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Paperback Pickings

Delightful and merciless

Scriblerus (Hesperus, £ 5.99) by Alexander Pope is a delightful satire on the idiocies of false learning, fashionable taste and contemporary scholarship, written by one of the most brilliant and facetious moralists in the England of Queen Anne. Pope’s short treatise, which remained unpublished till 1741, condenses the panoramic scale of his great satire on Grub Street, the world of hacks and dunces, in The Dunciad. It crystallizes the ambience of merciless wit fostered by the Scriblerus Club established by Pope and Jonathan Swift in 1714. By taking one ambitious father and his determination to do everything in his power to produce a child of genius, Pope exposes an entire generation of pseudo-intellectuals, antiquarians and literati. As this hallowed child grows into a man, it becomes clear that instead of becoming the scholar his father so desired, he has come to embody the mediocrity, false learning and intellectual vanity which Pope and his formidable contemporaries had set about to ridicule in their best works. Byron, another master of devastating facetiousness, described Pope as “the great moral poet of all times, of all climes, of all feelings, and all stages of existence”.

karl marx (Rupa, Rs 195) by Leon Trotsky is the eminent Russian’s digest version of Marx’s Capital, seeking to “compactly set forth the fundamentals of Marx’s economic teaching in Marx’s own words”. First published in 1940, this book is not a critique, but more of a convenient notebook on Marxism, based on the following premise: “Whoever has not reasoned out, in the footsteps of Marx, the essential nature of the commodity as the basic cell of the capitalist organism, will prove to be forever incapable of scientifically comprehending the most important manifestations of our epoch”.

The Penguin India Cinema Quiz Book (Penguin, Rs 195) by Suman Tarafdar and Supriya Chotani spans the entire gamut from commercial to art films from all over India, from Phalke to Lagaan. There are 1,500 questions divided into 150 sets, including visuals, on art-house cinema, film formulas, mythologicals, sequels, villains, industry pioneers and a whole range of trivia. This is a useful books for a certain kind of film buff, hooked on to trivial information regarding cinema: Persis Khambatta is the only Indian to be a presenter at the Oscars, 17 of Amitabh’s screen characters were named Vijay, Sridevi was a standard seven dropout and started acting when she was four, Dharmendra played a writer in Anupama. But it is difficult to see how it contributes to “serious writing on cinema”, as its compilers hope in their introduction.


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