28 June 2006

My Big Pretentious Indian Novel

One thing, I'm told, that you should never do when applying for a publishing job is talk up the books you love -- if you love classics or very obscure literary novels. "Don't bring a pretentious novel into the waiting room," one editor said. "You think we don't see right through that? And if you go into your interview and talk about how much you love F. Scott Fitzgerald, that doesn't help us that much."

I have occasionally been guilty of the pretentious-novel-as-conversation-starter, although not as guilty as these anonymous examples, I suppose. But what if that seemingly pretentious novel happens to be what I'm reading?

For, dear readers, I am reading a novel that sure looks pretentious, yet I would contend my motives for reading it are not at all pretentious. I read Indian diasporic writer Vikram Seth's travel book (FROM HEAVEN LAKE) and two of his other novels (THE GOLDEN GATE and AN EQUAL MUSIC) before I was gently pushed to pick up this novel, A SUITABLE BOY, which is Tolstovian in scale, rich in irony, and... well... 1400+ pages long. (1474, exactly, and don't think I haven't checked.) But I wouldn't have it in my possession at all were it not for my mom's having already read it, gushed over it and (gradually) pushed me towards it. And while Mom's taste doesn't necessarily mirror mine -- I still don't get ANGLE OF REPOSE, for instance -- she got to me to the point that I did, in fact, want to read this obscenely long book.

I started it in the beginning of May, and at long last I have made a, shall we say, suitable dent in it. An impromptu bus trip last weekend pushed me over the 1000-page mark, and I actually got into it. Still, if I don't take it to lectures and on errands with me, I may never finish it. I know I may look pretentious standing in line at the post office with a paperback book that really requires two hands, but I'm just trying to finish it sometime this year. I already missed Mum's deadline of June 17th, and she has promised it to someone else as soon as I finish it. When I finish it. (I can't say if any more; I couldn't bear to waste all that work and put it down now.)

Pretentious or not, I am finally heading into the home stretch, and so far I actually do recommend A SUITABLE BOY -- for people who like long novels. (It's about 3.5 times more interesting than WAR AND PEACE, for example, and for only 50 extra pages!) Maybe lifting it several times a day will help me build up hand strength for the almighty business handshake. But probably I'll move onto something less pretentious, not for my prospective employers' sake, but just because I'll need a break.

23 June 2006

Things I learned about Curtis Sittenfeld and the PREP phenomenon.

1. Curtis Sittenfeld is not Lee Fiora from PREP, even if she did go to boarding school. NB: She said she appropriated a lot of the campus architecture and institutions from Groton for PREP because it was easier that way, since she was already making up the entire book.
2. She has serious writerly chops -- it was her dream to go to the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and she did.
3. Her personal style is not so much preppy -- when a Washington Post style writer wanted to cover her style, she asked her publicist, "Can I wear sweatpants?"
4. The real way to get magazine editors to notice your book? Send it out with Moleskines, flip-flops and pink white-out attached. (This via Ms. Sittenfeld's publicist.) Anyone know where I can get some pink white-out? Or should I say, pink-out?
5. Stalker alert! She lives in Philadelphia.
6. When PREP was published she promised her ninth-grade English class that she would buy them pizza if it hit the New York Times best-seller list -- and she actually did. In this case it's probably best she didn't go to #1, because she had promised them all a trip to Hawaii.
7. She found out at 22 that she is Tony Orlando's daughter. (Oh, I made that one up. But you believed me, didn't you!)