The best book I read last year was Youth in Revolt by CD Payne. I had never heard of CD Payne in my life and I probably never would, had it not been for the US trip. I was bonding with Joel, a colleague who was reading Palahniuk’s Rant during lunchtime and who, when I mentioned I was reading the same book, took me to his cubicle and showed me his current read-list – a huge bunch of novels including Gaiman’s Stardust and King’s Lisey’s Story. We talked about writers we like, and suggested quite a few books to each other, and the name CD Payne came up then. The next day, Joel got me a bunch of Stephen King movie video cassettes, a video cassette player for me to hook up in my hotel room, and Youth in Revolt.
This is how the book begins:
WEDNESDAY, July 18 – My name is Nick. Someday, if I grow up to become a gangster, perhaps I will be known as Nick the Prick. This may cause some embarassment for my family, but when your don gives you your mafia sobriquet you don’t ask questions.
…. My last name, which I loathe, is Twisp. Even John Wayne on a horse would look effeminate pronouncing that name. As soon as I turn 21 I’m going to jettison it for something a bit more macho. Right now, I am leaning toward Dillinger. “Nick Dillinger”. I think that strikes just the right note of hirsute virility.
I was sold, right then and there. Nick Twisp was the nineties, American version of Adrian Mole – and unlike the latter’s exploits, which become exceedingly moribund and forced as the series progressed, Youth in Revolt ups the ante as we go further down the tunnel of horror and rapidly escalating absurdity that is Nick’s life. Every time I turned the page, the thought that came to mind was “Oh dear, he is not about to do that, is he?” and then realise that yes, Nick Twisp just burnt down half of Berkeley, yes, he’s just managed to prolong his virginity by a couple of years; oh yes, it does look like he’s going to bonk his best friend’s mother; oh, no, he’s planning to go back to school like this???
While Nick may be your archetypal geek-hero who’s the self-proclaimed ruler of all that he surveys, he’s as much a survivor ( like his creator, who had to go through a great deal to get the books published), the kind of person who not only refuses to play by the rules, but takes the rulebook, shits on it, and then makes his best friend pay for a peek at the hardened crust. (The scatalogical humour is just metaphor, so chill.) CD Payne makes his characters just the right amount of approachable and unfathomable, there are times when I do not know whether to be exasperated at Nick and his indefatigable attitude or just egg him on mentally. It was a treat reading about characters who, albeit in a fictional world, occupy the same area you do. I finished the book over Caltrain and BART rides ( coincidentally in sections of the book where Nick and Sheena are riding on the BART), deadline-ridden nights, and finally, during a car journey to LA – and then suddenly, deadlines whizzed past ( do deadlines become livelines once they are done with? Ghostlines if they are not met? ) and I had more free time on my hands, and I read one sequel (out of three) and the spinoff Cut to the Twisp in a week, and suddenly it was time to leave the US. Horror of horrors, the books were not available anywhere in the local bookstores, even though CD Payne was a Bay Area writer! Joel told me he had ordered the books directly from the writer’s website and that copies were available on Amazon, but there was no way I could get them in three days, especially when the next two days were Saturday and Sunday. Had to ditch the idea of getting the books, add them to the Wish-list and come back to India.
Fast forward seven months. tandavdancer was in town for the New Year, and one of the entries on his Hyderabad tour guide was to carpet-bomb as many second-hand bookstores as possible with his philanthropic presence. Now let me tell you something about the state of the used-book affairs here in Hyderabad. In a word, depressing. For quite some time, the collection of books has been stagnating – in a given book-sale, I would have to wade through piles of Terry McMillan’s Waiting To Exhale and Rebecca Wells’ Divine Secrets of the Ya-ya Sisterhood. Both are books against which I have no personal enmity, but I cannot but help considering them the poster-children of Dead Bestseller Syndrome, trillions of copies of over-stock being shipped from Canada, Australia, the USA and the UK just because exporters there thought us third-worlders would find the books inspirational or something. Add to this the fact that one rarely finds the titles one wants, the ratio of investment to return is pitiably low, hours of browsing miles of Dead Bestsellers often yielding one decent book, or maybe nothing at all. Another important factor probably would be that I am trying very hard to buy`books that I would want to read immediately, not stock them up until I complete a run or until a trilogy finishes or I get the first book someday. ( I did the last with the Illuminatus trilogy, and when I found the first book after a couple of years of owning the second and third books, I realised that maybe I didn’t want to read the series after all).
Having been completely vexed by this turn of events, I chose, sometime in the middle of last year, to stop going to second-hand bookstores here altogether. Maybe an extreme step, but people close to me will tell you how prone I am to indulge in practices that are Spartan. Uh, madness, I mean. I stopped altogether, which meant no visits to the Sunday market, no periodic dropping-in on MR or Best or Frankfurt ( that’s the bookstore, not the city), and even completely ignoring the outlet that had opened up right opposite my office, in ( what I thought was )a somewhat bizarre display of temptation and show-me-your-jalwa-type competition from the United Booksellers Association of Hyderabad.
So, on the first day of the year, when my friend wanted to visit the bookshops here, I accompanied him to the bookstall right opposite the office. It was about fifteen minutes away from where I stay, and from what I’ve heard, had a decent collection. The first thing my eyes focussed on when we entered the place was a pristine copy of Howard Chaykin/Mike Mignola’s adaptation of Fafhrd and The Grey Mouser. This Fritz Leiber fantasy series, adapted by the duo sometime in the nineties and was brought back into print by Dark Horse pretty recently in a trade paperback collection, and, you guessed it right, was pretty high on my wish-list. Mignola’s style had just begun to change in this period, it was in that transitional phase between his early superheroic style and the later-day chunky blacks and whites that would define Hellboy. Bookstore: One, Beatzo: Zero ( or -400, which was the sum of money I was out of )
Emboldened a little, we decided to go downtown ( or is that uptown? )where the bulk of the shops were. On an impulse, I eschewed the Abids outlet in favour of the one on Liberty crossroads, it was operated from out of a cellar and was, especially when there was a powercut, scary enough to make a non-claustrophobic individual like me gasp and cry uncle.
While we were going around, I bemoaned the distressing lack of selection among the titles and was just about to suggest leaving when…there it was. Youth in Revolt by CD Payne, piled under a mountain of romance novels, and I swear I saw a Waiting to Exhale in that same pile. A hardcover Doubleday first edition copy, and priced at 50 Rs! tandavdancer bears witness to this – I nearly wept with joy at the miraculous operations of Hyderabad bookstores. My faith was renewed, hallelujah!
Of course, this happy circumstance was followed by my discovery of the second volume of the Myth Adventures compendium by Robert Asprin and a couple of Flashman books, which my friend happily added to his pile. By the time it was evening, I had further widened the rip in my resolve by dropping in on the Drongo Warehouse, and picking up Adrian Tomine’s Summer Blonde, Rick Veitch’s Maximortal and Hellblazer: Rare Cuts, the only Hellblazer TPB I didn’t have.
All this on the first day of the year. Not bad. And Joel didn’t even know there was a hardcover copy of Youth in Revolt, bwahahaha.