The day’s readings

December 9, 2008

My writing here has suffered due to offline factors, namely the pursuit of traveling, reading, and purposeful writing. While the writing is in progress – and it will be here, up for critique, in due time – I thought of sharing my daily reading. I spend a few hours everyday reading a diverse range of topics. I’m most interested in media, the Middle East, science, and architecture, when it is accessible. Then there’s also finance, a subject I’m slowly coming to understand – including personal finance, which is why my writing here suffered in the first instance.

Anyway, onward ho.

I discovered the Smithsonian today. Not the institution, but the vibrant magazine. As these things go, one link led to another and I found myself utterly taken by the story on the preservation of Hagia Sophia. I’ve had a crush on this structure since 1998, when it came up on a slide in art history class.

A profile of Sam Zell in the New Yorker bears revisiting. The Tribune Co filed for bankruptcy protection on Monday, a few years after Zell walked into a deal many others considered a no-go. The story captures Zell’s freakishness, as well as the honesty that permits him to tell a Sheikh that he’s wrong. There’s a beautiful part in there when he takes off on why businessmen are hated; entire court dramas are written around decisive lines like the ones Zell delivers.

My friends and I often discuss long-form writing (at times I wonder if I’m more passionate about the subject than writing long form, but then I look at the stories I’m working on, and there’s one I’m very excited about for March next year, and think maybe 2009 will be different), and why the format hasn’t caught on in India. The Mumbai attacks were, potentially, a career-defining moment. However, newspapers committed to shorter stories. This left WSJ, NYT and a few others to create bold narratives rich in detail. The New Yorker had pieces by Steve Coll and George Packer, and the Atlantic has this, by Robert D Kaplan. I read the piece a few days ago, and wished he would do more with India – although the Kolkata piece from a few months ago was a little airy. He will, he promises, write more about the Hindu-Muslim divide as well as Gujarat, where he has been spending some time.

I spent an hour re-reading Pankaj Mishra’s ‘Aspirers’, a colorful narrative about the changing nature of Indian films, and what the business means to people outside it. It is in Granta’s Jubilee edition of Autumn 2004, among other fine contributions. While Googling it I notice now that the Business Standard criticized Mishra’s intent as nebulous. I’m not a fan of his writing, but I find this particular story riveting, and find that the free approach Mishra took works. I wish it was available online, but until then there’s another story in the same issue: Benjamin Pell versus the Rest of the World, by Tim Adams. Spectacular.

Also, if you’re inclined to wonder about how bad things can get these days, there’s World at Risk, a sobering report on nuclear and biological proliferation and terrorism.

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