simple, when you know how.


Anonymous said...

Nice one, Sippy!
By the way yesterday's Times of India has an article on Rushdie that refers to Le Guin as Guardian's Ursula Le Guin. Bet whoever wrote the piece thinks she's Guardian's correspondent.

Jabberwock said...

Oh dear. Remember that angry letter-within-the-book in Exit Ghost, advocating the end of all literary discussion? It's almost starting to make sense now.

Anonymous said...

Hehe...well that's the bane of Indian
journalism I'm afraid - a lack of awareness/knowledge of anything other than politics,cricket and bollywood. Any attempt by them to write on something other than the above topics...leads to embarrassing articles like this one .It's not bad to have an opinion about something, it would be nice if one had some knowledge about it before having an opinion though .

Unknown said...

Namita -- ha ha, very well said. And, of course a lit fight is always welcome:-)
And, btw, welcome...

P2C2U said...

Reminds of the days when I was a student, blissfully copying and pasting portions of other book reviews to write my own 'review'. Who knew people actually do this for a living!

Space Bar said...

I found it pretty funny that he while he was ready to drop other names with great klutziness, he forgot to mention Ursula K le Guin.


Unknown said...

And what of music journalism? I've been working with the Bangalore rock band Thermal And A Quarter for some time, and it's amusing to see how the journalists who approach the band for stories try to be cooler than these poor, down-to-earth rock stars. I wrote something very similar in sentiment some time ago:

Anonymous said...

People should read this.