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Monday, October 29, 2007

How My Day Starts

Right now I'm listening to Uzee play the tampura in the other room. She does this for about half an hour every morning. I can't think of a better way to start the day.

A tampura is a huge thing about five feet long, shaped roughly like a sitar but broader and wider. The base of it is a pumpkin-sized and -shaped sphere. Pumpkin-sized, because yes, it's made of a pumpkin. The one Uzee plays dates back to before partition, before 1947. It's an antique and it has a great sound.

There are four thin metal strings tuned to something like D, A, A and E. The four are plucked in succession and create this dreamy, hazy tone. But what makes the tampura a truly awesome instrument is that there is a mechanism inside the neck, running the length of the thing, which is--I think but I'm not sure--made of a metal strip, against which the strings rattle. This causes the tone of the string to vary once it's been plucked. So unlike, say, a guitar or piano or harp, which is designed to hold its tone once played, the tampura note goes through these "weeoww--weeoww--weeoww" variations. And when all four strings are played in succession, the "wee-owws" start blending and bouncing off one another. The sound is unearthly. Then you get the harmonics, which are high ringing treble tones caused by the wavelengths bouncing into one another; you can get them on a guitar by hitting a string at the right point over a fret, without pressing the string to the fret. (An old guitar trick.) But because the tampura's tones are changing constantly, these harmonics change too; so instead of just getting a "ding!" chime that fades out, you get something that literally sounds like a series of bells ringing in a descending scale over the base tones.

Anyway, writing about music, as the saying goes, is like dancing about architecture. But this is how my morning revs up almost every day, and it's a source of great pleasure for me. It's simultaneously dreamy and trance-inducing, yet also energizing. It helps me get in the frame of mind for writing, and helps me stay there longer, and helps me write better stuff.

There's a great deal more to living in Pakistan than Benazir and Musharraf and bomb threats. There are also little things like, oh, music and art and food and textile design and five thousand years of culture. Those get overlooked often, unfortunately, but they shouldn't.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Get 2++ inches bigger TODAY!

Ah yes, spam.

I'm not sure how they do it. For some reason, my wife (for example) doesn't get ten messages per day promising to increase the size of her penis. So why do I? Is it because "dave" is part of my e-mail address? Is there some computer program that recognizes names as being male or female, and filters them accordingly? Or is it all done at random? I do, occasionally, get spam messages seemingly aimed at women -- "Stop menstrual cramps forever!" or some such -- but the overwhelming number have to do with either 1) buying fake Rolexes, 2) seizing investment opportunities that simply can't be missed, or, yes, 3) increasing the size of my reproductive mechanism to provide me further satisfaction and enjoyment. And I didn't even realize that I needed this.

The titles of these messages are all I read, but they can be entertaining: "She was shocked when she saw it!" which may or may not be a good thing, or the admirably direct "Size does matter" or the celebrity endorsement of "Ron Jeremy recommends this." (A quick google search reveals that Ron J. is a porn star.) Then there's "Wouldn't you feel better with a little more?" Well, yeah, sure, who wouldn't? Of course, it took me a while to figure out that these messages were all concerned with the same thing. "A little more" could refer to money, or press freedom, or eggplant, or whatever. (If I could increase the size of my eggplant by two inches, now that would be something.)

The thing is, of course, that inevitably I start to wonder if maybe I should have a little more. After all, if size does matter than maybe I would shock her and then I'd feel better with 2+ inches since after all, if Ron Jeremy recommends it... This is the nature of advertising: it introduces anxiety that you never felt before in order to make you pay money for stuff you don't need in order to assuage the anxiety you didn't have before you saw the ad.

Recently I got in touch with a former student from my high school teaching days here in sunny Lahore. This woman graduated in 2000 and was one of my two favorite students, ever. She's now working for an ad agency in Karachi. Among other things, she has worked on the Mountain Dew soda campaign here in Pakistan. It's got me thinking about advertisers and advertising and what a strange form of mind control it really is. I will confess to some attraction to it. The fact that you are, essentially, manipulating people into buying shit they don't need (soda, lipstick, yet another car, TV, novel about Noah's ark, whatever) poses a sort of "Can I actually make them do it?" challenge that is, in its way, hard to resist. The question, "Does the world really need to consume more fookin' Mountain Dew?" is quickly replaced with, "Let's see how much of this repulsive shit we can get the idiots to suck down!" Cigarettes are the most blatant example of this--cigarette TV ads are alive and well in Pakistan, and play throughout things like cricket matches, which is criminal, if you ask me. "Life is too long! Smoke these things and make it shorter, because, um, you'll look cool, and otherwise people will think you're a loser." But all advertising is based on the same principle.

So I told my student I was intrigued and repelled by advertising in equal measure, and that if she ever wanted to pick my brain for ideas, she could do so. And she said she would. There may be a new career here; stay tuned for further developments. And speaking of development, man, I know a way for you to get six more inches, guaranteed...

Monday, October 22, 2007

One week away...

Hey kids, just a reminder that The Book of Samson is released in paperback on Tuesday, October 30. It's ideal for, um... Christmas? Well, maybe. Thanksgiving? No, probably not. Halloween? Yeah! So, be sure to go buy several dozen copies to give to the kids when they come trick-or-treating. There's the ticket. Man, they'll never ring your doorbell again...

A Worthy Cause

For the past several years I've been involved with a non-profit mental health facility in Karachi, Pakistan called Karwan-e-Hayat ("Caravan of Hope"). By "involved with", I mean I give them money. They need it. Pakistan's facilities for the treatment of mental illness are woefully underfunded and unlikely to get a great deal better anytime soon.

For ten years I worked in mental health in Massachusetts and Arizona, doing everything from overnight staffing at a house for juvenile offenders coming out of the criminal justice system, to working with 3- to 5-year-olds with autism, to acting as a case manager for 40+ chronic mentally ill clients. I was also the assistant director of an apartment complex in Tucson that provided housing to 22 indigent mentally ill people; I ran a group home, and worked in a couple others. So I have some exerience with docs and case management and so forth. My point here is that Karwan-e-Hayat, which I toured a couple of years ago, is as good a facility as anything I've seen in the US. The buildings are spacious and clean--there's one for men, one for women, with both inpatient and outpatient facilities in each. There's plenty of staff around who seem to know what they're doing, and the doctor in charge of the whole thing is on the ball and up-to-date with current treatments. The patients looked active and engaged, and Nurse Ratchet was nowhere to be seen.

This is impressive given the obstacles that have been overcome to establish the place, the main one being, of course, funding. Most of the patients are poor, in part because the poor have so little access to treatment anywhere else. (Patients who can afford to see a private doc will do so.) As a result, something like 90% of the patients at Karwan-e-Hayat receive all treatment for free.

Much of Pakistan's annual budget goes to "defense" (you know what that means) and "development"--nice things like roads and bridges and rural electrification and hey, maybe even a school or two. This is fine. But when the money's used up there's nothing left over for, say, the several million people who have significant mental illness and little chance of getting information, much less treatment, for it. So it falls upon the private sector to pick up the slack.

I ask you all to click on this link and check out Karwan-e-Hayat's web site:

And if you can donate something, it's much appreciated, so thanks. It's tax deductible, so go wild.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Should JK Rowling win the Nobel Prize for Literature?

No, really. This is a serious question.

I’m not a complete idiot. (Insert joke here.) I’m not saying that Rowling is a fantastic writer--she’s good, sometimes very good, but she’s not jaw-dropping. Nor does her work deserve to be upheld as the highest standard possible. She is, frankly, better than average some of the time (Harry Potter #1-3), average some of the time (HP #4-6), and pretty sucky at least once in a while (HP #7 and that whole fookin’ Dobby-the-house-elf thing. Oh my Gawd.)

But are Nobel Prize winners really always that great? Gunter Grass won, and man, I got through about six pages of The Tin Drum before giving it up for, I think, Gangsters From Space or something. JM Coetzee won, and the only thing I ever read by him, Disgrace, was underwhelming--put it this way, I found Harry a whole lot more emotionally involving. Nadine Gordimer is mediocre in my opinion, and VS Naipaul? Don’t get me started, dude.

Yes, of course good writers win too. Steinbeck, Harold Pinter, I’m sure there are others. (Faulkner? Hemingway? Okay man, if you say so.) But it’s by no means a given.

So the argument that quality is paramount is, to me, suspect. Especially when you throw in a few great writers who have never won--Vonnegut for example, who certainly created his own style and a hefty body of work, or Ray Bradbury, or Flannery O’Connor or Langston Hughes. (Admittedly, Flannery died young.) And these are just Americans; there are tons of others around the world, I’m sure, whom I never heard of. Meanwhile the other argument against Rowling, I suppose, is that she’s primarily a children’s writer, notwithstanding the millions of adults who read her books. But if Winston Churchill (1954) can win for writing history and Bertrand Russell (1950) can win for philosophy, why can’t a children’s author win? (In which case, add Dr Seuss to the list of “deserving authors who never got it.” That guy was a genius, no joke.)

So then. Doubtless you are wondering: “If she’s not a great writer and she doesn’t even write books for adults, Dave, then what’s your logic? Tell me more! I’m eager to learn.”

The reason Rowling deserves a Nobel is for her services to literature.

Think about it. Twenty years from now, when you walk into a bookshop, everybody in that store aged from, let’s say, twenty to forty-five--every one of them will have read at least some of Rowling’s books. In other words, everyone who is presently younger than twenty-five--who was, therefore, less than fifteen when the whole sheebang started ten years ago--and who is even remotely interested in reading books, will have at least snatched a peek at Sorcerer’s Stone or Chamber of Secrets or Goblet of Whatever. This is not a scientific poll, obviously; but wait until 2027, walk into your local Border’s or B&N or whatever they have in those days, and ask around. “Hey, did you ever read any of that Harry Potter stuff when you were a kid?” The “yes” replies will be unanimous. You’ll see.

This is no small thing. Why does it matter? It matters because a whole generation of kids has learned that sitting by yourself in a corner for hours at a time with only a book for company can actually be a pretty great experience. This is something I learned young, but I didn’t have computers and video games and ipods and cell phones to distract me. If I had, who knows how I would’ve turned out? I know, I know, there are HP movies and video games and all the rest of the crap that the kids are subjected to, but the fact is that millions of them are reading too. In 2004 I was in Malaysia and saw a kid on the beach reading the German edition; I’ve seen kids in Karachi bent over the Urdu translation in Pizza Hut, no kidding. The stories are endless. You’ve probably seen a few of these kids too. Are they just doing it to be cool and fashionable? Who cares? They’re reading books, for God’s sake, and if Rowling has somehow made reading books cool and fashionable, then Jesus-Mary-and-Joseph, let’s get that prize in the mail, pronto.

There is another objection people have about Rowling, which must be considered although I don’t think she is entirely to blame. This is the argument that she has actually hurt writers like me, whose sales are a tiny fraction of hers, because she has introduced the blockbuster mentality into publishing. This is what has pretty much eviscerated big-studio filmmaking: the lowest-common-denominator approach of the studios, who are largely uninterested in making any movies that don’t contain numerous explosions, car-plane-or-boat chases, and tits. These things have sold in large quantities before, the thinking goes, so let’s use them again, and again, and again… Before HP, nobody had seriously thought you could make hundreds of millions of dollars from a bunch of kids’ books; now that it’s been proven to be possible, the pressure will be on publishers, editor and agents--and therefore writers--to come up with the next blockbuster. A publisher will read a manuscript by someone like me, and it will be a unique, individual story, maybe even unlike anything that’s come across the desk in a while; and for that very reason it will be rejected. Meanwhile, the book that reads “like a cross between Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket, with some talking animals like in Narnia” will get snatched up. Take it from me: it’s happening already. True fact. But.

I don’t think readers are really that stupid. Editors might be, and no doubt there will be some lame HP imitations foisted on the public in the coming years. But I think these will fail. There will be another mega-sensation somewhere down the road, but I doubt it will be the one that’s hyped and pushed and paid for and expected to do well. It will be some quirky little thing that nobody thinks will be so huge, just like HP was. In the meantime, writers like myself will continue to carve out small niche audiences who like to read our books, and we’ll get by. I truly believe this; if I didn’t, I’d go jump off a bridge.

Sometimes I think literature is doing just fine. It’s survived in one form or another since Gilgamesh, and it will continue doing so. Other times I think it’s an endangered species, ten or twenty years away from extinction. This is actually what I think most of the time these days. Before long we’re going to have chips in our brains to make 3-D sensurround virtual realities whenever we want (Climb the Himalayas! Fly in a rocket to the planet Qwestar! Hump Salma Hayek!) and I suppose someone will have to write those programs, but it ain’t gonna be me, babe. As it is already, if you spend any time in a school these days, you know exactly how much kids read, which is to say, hardly at all, as opposed to how much they play computer games, which is, as much as they can manage. I’m not dumping on the kids; they just do what’s more engaging to them, and most of them find shooting people onscreen more engaging than turning pages. But right under our noses, Rowling has created several million new readers. Not to be overly dramatic, but she’s helped keep literature alive for another generation. I for one am really grateful. In thirty years, one of those new readers might even pick up a book I wrote. Imagine that. I will owe Rowling, then. And because I don’t know where I’ll be in 2037, I’m thanking her ahead of time.

Thanks, Joanne. Have fun with that Nobel; you deserve it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Tempus fugit

Hey kids, another week has gone by somehow... not sure where it went. Among other things, I finished reading Delirium, a novel by the Colombian writer Laura Restrepo. A new writer to me, though she's well known in South America and Europe, and astrange dreamy book but a very engaging one. A guy comes home froma business trip to find his wife checked into a hotel, having lost her marbles. He's left trying to figure out what happened. She alternates between hostility and utter lack of response. There are multiple storylines ifrom the past and present, a number of narrators (you're left figuring out who is who), and run-on sentences galore. This book is great but it's a grammar teacher's worst nightmare. I know because I was one. (A grammar teacher, not a nightmare.) Take a look:

“Since she already knows The Decameron by heart, Agustina paid no attention to it, instead spending the whole movie mocking my cropped head, and since she was still going strong when we stepped out into the cold, she began to play at covering my head with her scarf, supposedly so that I wouldn’t catch cold, Let me take care of you, Aguilar, baldness is the Achilles’ heel of senior citizens, and as we walked form the center of the city along Seventh Road at midnight, in other words at precisely the happy hour for muggings and stabbings, she fixed me a turban a la Greta Garbo, Bugs Bunny ears with the two ends of the scarf, and a Palestinian head covering a la Yasir Arafat, while I, tense and vigilant, watched every shape that moved on the lonely street, a couple of figures crouched over a fire on the corner of Jimenez de Quesada, sleeping in cardboard shelters in the doorway of San Francisco, a boy stoned out of his mind who followed us for a while and fortunately passed us by, and I wanted to say to my wife, who kept improvising caps, wigs, and headdresses for me, Not here, Tina darling, wait until we get home, but I didn’t because I knew too well that for Agustina elation is just one step away from melancholy.”

Yes folks, that's one sentence with whole piles of information packed into its 216 words, 24 clauses and numerous errors of punctuation, if one heeds orthodoxy. So even though I think the style is perfect for this dreamy, off-kilter, delirious-seeming story, you may be the sort of person who runs away screaming from such excesses.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Eid Mubarak, and other things

Here in my adopted home of Pakistan it's been Eid for the past two days. So Happy Eid, or as we say around here, Eid Mubarak. This is the two-day holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the month spent fasting and not smoking cigarettes or having sex or generally indulging in anything that falls under the category of "having a good time." You're also supposed to give money to the poor and, you know, stop lying and so on. Or at least do it less. Uzee and I have been spending the last couple days visiting people and having a nice sociable time catching up, etc. It's all terribly wholesome.

My ma tells me that the Empire State Building, which has for years been lit up on holidays--green white & orange for St Patrick's Day, green and red for Christmas, red white & blue for the 4th of July and so on--was this year, for the first time ever, lit up green for Eid. What a hoot! I must say I'm all for it. Anything for, you know, inclusion and fellowship as opposed to, say, exclusion and ostracization. Right on.

In other exciting news, the New England Patriots yesterday hosed the the previously unbeaten but now thoroughly beaten Dallas Cowboys. Yes, "America's so-called team" experienced a thrashing on Sunday afternoon, and it's becomingly increasingly possible that the Pats will be unbeaten this season. I don't think so; they may well lose to the Colts in Indianapolis in early November, and probably one other game--a shocker to someone unexpected like Washington or Baltimore. But it must be said, that getting past the Cowboys as easily as they did, bodes well for the future.

Current musical obsession, not that you've asked: I've been listening without relent to The Brian Jonestown Massacre for lo these past few weeks with no sign of letup. They are one of the bands featured in the documentary Dig!, along with the Dandy Warhols. They're kind of retro-60s, except that they don't give the impression of a band that's gone back to that era so much as one that never left in the first place. Lots of twangy droning guitar with plenty of effects like phase-shifting and distortion, seasoned with bits of organ and sitar, built around simple 3- or 4-chord progressions and trippy-hippy-dippy lyrics. The singing isn't the greatest but the whole thing is wrapped around such a groove that it's well-nigh irresistible. For me anyway. Every so often you get this, like, folky guitar-strummy thing and you start thinking, "God, please don't let this last more than two minutes," and happily, it usually doesn't.

The other great thing is you can download all their records as zipped .rar files for free, and play them on your computer. (If you have WinZip or something like it.) That's pretty generous... Nicer than us cheapskate writers who want you to actually go buy our books or something, eh?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Nobel endeavors

A couple quick thoughts about the Nobel prizes: Nice work with Al Gore. I haven't seen An Inconvenient Truth yet, but everything I've read/heard about it seems positive, though sobering. And it's just nice to see a guy get a major high-profile prize for worrying about the environment, which is so often laughed off or treated as mundane by Big Powerful People Who Decide Policy. And while I couln't comment on Al's credentials vis-a-vis all the other people out there beavering away on the same issue for years, but who aren't as famous as he is because they've never been vice president of anything, it does at least seem like he's a serious thoughtful guy who was writing books on this topic years ago (Earth in the Balance).

As for Doris Lessing winning the lit prize, well, okay. I read more or less one book by her, in the '80s sometime, The Good Terrorist. I never finished it and barely remember it. I may have taken in a short story or two along the way also, though they never stuck in my memory either. I really have very little opinion of her, as opposed to, say, Harold Pinter, who won a couple years ago and whose plays I love love love. (Saw The Caretaker performed in a tiny theatre in London in 1983, and it knocked me out of my chair. I've also always loved The Dumb Waiter. Great title, that.) Rightly or wrongly, I've always mentally lumped Lessing in with other gray postwar Brits whom I tried once or twice but who never made much impression. (Iris Murdoch also fits this category, and John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, and others who elude me at the moment.) But I gather she's won buckets or prizes over the years, and while that's no ironclad indicator of quality, it does suggest that a few well-placed people consider worthy of a little time. So I may have to look her up again.

This just in...

As I sit here digesting my breakfast and listening to The Brian Jonestown Massacre (that's a band, Ma), I'm holding in my hands the brand-spankin' new paperback of The Book of Samson. And I have to say--knowing I'll be accused of bias here--it looks pretty darn great. Just another fine job form the production people at St Martin's Press.

Look for it in bookshops starting around Halloween. Need I say, it makes a fine fine Christmas gift?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

For the reader who has everything (except a good command of English)

Here are the covers of my Italian editions of The Preservationist and Fallen. What's interesting, to me at least, is that the Italians went with a very obvious image for Noah's story: a big boat on the water, stormy seas, dark clouds; the standard-issue imagery for the story, in other words. But for Fallen they shifted into this weird psychadelic eye-popping mode, about as un-"Biblical" as you can get. It reminds me of the climactic sequence in 2001: A Space Odyssey. I'm not at all sure I like the cover--in fact I doubt I'd ever pick it up, not least of all because the bright shocking pink puts me off, and that baby is kind of weird. But it's certainly edgy and not staid or typical, which I appreciate.

My UK publisher Canongate tries to go for edgy also, and sometimes it works better than other times. I like this cover for The Flood quite a lot (my publisher didn't like the title Preservationist, and wanted to change it to something more direct), but I think the Samson cover tries too hard for irony or something; the overly self-conscious anachronism of the scissors with English lettering on them is maybe too clever for its own good. But then for the new edition, this cover was replaced with a cartoon that I like even less, so, be careful what you wish for. Both these covers have colored washes overlaying them, which don't show up on screen. The Flood is pale blue, while Samson is silvery gray. There's also a Fallen cover in this mode, with an apple, done in red. Meanwhile, the first UK edition of Fallen had this super-intense close-up up-the-nostril shot of this guy who was, presumably, Cain (the mark on his forehead is the giveaway). I vacillated between hating it and thinking it was pretty good. It's one of those love-it-or-hate-it covers, I think. My mom hates it.

Then we have our German pals, who are fairly incomprehensible when it comes to cover design. The Noah story here features a bearded white guy pointing down from the heavens; the title translates as something like Orders From the Top, which is sort of a business expression which, I gather, is used somewhat ironically in this case. I don't actually mind the image too much. The cover for Fallen, though, is awful. The cartoon children in the middle are wrong; they miss the essential sadness at the heart of the story, while the white & strawberry-blonde Adam & Eve overlook (or ignore) the fact that I was trying to subvert that convention by playing around with race in the story. Oh well.

Overall, then, a mixed bag, but I can't complain too much. Better by far to have foreign editions with some good and some so-so covers, than no foreign editions at all. So I'll leave you with two of my favorites: the Japanese version of Noah, put out in hardcover by Sony books, and the Russian one, from Amphora. This image doesn't really do the Japanese book justice: the real-life cover is much less pale and washed out, but you get an idea of the childlike illustration. The Russian book I just love; love the colors, love the fish. It's a small hardback, about the size of a mass-market paperback, and the colors are matte except the boat and the fish, which are shiny. Love it. It looks like The Hobbit or something, which is fine by me.

Monday, October 8, 2007

My mom wants me to tell you that...

...Ishmael Beah, who wrote A Long Way Gone (see below), is a graduate of Oberlin College, in Oberlin, Ohio. Which is also where I went to school. A longstanding tradition of literary excellence, perhaps? You decide. Hey, William Goldman went there too (and gave my commencement address in 1985), the guy who wrote Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, and The Princess Bride (books and movies, all of them) among much other stuff. Also Tracy Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring) and Thornton Wilder (Our Town). And probably a lot more that I don't know about. So, you know, not bad for a little school in Ohio.

By the way, the Patriots beat the Browns, so they're now 5-0. Next week, the Cowboys in Dallas. Should be a good game.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Sunday afternoon: Pats at Browns

Yes, campers, it's true: I'm a huge NFL fan, and have followed it since I was about ten years old. And to make things even worse, my fave team is none other than the current dynasty, the so-good-they're-scary New England Patriots. Hey man, I've followed them since 1973, through the Steve Grogan years (remember Steve? Great guy), the '80s with their brief flare of Ray Berry / Tony Eason glory (quickly extinguished by the, ahem, Chicago Bears), into the nadir of 1989-1993 during which time, I believe, they won fewer games during a 5-year span than any team in NFL history (don't quote me on that, I'm not sure, but it was really bad; like 20 wins to 60 losses or thereabouts), through the teasing Drew Bledsoe / Bill Parcells era culminating in another hosing by another great NFC team (this time Brett Favre's Packers), through the next nadir of the late '90s, till suddenly--huh? What?--they began winning more games than they lost. Believe me it was weird. And something else, it's still weird. So every time I watch a game or look for a score on the internet or whatever, I have thirty-odd years of shattered expectations waiting to hear something horrible. And then, more often than not, they win. This little nugget of surprise opens up in me and lingers there. And that's why I love the Pats.

Plus, I used to love Belichick, though that's been tempered by these cheating-by-videotape allegations / convictions.

Today (it's already Sunday as I write this in Pakistan, though it's Saturday night in the US, confusing but true) the Pats take on the Browns and should win, bringing them to 5-0. Next week it's the Cowboys, who look good this year. If they can beat them, I think the Pats will do very well this year. People are talking about an undefeated season but I predict 14-2, which is still pretty darn good. I expect them to lose to either the Cowboys or the Colts, later in the year; and I think they will drop one game unexpectedly, to someone like the Ravens.

And you thought, what, this was a blog about books or something?

This just in from our Islamabad bureau...

Musharraf was "re-elected" on Saturday. I'm not surprised. Are you surprised? Anybody? Please raise your hand if this result shocks you. No one? Okay, just checking.

Election Day, sort of.

Yup, it's election day here in ol' Pakistan. Or so we are told in the newspapers. I was driving aorund with Uzee today and we saw no sign of unusual activity anywhere, for better or for worse. Election posters, crowds, demonstrations? Nope. Not too surprising maybe, given that only members of the provincial assemblies can vote. It's sort of like asking the state legislatures to pick the president: it leaves the ordinary voter out of the loop, somewhat.

The bigger problem is that the candidates are all bogus. Musharraf is a military dictator propped up by the US ($9 billion since 2001), who routinely does things like harrass journalists and arrest his opposition. (Meanwhile the US tells the military dictators in Myanmar they should stop harrassing journalists and arresting the opposition. Better still, just leave. Hmm.) Benazir is a joke, convicted by a Swiss court in absentia of having millions of dollars filched from Pakistan stashed in Swiss bank accounts; she faced multiple corruption charges in Pakistan till they were swept away at the behest of Musharraf, who did so at the behest of--what a surprise!--the US, who needed the country to adopt a veneer of "democracy" so that it could go on foisting billions onto a dictator willing to carry out its war in Afghanistan and Pakistan's NWFP. Does anybody want to vote for these clowns? No.

Sadly, the alternative, Nawaz Sharif, is no less corrupt than Benazir and anyway has been exiled from the country by Moosh, and that leaves only the scary fundo freaks of the MMA, and Imran Khan, who doesn't say much except "Musharraf must go!" and who has anyway allied himself with the scary fundos. It's all fairly depressing.

Moosh will "win" because the US wants him to. Benazir will go along for the ride because she wants power at any price. The country will continue to fester and people will be furious because of a lack of democratic expression. Smug conservatives in the west will point to this anger and say: "That's why they hate us! Because they hate freedom." (See also Iran, 1953-1979)

Funny but sad, or vice versa: It was in the paper today that polling stations would provide pencils to mark the voting ballots. Pencils. Think about it. So members of the provincial assemblies shouldn't bother to bring a pen or anything. Pencils will be provided. Just put an X next the the candidate's picture and then put it in the box. Pencils.

It all makes me want to start reading comic books again. Hey, there's a future topic for this blog: Comic books! I guess they call them graphic novels these days. What ever, man.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Future topics may include...

Anything from my upcoming projects (books etc in the pipeline) to current events such as the upcoming elections in Pakistan, where I live, to the vagaries of US foreign policy--plenty of material there--to the Marx Brothers. Suggestions are welcome. For now, I'll just mention a couple books I've been reading lately: A Short History of Tractors in Ukranian by Marina Lewycka, which is very good; and A Long Time Gone by Ishmael Beah, which is devastating.

The Lewycka book is about a gold-digging Ukranian woman in her thirties, who marries a befuddled older gentleman who immigrated to the UK from the Ukraine decades ago. It's narrated by the old fellow's youngest daughter, and it's very funny but also bittersweet. The woman who is marrying the father is obviously motivated by greed, but also by a genuine desire for a better life; Lewycka takes some chances, I think, by making her such an loathesome character. It's all quite different from the recent deluge of immigrant-to-the-west books that have been inundating the scene for a while. (The Inheritance of Loss; Brick Lane; White Teeth; Maps for Lost Lovers; The Reluctant Fundamentalist; and on and on.) These books tend to have immigrants as the protagonists, presented in a very sympathetic light, and people who resist them are characterized as racist. Which, of course, they often are in real life; it's just interesting to me that this book takes a different tack and does it very well.

Ishmael Beah's is entirely different. It's not funny, for one thing. It couldn't be: there's not much humor in the life of a thirteen-year-old soldier in Sierra Leone. He was drafted into the army while fleeing from his life from rebels who destroyed his village; he was then turned into a monstrous little murderer who lived his life doped up on "brown-brown" (cocaine mixed with gunpowder) and killed anything he could. This went on for a couple of years. The book is devastating when it recounts this part of his life, but the next phase--where he is entered into a rehabilitation program--is only marginally less grim. Along with a bunch of other boys, he is taken out of the army and expected to go to school, listen to adult authority and so on. It's a joke to these kids; two weeks earlier they were shooting "adult authority." I won't tell how it turns out, but he does after all survive long enough to write the book. It's harrowing. Dave says: you should read it. Kind of puts those computer war games your kids play (only your kids?) into a different light.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Greetings, Earthlings.

Hello there. This is David Maine's brand new blog, so welcome to it and thanks for reading. On the off chance that you're (ahem) not entirely familiar with what I do, let me introduce myself. I'm the author of several novels, to wit:

The Preservationist (2004)
Fallen (2005)
The Book of Samson (2006)

and the soon-to-be-released

Monster, 1959 (2008).

All are published by St. Martin's Press in New York, and in the UK by Canongate. The first three books are variations on Bible stories, of Noah, the Fall and Samson respectively. The Monster book, which is due to be published in February, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the Bible. For better or worse, it marks a radical shift in emphasis and concerns. Hmm.

Some dates to remember: October 31, 2007: The Book of Samson is released in paperback.

February 19, 2008: Monster, 1959 released.

I'm new at all this blog stuff, so have patience. I would like to do things like post links to nice reviews and Amazon pages for my books, and so on, but I have to figure out if and how I can do that... I will also try to update this blog as regularly as I can, at least a couple times a week. If you are moved to write back, great! Ask me anything. If I don't know the answer I'll make something up.