I was counting sheep jumping over a fence, trying hard to get some sleep. After about 40 jumps, I gave up and turned on my iPad to do some reading. I ended up on Dave Winer’s blog. He was talking about Herb Caen columns. I clicked and went to the San Francisco Chronicle website, where I read a few. And then I ended up on one about Harold Robbins, a name I hadn’t thought about in a long, long time. Robbins was a trashy book author whose works were part of my childhood. Everyone around the world read his stuff, and it shaped what most of the world thought of American life.
Never Love a Stranger, The CarpertBaggers, The Dream Merchants, A Stone for Danny Fisher — the list goes on and on. I read them all. I picked up more American idioms from these books than the classics. We didn’t have satellite television or the Internet to get our cultural fix from America then. All we had were books like the ones by Robbins and Mario Puzo. And it cost a pretty penny to read them. I used to rent them for about 25 paisa a day. (My pocket money at the time was 2 rupees a month.) The local shopkeeper, who ran a lending library on the side, helpfully removed the covers, which were too risqué for our prude Indian middle-class families. I even tried my hand at short stories that were a Bollywood version of those told by Robbins and another writer, Jackie Collins. Thankfully, the notebooks containing my attempts have been lost. But the practice helped me find my way to journalism and, eventually, blogging — and for that, I am truly thankful.
“I’d never before been this close to a writer who uses an adding machine for a typewriter and comes up with nothing but pluses,” Caen wrote of Robbins, who was one of the most successful commercial writers of his time. Robbins lived an outlandish lifestyle, which included hosting orgies in his lavish homes — located in the poshest neighborhoods, of course. He essentially wrote about himself and the world he experienced. Or perhaps he created that world for the purpose of writing fiction. The man was a caricature of his characters, and in hindsight, his books were just pure trash.
But people like fast food and cheap thrills for a reason — to fill them up cheaply and escape their dreary lives.