Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lost in Translation

It's funny how you can speak the same language as someone, yet still have no idea what they're talking about.

I followed a link to a very short English-language article on the Indian movie website Filmi Tadka because the headline interested me: "Shahrukh Khan - Don't Mix Religion with Politics." Reading the article, I learned that at the distinguished India Today Conclave, "SRK expressed his concerns about the politicization of Mumbai by saying that Indian cinema is heading from Mumbai to Melrose. And though he would have preferred the transition as Bombay to Beverly Hills he thinks that that kind of alliteration is not allowed to Muslim actors."


I know all those words, but because of my own ignorance, I don't have the political or cultural context needed to understand them. First, what's he referring to, exactly, when he talks about the politicization of Mumbai, and what does that have to do with global cinema and Hollywood? Second, if I'm understanding him correctly, why can't a Muslim actor, in particular, call Mumbai "Bombay?"

My newfound love of Bollywood has led me to some really interesting, and sometimes muddy, research. You don't have to watch a lot of movies or listen to a lot of interviews to absorb that people have strong mixed feelings about the Bombay/Mumbai name change. (In 1995, the name was officially changed from Bombay to Mumbai, for political/religious/cultural reasons that are really hard for me to put a tidy finger on. Here's a quick summary from Wikipedia.)

Here's a 2008 Slate piece about the USA's relationship with India, called "Our Friends in Bombay," by Christopher Hutchins; Hutchins deliberately calls the city Bombay repeatedly. Here's a article called "Mumbai vs Bombay" that helped me get one Indian's perspective, at least, on the different implications of the names. Here's an article about the brouhaha that erupted when director Karan Johar dared to use the word "Bombay" repeatedly in his movie Wake Up Sid (google this if you want to -- you'll find a lot of online talk about it). And here's a request on MetaFilter from a traveler who wants some advice on what to call the city while visiting it. The advice the traveler is given, by a lot of different people, is contradictory and fascinating.

Who's right? I don't know. What the hell is going on? I don't completely understand. It takes me a long time to get my feet on the ground with this sort of thing. I'll keep researching, but in the meantime, I'm okay with knowing that I don't get it. I think it's worthwhile to realize and acknowledge our own ignorance about things, you know? Of course, it's hard, by definition, because how can you see your own blind spot? But we should try. It's dangerous to think you understand something when you don't, and it's dangerous to force something complicated into a too-simple explanation just for the purpose of feeling more settled and in control about what things mean.

Here's another article about SRK's comments at the India Today Conclave, from the Conclave's own website. This one summarizes his comments about Mumbai, Hollywood, and how to globalize the Mumbai film industry with much more clarity than the other one does, leading me to think that the problem, in the first place, was that I was reading a crap article. :o) But I was too ignorant even to know that! (And this one doesn't clarify the Mumbai/Bombay matter, either, or even mention it....)

And here's something SRK said that I understand perfectly: "I truly believe that politicians should not use religion as an agenda. It is just not acceptable. The issues like education, development and women's upliftment, which are sidelined, are the basic political issues which need to be looked upon." And I'm not sure at what point in the proceedings he opened his suit coat, pulled up his dress shirt, and showed the audience his sixpack while sheepishly admitting that his wife doesn't approve of such clownish behavior. (Photo here.)

Oh, Shah Rukh. You are my favorite international symbol of religious unity, and I will never tire of trying to understand you. :o)

(Still is from the fabulous Om Shanti Om)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Atmosphere, Umbrellas, Pancakes, and Other Delicious Objects

Taiwanese cover for Fire, published by Gaea Books --->

So, one day in Hamburg, I saw a man who was carrying one of the most beautiful umbrellas I have ever seen. It had panels that were all these different kinds of deep purples and reds and I LOVE UMBRELLAS. I pursued him, natch. I'm not sure what I would have done had I managed to catch him. I guess kick him really hard, grab the umbrella, and run. Maybe poke him with it a few times to discourage vengeance. Tragically though (for me, anyway, maybe not him), he got away.

I notice when I'm in a place with beautiful umbrellas. Not every town takes pride in its umbrellas. Cambridge does. So does the little Bavarian town of Coburg. It was raining that day we were in Coburg, and my lovely traveling pal Ulrike and I were just fine with that, because we were, um, frankly, EXHAUSTED, and grateful for an excuse to sit in the window of a pancake house, eat Pfannkuchen, and watch the beautiful umbrellas go by.

Here I am, eating my (delicious) Pfannkuchen in Coburg. It was St. Patrick's Day. Mark my Irish pride.

I fell in love with the atmosphere of the little towns and big cities in Germany. In Hamburg, I kept thinking that the same way Rome's skyline is peppered with domes, Hamburg's is peppered with spires -- the spires of churches and city buildings, and then, when you get into the harbor, of cranes. And every town had the most beautiful church bells; I could hear them ringing everywhere. And the tall, narrow buildings on the narrow, cobblestoned streets (Kopfsteinpflaster! I could have a lengthy conversation with any German, as long as we only talked about pancakes and cobblestones. Or if they asked me whether or not I am kingly). ...Where was I? Oh, right. The buildings and streets in Erfurt and Coburg were just like the buildings and streets I imagine for the world of my fantasy books.

The atmosphere at the Leipzig Book Fair was a whole other matter. So crowded, so loud, and so many cosplayers that I was endlessly amused and/or impressed. I watched this one guy with the most enormous antlers having trouble getting in through the door and I also remember being enchanted by some very fine pirates. Despite all the madness, as at every event I did in every city, the people at the fair were lovely, and too kind to me.

See how peaceful I look in this picture, reading from Fire for

I was feeling peaceful at the time, but I was also surrounded by SO MUCH NOISE and could not actually hear a word I was saying. This happened to me a couple of times at the fair. It was my job to read, or to talk, but there was so much noise that I couldn't hear myself, and I just had to stop worrying about it, talk in my own quiet tone, and trust that the microphone was allowing other people to hear what I was saying. People did tell me that they could hear just fine, so I suppose it was working. :o)

That's it for now, except for one more thing: Diana Wynne Jones, may you rest in peace. You were taken too soon, and we'll miss you very much.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

How does a book become a bestseller in Germany?

A lot of hard work by a lot of smart people whose job is to find ways to get you to pay attention to the book in question.

LA LA LA hmmmm I wonder what's in this box?

Pens? Pencils? A tiny bow and arrow? A flaming red wig?

Or how about...

Chocolates! Specifically, FLAMING chocolates. From left to right: chili-champagne praline; chili-raspberry praline; chili-truffle praline; bittersweet chili praline.

"Chili pralines: dangerously beautiful!" HA HA HA HA

This little box of promotional Fire-related candies is just one of the things my German publisher, Carlsen, did to help draw attention to Fire in Germany. I'm not sure who they were sent to, but I'm guessing bookstores and sales reps (?). And I got one, too! So far, I can't bring myself to eat them, mostly because they're so beautiful, but also because *ahem* they smell a little funny :o). Carlsen, you are too kind to me and my books.

Okay, that's it for now. I hope to have time to write a little more about my actual trip soon.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ich bin nicht königlich!

I had this plan to write a big, huge post about my time in Germany, but every time I sit down to do so, it feels really time-consuming and hard. All of my hard-writing energy these days is reserved for Bitterblue. So here's what I'm thinking I might do instead: blog about little pieces of my journey here and there, when I have the time, and when it feels like a nice break from my work.

Today, I'm going to share one little part of my visit to Hamburg. Did you know that the port of Hamburg is one of the largest ports in the whole wide world? I went on a harbor tour and my little boat took us in and among the container docks, where we watched cranes loading big, huge containers on and off of big, huge container ships that had come all the way from Budapest, Monrovia, Cyprus, Bilbao. The containers were stamped with some brand names I recognized, and others I didn't. I got shivers watching all that work take place, guessing that some of the things I use are probably in those containers somewhere. I love love LOVE those moments when I get to see a little piece of the big picture. In the port of Hamburg, you get to see the actual way our world functions.

I also got to see cruise ships being repaired! The Hamburg harbor has facilities for repairing the parts of ships that are underneath the water. The captain steers the ship into what is called a "dry dock." Once the ship is in the dock, the water is pumped out, so that finally, you have a ship resting on the dock with all of its underparts accessible. A cruise ship from Genoa and another from St. John's were being repaired. We tootled past in our tiny little ferry, and let me tell you, if you've ever seen how massive a cruise ship is, imagine how massive it is when you're seeing the entire hull as well. There were a few little people on the highest railing of the Italian cruise ship, watching us go by, and they were so high above us that they were like ants.

That's it for today -- hopefully I'll get a chance to write more soon.

My subject line, by the way, is an exclamation I got a little tired of hearing by the end of my book tour. Yes, Brigan, we all know that you're not kingly. It didn't occur to me, when I wrote it in English, that it was going to rhyme when you said it in German, or that I was going to hear you say it SO MANY times over the course of six days. :o)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

An Auction to Help Japan. (Want Books?)

I have a thousand things to say about the beautiful time I'm having in Germany; I have no time for blogging. For now, a link to an online auction to help Japan. You bid on fun stuff; if you win a bid, you pay the money to an approved charitable organization; you provide proof of your charitable contribution; you receive your fun item. More info about how the auction works can be found here and here. There's some super-fun stuff being offered! Care packages! I want to receive a care package!

Anyway. Here is a link to my own offer, which is for signed/personalized English-language copies of Graceling + Fire to the top four bidders (each winner gets both books). Want to donate money to Doctors Without Borders and get signed/personalized books from me? Probably with stickers of knights and fire-breathing chickens battling inside? Then go bid. I will mail books anywhere in the world.

Many thanks to Deborah for posting this offer on my behalf.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

I Choose This As the Subject Line

When I'm really, really tired and trying to juggle too many balls (metaphorically), sometimes my short-term memory completely vanishes. For example, I'll be walking along the street, see the cash machine, and think to myself, "Maybe I should get some cash just in case I need it at the airport tomorrow. Should I? Shouldn't I? Yes, I should!", I'll think, proud of myself for making an important travel-related decision. Then I'll look around in confusion, wonder why I'm having a conversation with myself on the sidewalk, and walk home. Forgetting all about the cash. Or, something that just happened 15 minutes ago: I'll let myself into the lobby of my building, and then, as I'm walking the short distance to my door, put my keys away in my bag, proud of myself for this excellent example of multitasking. Finding myself at my door, I'll stare at the door in confusion, remember I need the key to get inside, then panic for a moment, because I can't figure out why my keys aren't in my hand and am afraid I've lost them.

SIGH.... tonight, I intend to get lots of sleep.

Guys, there's this new guy who keeps inserting himself into my manuscript. His name is Desolate Lee. Whenever he shows up, I'm reminded that (1) my voice recognition software does not recognize the word "desolately" and (2) I am using the word "desolately" WAY TOO OFTEN in my manuscript. It's funny that whenever Lee shows up, he is only ever desolate. He is never Happy Lee or Crafty Lee or Morose Lee or Grumpy Lee or Decisive Lee or Remote Lee..... he is only ever Desolate Lee. Poor Lee.

Poor we.

Okay, disintegrating into nonsense, better hit publish and go pack. I hope to see some of you next week in Germany! My schedule is here.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Badly Done, New York Times

[Warning for triggers: rape, and infuriatingly offensive reporting of same]

God, it infuriates me that the New York Times, reporting about a case of gang rape in Cleveland, Texas, decided that it was appropriate to include this in the article: "Residents in the neighborhood where the abandoned trailer stands — known as the Quarters — said the victim had been visiting various friends there for months. They said she dressed older than her age, wearing makeup and fashions more appropriate to a woman in her 20s. She would hang out with teenage boys at a playground, some said."

Because we all know what it means, right, that she "dressed older than her age" and "would hang out with teenage boys?" New York Times, you must be aware that that's code for "she was asking for it?" And that by printing this statement without drawing any critical attention to it, you're suggesting it could be true?

Also, did I mention yet that we're talking about an eleven-year-old girl, which makes your perpetuation of the "she asked for it" myth even more reprehensible (though please note, it would be reprehensible regardless of her age)?

The "asking for it" suggestion is especially troublesome in an article that also contains the choice words: "The case has rocked this East Texas community to its core and left many residents in the working-class neighborhood where the attack took place with unanswered questions. Among them is, if the allegations are proved, how could their young men have been drawn into such an act?"

Drawn into? Seriously?

And if that weren't already offensive enough, this line, which, please note, is in reference to the mother of the victim: "'Where was her mother? What was her mother thinking?' said Ms. Harrison, one of a handful of neighbors who would speak on the record."

How was this article allowed to print? Do we really need the New York Times perpetuating the myth that a rape victim is in any way responsible for being raped? And suggesting that her mother was somehow responsible? Eighteen young men forced an eleven-year-old girl to take her clothes off, threatened to beat her if she didn't, then raped her, then circulated footage, recorded on cell phone cameras, around school, and this is how the New York Times sees fit to report it? How did those poor boys ever get drawn in? Here's another actual line from the article: “'It’s just destroyed our community,' said Sheila Harrison, 48, a hospital worker who says she knows several of the defendants. 'These boys have to live with this the rest of their lives.'”

I think my head is going to explode.

The only reason any of these statements would have been print-worthy, relevant, or appropriate is if this article were an exposé on a few people in this town who have really f***ed up ideas about who is responsible when eighteen young men have gang-raped an eleven-year-old girl, the rapists or the victim.

Badly done, New York Times.

ETA at 10:44pm: A lot of people on the internets are writing about this dreadful reporting job; here are a few links. I confess I haven't read them yet (sorry, leaving for Germany reeeeeeally soon) but they seem worth checking out:

Monday, March 7, 2011

Germany Itinerary, Stuff and Things

This morning, while running along the river, I saw that the recent rain had melted all the snow and ice that's been floating on the river for months -- except for these two round clumps of snow near the footbridge. Then their necks came out of the water and I realized they were swans. Welcome, swans! And just now, as I sit here dictating, the sun has broken through the clouds. I cannot believe it's March.

I am thrilled to report that I now have my German tour schedule to share. (ETA: the readings will be in both English and German, alternating. I will read the English. I will not read the German!)

Monday, March 14: Hamburg

7:00 p.m.

Reading at Allee-Theater, Max-Brauer-Allee 76, Hamburg

Tuesday, March 15: Erfurt

8:00 p.m.

Reading at bookstore Buchhandlung Peterknecht, Anger 28, 99084 Erfurt

Wednesday, March 16: Gustavsburg

3:00 p.m.

Reading at Buch- und Kulturzentrum Villa Herrmann, Mozartstraße 3, 65462 Gustavsburg

Wednesday, March 16: Rüsselsheim

8:00 p.m.

Reading at bookstore Bücherhaus Jansen, Marktstraße 10 -14, 65428 Rüsselsheim

Thursday, March 17: Coburg

8:00 p.m.

Reading at bookstore Riemann'sche Hofbuchhandlung, Markt 9, 96450 Coburg

Friday, March 18 – Saturday, March 19: Leipzig Book Fair

Interviews, readings, meeting fans, stuff and things

Saturday, March 19: Leipzig

7:00 p.m.

Reading at the Moritzbastei in the city

I've got lots more I want to say, but I'm leaving for Germany in a few days and I DESPERATELY NEED TO GO DO STUFF. So. Happy Monday, everyone.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Linky Randutiae

I cannot recommend last weekend's This American Life, called "DIY," strongly enough. Here's the description from the website: "After four lawyers fail to get an innocent man out of prison, his friend takes on the case himself. He becomes a do-it-yourself investigator. He learns to read court records, he tracks down hard-to-find witnesses, he gets the real murderer to come forward with his story. In the end, he's able to accomplish all sorts of things the police and the professionals can't." Sounds dry, right? IT SO ISN'T. It's an unbelievable story (and the closest I've ever seen TAL get to the warm fuzzies) and what blew me away were the people -- you will not believe these people. You can listen to it here.

If you've ever built IKEA furniture (or looked at the instructions), I bet these instructions for building Stonehenge will make you laugh. :o) Thanks, R.

After finishing Jhumpa Lahiri's Unaccustomed Earth, I wandered around feeling bereft for a few hours, discovered that all the Lahiri at my library was out, then ended up at my local bookstore, where I bought her first story collection, Interpreter of Maladies. I had no idea, until I got to the end of this book, that one of my favorite stories ever is actually by Jhumpa Lahiri: "The Third and Final Continent." I know this story because it's on my iPod, from an ancient CD of the fabulous PRI radio show Selected Shorts, which I used to listen to when I was living in Austin and OH GOOD HEAVENS I just noticed that it's still running and I can subscribe to the podcast. This show is basically talented people reading good short stories. I listened to "The Third and Final Continent" for the first time when I was on an airplane once. I don't remember where I was going, but I remember that I was terrified. I could not have stumbled upon a better story to give me courage in that moment. Anyway. Here's the CD I found it on -- maybe your library has it :o).

I have more stuff I want to talk about, but no time, so I'll sign off. With maturity. *thbbbbpppt*

(Oh, also, Germany! 14-19 March, I expect to be in Hamburg, Erfurt, Frankfurt, Coburg, and finally at the Leipzig Book Fair, but don't have the exact details yet. I promise to post them as soon as I have them.)