Monday, December 27, 2010

All Hail the King... Stephen King!

This homage has been long overdue. For years now, I've been singing the praises of Stephen King; telling anyone with the slightest interest in books (and many with none whatsoever), that King is one of the best writers ever. But as happens so often with me, I never manage to find the right words when talking. So I've decided to write it all out.

First and foremost, I say 'one of the best' not 'the best'. Why? Because I don't like using the word best, mainly because I believe it can never be used precisely. 'Best' implies relative merit, and this cannot be done unless all the possibilities have been considered. To be clearer, to be able to say that King is the best writer ever, I need to have read all the books ever written by all the other writers. And thats obviously impossible! So i'll just say that Stephen King is a great, brilliant writer.

As I've read all his novels I can say with some credibility that I have actually seen (well, read) him evolve as a writer through the years. Obviously he has always been a good writer; when I say evolve, I mean that he has become much more confident in his art and so in his recent books he attempts things positively mind-blowing. So it is that while 'Dreamcatcher', 'IT', 'Black House', 'The Shining' and 'Hearts in Atlantis' were all very, very good…. one of his most recent books, 'Lisey's Story', was absolutely stunning. I'll go so far as to say that 'Lisey's Story' confirmed to me his greatness as a writer… confirmed that he has reached the peak of his powers. And finally convinced me to write this homage.

In his books more than anywhere else (with the exception of 'Closer', the movie) I have seen the enaction of the axiom 'sometimes its the journey that counts, not so much the destination'. The story seems almost incidental in many King novels. You could read his books just for the story, but that would be like visiting Rome and just seeing the Colosseum. A waste, because theres so much more to be taken, enjoyed, from his books. Instead of a race to the last page a la the thrillers of Dan Brown (to name just one such writer), you can truly enjoy the writing; savoring every clever play on words, the magical sentences, the language and most of all the process of narration raised to the level of an art-form.

He is classified as a horror writer, but I believe this belittles his writing. His books are more psychological and sprinkled with a bit of fantasy than the cheap horror we're used to. Normal people use ghosts to scare, not very imaginative and something most people could do. King, on the other hand, instead of using ghosts or phantoms to scare you, makes you afraid of everyday things. Cellphones, cars, clowns, dogs - these are things that were matter-of-fact to me in my pre-king days, and post-king they've all acquired incomprehensibly sinister connotations. He even makes something as shapeless as an amoeboid shape into something utterly terrifying.

King does things with his writing that normal people wouldn't even be able to conceive. I feel that the greatness of a work of art depends on how many people would be able to accomplish it. By the same token, the greatest artists are those who not only blow us away with the skill of their accomplishment but moreover, and much more importantly, confound us with their imagination. They bring to life things that normal people cannot even imagine, let alone accomplish. They conceive of things that are beyond the imagination of the majority of mankind. King falls in this category.

His greatest gift is his style of narration. Simple and yet complex at the same time. Simple, because unlike some other pretentious writers (I'm thinking of you, Mr Salman Rushdie), he doesn't take pages to get to the point. His writing is simple in the sense that its direct and almost always to the point. The complexity is in the narrative style. He has evolved from the straightforward narration of his earlier books, to narrating stories 27 years apart, not just contemporarily, but intermingled in his novel, 'IT'. In 'IT', one chapter begins in 1958 and ends with an unfinished sentence, and the next chapter continues the same sentence in 1985 without breaking the flow of the narrative. Difficult just to explain, imagine how difficult it must be to think it up and them accomplish it!

And finally to 'Lisey's Story'. A deeply touching, moving, heartbreakingly beautiful gem of a book. And as if all this wasn't enough, a book where he has reached new, stunning heights of narration that I never imagined could even exist. You know a writer is at the peak of his powers when he can narrate not 1, not 2, not 3, but 5, COUNT IT!!! 5! stories concurrently. And then he goes on to link them emotionally, linguistically, geographically and meteorologically; by words, actions, feelings, emotions, weather and geography. UNBELIEVABLE, and yet accomplished flawlessly by King. The final proof of his utter mastery of his craft.

'Lisey's story' was followed by 'Duma Key', where just the first page is filled with so much style, so much imagination and such unbelievable prose that others writers couldn't achieve in their entire lifetimes.

His strengths? Besides the narrative style, that is. Theres the way he manages to describe something as uninteresting as the weather in such a way that even now when I think of 'Cujo', I can feel the heat of that summer; when I think of 'Pet Sematary', I'm transported to that dark, windy night; the snow of 'Dreamcatcher'; the tunnels of 'IT'; the hotel of 'The Shining' and of course, 'Lisey's Story' takes me everytime, without fail, to Boo'ya Moon! I could go on and on with the examples… but you get the picture. He describes not to fill up pages but to actually transport you there physically. I think that he does it very well indeed if I remember these details even years after reading his books.

Then there is the way he gives minor personality quirks to his characters (a way of speaking, phrases or even one word). This imbues his characters with a realism that makes us feel for the character. A bond that the reader forms not just with the protagonist but with almost all the characters. His characters are not simply props necessitated by the plot but complete human beings in their own right. Their quirks, when they don't add to the story, lend an air of authenticity to the plot. So it is that when you read his books, the setting always seems like a place that already exists and the story takes place there, instead of seeming like something hastily created from scratch just to facilitate the story.

It wouldn't do to list every single way King is brilliant at writing. There isn't enough space, and even if there was, there aren't enough words, and even if there were, I don't think mere words could ever do justice to his writing. I'll just say that heres an excellent writer, whose sole purpose in writing a book is the telling of a story and who does it with the minimum of fuss and a maximum of originality and creativity. May he continue writing for many, many more years to come.

A final word. This is a homage to Stephen King, the writer. Not Stephen King, the person. I'll elaborate. I believe that humans are not to be worshipped. Because humans are fallible & unreadable. Hence, I believe in hailing achievements rather than achievers. Achievements remain forever, a testament to the heights that humans can reach at their best. Motivation should be taken from major achievements, not men. A great painting, a great sculpture, or a great book, show us how good, how brilliant, man can be at his best. And thats all that is needed to be inspired.

Thank you Mr King for inspiring me!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Confessions of an Introvert

Recently I've been forced to take a long, hard look at myself. At my reserved, introverted nature and decide for myself if its a defect or just a choice. I specify 'myself' because for most people in our society its a defect without a shadow of a doubt. There are people who would say theres something wrong with a person if he chooses to be alone when he can be with others. As if there is something wrong in wanting be alone. I'd personally rather be alone than with people I don't care about. So... lets talk about me.

I'm a reserved person. Primarily because of my childhod. I believe that most of what a man is, comes from his upbringing. I was brought up in an ultra-conservative society by ultra-conservative parents. Talking freely and expression of feelings was not common. In fact it was actively discouraged. I was also discouraged by my father to make friends. As the word of my father was law, I had almost no friends at all. Combined with the fact that there was 4-5 year age difference from my elder siblings, I had a lonely, quiet and mostly word-less childhood where my only constant companions were books. Growing up, I hardly talked. No wonder I'm not very comfortable around people. I can never think of what to say!

I moved to Singapore aged 17 on an engineering scholarship. Everything changed then. I realized that I had to get over my inhibitions if I were to survive alone in this foreign land that was completely different from the place where I'd had spent all my life until then. I made a herculean effort to overcome my reservations. I believe that I overcame them well enough, so much so that by the 4th year of university I was part of the university debating team. Now people who know me.... umm... no.... thats not right.... the people that I like know me as a fun-loving, fairly talkative guy.

So why I am I still a reserved person having overcome my inhibitions?

The primary reason is a very selfish one. I don't like to be hurt by others. Maybe I'm too sensitive. Whatever the reason, I hate to give others the possibility of hurting me. And this possibility boils down to expectations. We are hurt by others when they fail to meet our expectations. If I expect nothing from nobody, nobody can hurt me. Except friends. Because a friend is a person from whom we have certain expectations. Because a friend is a person to whom we have given the power to hurt us. This is why there are extremely few people I consider friends.

The other reason is complex in its simplicity. I don't like most people. I don't care for most of them because I find them endlessly disappointing.

You might think 'who the hell are you to judge others?'. And you'd be right. I have no right to judge others. In fact, I'm not judging them. Judging others implies expecting people to behave as us AND criticizing them when they don't. I couldn't do this for two reasons. First, I hardly think about others, so to think about someone enough to pass judgement over them would be a waste of time for me. Secondly, I couldn't care less whether others think or act like me. I am very comfortable with who I am and so never feel the need to validate myself through others. The fact that others don't think or act like me or that others don't agree with me, does not in any way reduce my convictions in my thoughts and actions. Arrogance? Maybe. I prefer to think of it as independence of thought and an unshakeable belief in myself. And so, I never expect people to behave as I do. I just feel that if people are not the way I expect them to be, I'll have the minimum possible to do with them. They are free to be as they like. Not the same as judging others. This is important for me because this habit of judging others is one of the habits that puts me off most people. For most people, as soon as another person doesn't think or act like them, that person is a weirdo! I dislike this kind of thinking and I certainly don't think like that. I just feel that I cannot get along with certain types of people... thats it... I don't think they are weird. In fact, I don't think about them at all!

Anyway, I feel that there is too much pettiness, jealousy, envy and just plain malice in the world. I'd rather not acquaint myself with that aspect of human nature! Perhaps I'm naive. I know that my ignoring it doesn't change the fact that human nature has its faults. But I prefer to look at the positive side of things. I look for simple, little things in people. Honesty, sincerity, strength of character, confidence in themselves... unfortunately there are very few who measure up. Never mind! I'll associate myself with the few that do. And failing that? There are always my beloved books :-p

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cupid's Victims

You smiled, you spoke, and I believed;
By every word and smile deceived.
Another man would hope no more;
Nor hope I what I hoped before:
But let not this last wish be vain;
Deceive, deceive me once again.

--- Walter Savage Landor

******************************************************

Those lips that love's own hand did make
Breath'd forth the sound that said "I hate"
To me that languish'd for her sake;
But when she saw my woeful state,
Straight in her heart did mercy come,
Chiding that tongue that, ever sweet,
Was us'd in giving gentle doom,
And taught it thus anew to greet:
"I hate" she altered with an end
That follow'd it as gentle day
Doth follow night, who like a fiend
From heaven to hell is flown away:
"I hate" from hate away she threw,
And sav'd my life, saying "not you".

--- William Shakespeare

******************************************************

Why do I Love? Go, ask the Glorious Sun
Why every day it round the world doth Run:
Ask Thames and Tyber, why they ebb and flow:
Ask Damask Roses why in June they blow:
Ask Ice and Hail, the reason, why they're Cold:
Decaying Beauties, why they will grow Old:
They'l tell thee, Fate, that every thing doth move,
Inforces them to this, and me to Love.
There is no Reason for our Love or Hate,
'Tis irresistible, as Death or Fate;
'Tis not his Face; I've sense enough to see,
That is not good, though doated on by me:
Nor is't his Tongue, that has this Conquest won;
For that at least is equall'd by my own:
His carriage can to none obliging be,
'Tis Rude, Affected, full of Vanity:
Strangely Ill natur'd, Peevish and Unkind,
Unconstant, False, to Jealousie inclin'd;
His Temper cou'd not have so great a Pow'r,
'Tis mutable, and changes every hour:
Those vigorous Years that Women so Adore
Are past in him: he's twice my age and more;
And yet I love this false, this worthless Man,
With all the Passion that a Woman can;
Doat on his Imperfections, though I spy
Nothing to Love; I Love, and know not why.
Sure 'tis Decreed in the dark Book of Fate,
That I shou'd Love, and he shou'd be ingrate.

--- Ephelia

******************************************************

...we can die by it, if not live by love,
And if unfit for tombs and hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
We'll build in sonnets pretty rooms...

--- John Donne

******************************************************

Oh! Love is frantic agony, and life one throb of pain!

---- Jane Francesca, Lady Wilde

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Something filled up my heart with nothing...

Alas! How easily things go wrong!
A sigh too much or a kiss too long;
And there follows a mist and a weeping rain
And life is never the same again.

--- George Macdonald

**********************************************

I see she flies me everywhere,
Her eyes her scorn discover;
But what's her scorn, or my despair,
Since 'tis my fate to love her?
Were she but kind whom I adore,
I might live longer, but not love her more.

**********************************************

You'll love me yet! - and I can tarry
Your love's protracted growing:
June rear'd that bunch of flowers you carry,
From seeds of April's sowing.

I plant a heartful now: some seed
At least is sure to strike,
And yield - what you'll not pluck indeed,
Not love, but may be, like.

You'll look at least on love's remains,
A grave's one violet:
Your look? - that pays a thousand pains.
Whats death? You'll love me yet.

--- Robert Browning

Friday, December 10, 2010

Le mie Haiku

Ogni secondo
e' un'eternità.
Aspetto te.

--- dreamcatcher

***********************

Incubi, e deliri, e dolori.
Buio pesto, ed io e
Terrore!

--- dreamcatcher

***********************

La notte silenziosa.
La parola taciuta.
Solo soltanto il mio cuore.

--- dreamcatcher

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Gran Torino (9/10)

Another Clint Eastwood movie, another masterpiece.

I believe that art is the process of making something out of nothing and 'great' art is making something extraordinary out of real-life. Because try as we might to delude ourselves, real-life is mostly slow, tepid and unspectacular. So when you watch a movie such as this, whose hero is a very normal war veteran, a movie that never leaves the little nondescript town its based in, that has no big names except the considerably famous lead, you can't help but marvel at the heights that human imagination can reach. No, this is not a contradiction. When I say imagination, I talk not about creating a new story, but rather of converting reality on to the big screen in such a spectacular manner. What makes this movie special is that it achieves the spectacular without resorting to the slightest unnecessary adornment.  Also admirable is the fact that it refrains from preaching when it could so easily go in that direction.

A simple story; an amazing, touching movie. Bravo Clint!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Haiku

Brace d'Inverno
I capelli tuoi
Dove il mio cuore brucia

*****************************

La luna nuova.
Lei pure la guarda
da un'altra porta.

*****************************

Ero soltanto.
Ero.
Cadeva la neve.

*****************************

Your hair is winter fire,
January embers.
My heart burns there, too

*****************************

the man on the hill
wants the valley;
and the valley the hill.