Tuesday 26 March 2013

Mohsin Hamid & Werner Herzog book musings

I went to Bath yesterday to a book event with Mohsin Hamid http://www.mohsinhamid.com/ talking about his new book How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia with my favorite bookseller Mr B's http://www.mrbsemporium.com/ which is a bit of a coup for them as he is only briefly in the country.

Hamid was a fascinating speaker who said that it took him 7 years to write a book, and in answer to a question of why it took so long said that the first 3-4 years he writes drafts that he throws away. This is impresive and perhaps explains why he started the night with a quote from Douglas Adams - Flying is learning to throw yourself at the ground and miss and Hamid said that his publisher describes him as the "reluctant novelist".

Hamid spoke a little about Moth smoke and The reluctant fundamentalist but the main thrust of Nic Bottomley's questions were about the new book. Obviously since it has not yet been published (we were allowed to walk away with signed copied though which was nice) no-one in the room could have read it. Hamid therefore read the first few pages which certainly whetted my appetite to read it (although am in the middle of The Half made world so TOH gets to read it first)

There was a long discussion over the fact that the book was written in the second person throughout, is in the format of a self-help book and none of the characters are named. Hamid explained a little about the latest thinking in cognitive science which luckily I could follow as I have read The Self illusion by Bruce Hood http://www.bristol.ac.uk/expsych/people/bruce-m-hood/index.html (which I recommend).

Hamid seems concerned here with identity and our sense of self being a story we tell ourselves. Hamid writes in English, explaining that English is his second language but he doesn't have a first (the result of moving to California from Pakistan at a young age so that he forgot Urdu). But said that he struggled with it wondering if he ever expressed himself "properly" in English, by the fact that this was a sell out crowd and The reluctant fundamentalist is on the Mr B's wall of fame I think he must do.

It was a well attended, well run (one the venue staff sorted out the audio issues - why are there always audio issues?) and very much enjoyed event.

Mr B's events list here http://www.mrbsemporium.com/index.php/info/events - highly recommended. This may give you a little taste of the evening http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/mar/22/mohsin-hamid-second-person-narrative

In other book news I finished Herzog on Herzog which I enjoyed although I feel I need to watch a few more of his films, although I prefer the documentaries which weren't really discussed. This was a book of interviews and as always Herzog is fascinating to listen to (or in this case read).

So I picked up a computer virus yesterday. Looks like it must have come from a hotel website, was looking at hotels for a trip to Scotland later this year. Wasn't too nasty - was able to follow a pretty simple 3 step guide from bleepingcomputer.com.


  1. Self is a fascinating subject - obviously. Self as illusion or not, and maybe it is, my experiences in writing has helped me clarify the idea that 'self' is only a part of 'me', that the conscious mind is only a part of my mind in the same way that my body, as I perceive it, is not the whole body - there's an enormously complex and important interior of which I am generally unaware and do not control.

    So there are a couple of things I think are odd about the current round of studies on what 'self' is - first that the the conscious self-aware self is an intermittent thing (we're only aware when we're aware, so we think we are a continuum) that is layered onto other mental structures that are of great importance, and that they are also part of my mind - I just don't have direct access to them. However, these studies all appear to make the assumption that everythign else going on in the brain is somehow not part of 'me'.

    Second, if the self is a construct then so are all the sensory qualia - colour, taste, emotion. Everything we feel and experience is as made up as our own thoughts and opinions on those experiences.
    Nothing is real.

    And yet here I am typing, and someone might read this, and (hopefully) understand.

    This really is a conversation that needs beer.

  2. What is reality? are we just a brain in a jar? it's getting a bit philosophical! I do recommend the Self Illusion and beer, lots of beer


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