News and Interviews

Naben Ruthnum on Titles, Curry, and What's Next

Naben Ruthnum

Coach House Books' unique Exploded Views series publishes short and sweet non-fiction books that offer fresh perspectives on complex issues. Their newest offering is Journey Prize winner Naben Ruthnum's Curry: Eating, Reading, and Race

Witty and thoughtful, Ruthnum's narrative asks why a dish that is infinitely varied and culturally diverse has come to represent a monolith image of the brown experience. 

Questioning what is seen to count as an authentic experience of the Indian diaspora, Ruthnum's signature clean prose weaves its way through recipes, travelogues, pop culture references, and his own experiences. A book about identity, the urge to oversimplify the so-called Other, and the ever-important role of food in who we are and how we come together, Curry is wise and incisive. 

Today we welcome Naben to Open Book as part of our Entitled interview series, where he discusses the significance of Curry's title, as well as delving into the function and form of titles generally. 

Naben tells us about the debate that came along with choosing the book's title, shares two favourite titles from classic books, and reveals that subtitles can be just as much work as the main attraction. 

Open Book:

Tell us about the title of your newest book and how you came to it.

Naben Ruthnum:

There’s a long email chain between my editor, Emily Keeler, and I on this that details all the steps of how the final title came to be—lots of debate over the subtitle, I can tell you that. We ended up with Curry: Eating, Reading and Race. Curry was always going to be the title, save for a brief moment where I was pushing for Curry Isn’t Real, but finding the right words that were suggestive, without directing the reader to read the book a certain way, was tougher. 


What, in your opinion, is most important function of a title?


A dual purpose of intriguing the reader and standing on its own as an aesthetically exciting collection of syllables.


What is your favourite title that you've ever come up with and why? (For any kind of piece, short or long.)


Just now, probably Punksitawny, a short story that I finished writing a couple months ago.


What about your favourite title as a reader, from someone else's work?


The Shining. Or maybe We Have Always Lived In the Castle, Shirley Jackson.


Did you consider any other titles for your current book and if so what were they? Why did you decide to go with the title you eventually picked?


The subtitle took a lot of work to arrive at. In the end, all of my other ideas felt overly explicatory, like I was trying to reassure potential readers that my book was about unpacking tropes, not repeating them. The title page and cover are great sites of author anxiety, a place where you can fixate your worries so you don’t have to spend time worrying about the writing of the book itself—your actual job.


What are you working on now?


A couple of screenplays.


Naben Ruthnum won the Journey Prize for his short fiction, has been a National Post books columnist, and has written books and cultural criticism for the Globe and MailHazlitt, and the Walrus. His crime fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Joyland, and his pseudonym Nathan Ripley's first novel will appear in 2018. Ruthnum lives in Toronto.

Buy the Book

Curry: Eating, Reading, and Race

No two curries are the same. This Curry asks why the dish is supposed to represent everything brown people eat, read, and do.

Curry is a dish that doesn't quite exist, but, as this hilarious and sharp essay points out, a dish that doesn't properly exist can have infinite, equally authentic variations.By grappling with novels, recipes, travelogues, pop culture, and his own background, Naben Ruthnum depicts how the distinctive taste of curry has often become maladroit shorthand for brown identity. With the sardonic wit of Gita Mehta's Karma Cola and the refined, obsessive palette of Bill Buford's Heat, Ruthnum sinks his teeth into the story of how the beloved flavour calcified into an aesthetic genre that limits the imaginations of writers, readers, and eaters. Following in the footsteps of Salman Rushdie's Imaginary HomelandsCurry cracks open anew the staid narrative of an authentically Indian diasporic experience.