Capital in the 21st Century, according to Thomas Piketty

Thomas Piketty

Thomas Piketty

I was surprised I couldn’t find Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century when I searched the Singapore National Library catalogue online. An Amazon bestseller, it is the most talked-about economics book today. Piketty, a French economist, writes about the growing inequality between the rich and the poor.

  • Inequality is returning to pre-World War I levels, he writes, and
  • The future could look like the 19th century, when the economic elites predominantly inherited their wealth rather than working for it.

Looking at Forbes and other wealth rankings, Piketty concludes: [Read more...]

Wordsworth’s finest

William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth

Which is Wordsworth’s finest poem? How can one even ask such a question? He has written so many memorable poems, it seems impossible to single out any one as the very best. Yet the question has been on my mind these past two days since the birthday of Wordsworth (April 7, 1770 – April 23, 1850). And my answer?

I love Tintern Abbey and the Immortality Ode. They are great poems. And The Daffodils is one of the loveliest lyrics in the English language. But my favourite is one of the Lucy poems. [Read more...]

John Updike: Middle-aged love in Rabbit Redux

John Updike

John Updike

Today is the birthday of one of my favourite writers, John Updike (March 18, 1932 – January 27, 2009). Like PG Wodehouse, he is irreplaceable. No one can take his place. Lawrence Durrell and Jan Morris are the only writers I know with prose as lush and sensuous as his. And few have written of love and sex more vividly than he. [Read more...]

Updike: Music from Rabbit at Rest

John Updike

John Updike

Today is the birthday of one of my favourite writers, John Updike (March 18, 1932 – January 27, 2009). Few have written so sensuously of love and sex – or anything else under the sun.

Here is Updike writing about one of my greatest loves – pop music from the Fifties and Sixties. This is from Rabbit at Rest. An ageing Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom is listening to oldies but goldies on the radio as he drives through Florida. Here are also videos of some of the songs mentioned in the text.

Love Me Tender — Elvis Presley [Read more...]

Jan Morris: Both sides now

Jan Morris

Jan Morris

“It is not usually given to a man that after nearly a quarter of a century of marriage he should end up as sister-in-law to his own wife and aunt to his own children.”

Thus begins a profile of one of my favourite writers: Jan Morris, formerly James Morris. The article headlined James and Jan, and written by David Holden, appeared in the New York Times in March 1974, shortly before the publication of Conundrum, Morris’ memoir where he wrote about his sex change. [Read more...]

On the Road, on Kerouac’s birthday

Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac

Today Is the birthday of Jack Kerouac (March 12, 1922 – October 21, 1969), whom I started reading again last night. I hit On the Road again, which is a joy to read. Especially the early chapters, where the narrator Sal Paradise meets Dean Moriarty and embarks on his travels, which take him all the way across America from the East Coast to the West Coast, to Mexico, and back.

You are blown away by the sheer exuberance, the references to jazz, popular culture, and the colourful writing. Here is Sal describing Dean:

My first impression of Dean was of a young Gene Autry—trim, thin- hipped, blue-eyed, with a real Oklahoma accent—a sideburned hero of the snowy West.

[Read more...]

Fowler’s English

Fowler

Fowler

Today is the birthday of Henry Watson Fowler (March 10, 1858 – December 26, 1933).

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style may be the most popular English writing style guide in America, but when it comes to British English, Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage remains the favourite. Originally published in 1926, it still has legions of admirers. [Read more...]

Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Lowland: The lowdown on Bengal

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

I just finished reading The Lowland in Kolkata, where I visited some of the places mentioned by the author, Jhumpa Lahiri. Recently I attended two weddings at the Tolly Club, which is described in the novel.

Kolkata, formerly called Calcutta, features prominently in some recent novels such as Paul Theroux’s A Dead Hand and Jeffrey Eugenides’ A Marriage Plot.  Amitav Ghosh described early 19th century Calcutta when it was the capital of the British Raj in his historical saga, Sea of Poppies, besides depicting the city in several other novels including The Glass Palace, The Calcutta Chromosome, The Shadow Line and The Hungry Tide. Calcutta is also very much present in Amit Chaudhuri’s collection of stories, Real Time, his novel, A New World, and his novellas, A Strange and Sublime Address and Freedom Song.

Jhumpa Lahiri has also described Calcutta in her earlier novel, The Namesake. [Read more...]

Typewriter poems

George OrwellPressrun.net has a new look today. The typeface is different. It reminds me of typewriters.

I love smartphones, tablets, laptops, but typewriters were my first love. Not smooth, electric typewriters but the manual variety. Such as the one George Orwell is working on in this photo. With a cigarette in his mouth, fingers on the keyboard, the author of the essay, Books vs Cigarettes, looks utterly engrossed. [Read more...]

Raymond Chandler: I live for syntax

Raymond ChandlerI love Raymond Chandler and PG Wodehouse. Both attended Dulwich College in London. Both are great writers. Like Wodehouse, Chandler is famous for his similes.

I mentioned in my previous post how the writer Michael Connelly loves chapter 13 of Chandler’s 1949 novel, The Little Sister. Here is a passage from that chapter. The hero, the private detective Philip Marlowe, is driving around alone, feeling blue, in Los Angeles. See how he vividly describes the scene: [Read more...]