Often wry and dry, mocking and wistful in turns, sometimes even bitter and foul-mouthed, Philip Larkin is no Wordsworth, William Blake or Keats. He doesn’t go into raptures about love or nature or into spiritual ecstasy. He isn’t a poet who offers solace or comfort. And yet, as James Booth says in his book, Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love:
I was surprised by Shashi Tharoor’s criticism of India’s parliamentary democracy in his book, Inglorious Empire. He himself is a member of parliament, elected to the Lok Sabha (the Lower House) from Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala on a Congress party ticket. But Tharoor, who had been a minister of state when the Congress was in power, says the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy is unsuitable for India. He advocates a presidential system.
Jill Lepore’s These Truths is a sweeping history of America from the founding fathers to Donald Trump. As she says, it’s a political history with very little military, diplomatic, social or cultural history though she does refer to the role played by journalism and technology. The internet, she says, has increased inequality and facilitated the spread of false news. Lepore covers recent history at considerable length, including the rise of Trump and the conservatives. She puts them in perspective.
Reluctant Editor is the memoirs of a newspaper editor who played a seminal role in Singapore journalism. PN Balji writes he hesitated when he was offered the editor’s job at The New Paper because he was worried about his health, having had an angioplasty operation in America. But his wife told him to accept the job.
Witty, self-assured Wendy Cope seems to be the Jane Austen of verse, writing about love, domesticity and a woman’s life, till her playfulness reminds you of Oscar Wilde.
Poems can be passionate, forthright, mysterious, allusive, elegiac, tender, wistful, as various and beautiful in different ways as women and the earth.
Clive James is as effusive on the joys of flying as in his praise of the Indian writer Nirad C Chaudhuri. And few have written better. Funny, vivid, acute, he punches all the right buttons needed to be a good writer.
VS Naipaul writes about race, prejudice, Elvis Presley, country music and tobacco in A Turn in the South, about his journey through southern United States. Remarkably, he compares the “rednecks” with the Indians of his childhood in Trinidad.
Reading Tom Wolfe for the first time was like listening to rock ’n’ roll. I was blown away.
But reading him now after all these years is like listening to Little Richard. His breathless opening paragraphs, his occasionally manic style, can be overpowering at times.
Pico Iyer gets India so right in Video Night in Kathmandu. He is spot on about Indians being allured by America but many of them being Anglophiles, too, in the 1980s.