40 Amazing Photographs from around the World

Posted by René Volpi on July 31st. 2010

This post showcases beautiful photographs that have won photo contests such as National Geographic Contest, Nikon Technology, Energizer, Sony, Smithsonian Mag, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife Refuge Association, etc. Photography is always been a fun activity and as a profession it is the job of creative people. You can express your feeling, your observations, and your imagination in very creative and appealing ways by using your camera. We hope that this showcase will inspire you to get out and shoot more.

Outstanding Award Winning Photos

By Cor Bosman


40 Outstanding Award Winning Photos Around the World

By David F. Bezold
This mountain lion’s favorite spot is a large rock formation where he rests in the late afternoon. I waited patiently until he stared directly at me.

40 Outstanding Award Winning Photos Around the World

Friends by Peter Allinson
This photo was taken three miles west off the coast of Dominica. The whale is a member of a pod of about 50 sperm whales that live there. His name is Scar. Andrew Armour has befriended the whale and is pictured with him.

Awardwinningphotos5 in 40 Outstanding Award Winning Photos Around the World

Tribal by Jessica Teng
The use of artificial light was well executed, as is evident by the specular highlights of the paint on the face to give it that extra shiny look. This photo has lovely composition, great ideation and beautiful colours.

Sheep+shepherd by Soren Skov
The image was captured in Romania. The shepherd was asleep with his sheep.

Awardwinningphotos3 in 40 Outstanding Award Winning Photos Around the World

Erwin von Arx – Science

Eyefocused
I took this photo at my sister’s apartment on the balcony, while I was testing my new lens (Sigma 105mm Macro) which I had gotten a few days earlier. I was looking for something interesting to shoot, and suddenly I spotted a little turtle in the aquarium.

By Felix Marquez
I’m sure this military drill was a wonder to see in its rapid fire execution. But it is another wonder to see when held still in this photograph. Preparation, precision, and timing all coming together so wonderfully. (All which can also be said of the photographer.)

Awardwinningphotos7 in 40 Outstanding Award Winning Photos Around the World

A tribal birth in India by Abhijit Dey
Six days after Betka Tudu’s birth, female relatives and neighbors in the West Bengal village of Purulia gathered to bless him and “to protect him from harm’s way,” says Dey. Born into the Santhal tribe, Betka “unknowingly drew his distant kin closer than ever.” — Abigail Tucker

Awardwinningphotos12 in 40 Outstanding Award Winning Photos Around the World


Treat yourself. Want to see all of them?
http://tinyurl.com/3yd7wvr

My other Blog? : “Tales from Here and There”
(to read and subscribe just click on the link)
a Harper Collins Blog selection:

AUTHENTICITY AND THE PANCAKE TRAIL IN INDIA

Photos: author

Glimpse Correspondent in India questions travelers’ quests for authenticity.

I came to Rishikesh to relax, to write, to bathe in the Ganga, to be left alone. It’s exactly as easy as I remember it being when I first came five years ago–the heart of the “banana pancake trail.”

Rishikesh is listed on the back cover of Lonely Planet as the yoga capital of the world. Unsurprisingly, there are foreigners everywhere, and Ayurvedic apothecaries, massage centers, Nutella, Sai Baba-branded incense, chillums.

Didi’s East-West Café and Little Buddha Restaurant offer avocado lassis, cinnamon rolls, homemade kombucha. Eggs, toast, and weak Turkish coffee are available together in a set as ‘Israeli breakfast number two.’ These things are, I think, meant to seem familiar and comforting to foreigners; but it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where they’re native to. Tourists who met and talked philosophy over lukewarm beer in other cities run into each other here again.

Every day I indulge myself in an Americano in air-conditioned Café Coffee Day. There are big windows in the front that look out across the street at the local jeep stand. People stare in at the mostly foreign customers, sipping our expensive coffees and magenta-colored frozen mocktails.

I imagine we look comfortable, entitled, ignoring the world outside of our glassed-in interior. I have an odd sense of guilt at being here. It’s almost too easy. I get caught in this trap of equating struggle with valor, with worth. As though by choosing to stay here I’ve temporarily checked out of India.

I keep thinking about a question someone asked me when I was here three months ago for the Kumbh. Ben, a Canadian tourist who’d also gone to Haridwar for the big bathing day, had heard that my friend Neel was fluent in Hindi and quite knowledgeable about Hinduism and North Indian culture. Ben wanted to know what was “more authentic” about my experience of the Kumbh because I was with Neel. The question startled me; I had no idea what to say. But how fitting, to ask such a thing here.

Photos: author

A silk merchant in Banaras once told me about attending a family wedding in Mumbai. It was a lavish, modern affair; the tikkas, normally made from sandalwood powder, were made instead of the dust of pearls. Out of all the male guests, the silk merchant was the only one in kurta pajama; the rest wore three-piece suits. Everyone wanted to talk to him, listen to his stories told through paan¬-stained teeth.

They were delighted: here, in Mumbai, a pakka Banarasi! Indians, too, cling to a vision of the real.

What and where is this pure, pious embodiment of Indianness that we are searching for? If it exists, so must its opposite. Before I came, an acquaintance sent me an email suggesting some possible destinations. He mentioned Pune, but warned in capital letters: “It’s NOT INDIA.”

Yes, India is changing. But if Rishikesh, Pune, and the pinstriped Mumbai businessmen aren’t Indian, what are they? Are we willing to relegate them to being as countryless as the banana pancake? The truth is, one of the things that defines India for me is how fluidly, how comfortably seeming contradictions coexist here–in her landscapes, her experiences, her people–until they no longer appear antithetical.

Here in Rishikesh, I read the Hindustan Times over my Americano. Today’s cover shows a girl in profile sitting on a raised platform. Her eye makeup is heavy and she’s wearing mounds of red silk and a garland of marigolds around her neck. The caption explains: She is a fifteen year old living goddess, revered as an incarnation of Kali. Before her kneels another girl wearing jeans and a t-shirt. The goddess is blessing her. Both girls have just passed the high school leaving certificate exam; the goddess is the first sitting deity to ever do so. Her success in the exam “[has set] her on course for a career in banking” after she retires when she reaches puberty.

Every day I go to the beginner’s yoga class at the ashram where I’m staying. One night I get drunk with my teacher, Praveen, and he tells me it’s only an ashram in name. He refers to the owner as “fatty man.” Sometimes no one else shows up for class. When it’s just the two of us, he doesn’t touch the threshold of the room and then put his hand to his chest when he enters. He doesn’t ask me to finish the session with Om chanting like usual. I could feel disillusioned when another batch of students appears the next day and again he has us sing shanti shanti shanti, but I don’t.

Seven years ago Praveen left the business world, or, if you prefer, renounced it. He lived in the forest with his guru, practicing eight hours a day, eating enough to satisfy only three quarters of his hunger. He missed his motorcycle, his cell phone. His friends and his parents distanced themselves.

When he was young, they took him to hear famous babas lecture on the right path, the holy way. Now they want to know how he’s going to make money, if he’s serious when he says he won’t get married. These days he eats finger chips and oils his hair, and he has another scooter–its model name is ‘Pleasure.’ He likes telling stories about the discotheques he went to back when he was “commercial.” I’m still getting more flexible every day.

I spend another comfortable night at my fake ashram, the banker becomes a yogi, the goddess becomes a banker. Today she doles out blessings; tomorrow, pin codes and deposit receipts.

Should I be disappointed? She shares the HT cover with a story on a new three billion dollar international airport terminal and another about the recent slew of so-called “honor killings” in metropolitan Delhi. Authenticity doesn’t sound so pretty now. But it sure is shocking, it sure is different.

In the morning, I start thinking about going back to Banaras. But I won’t make any decisions before I’ve had my Americano.

CIAO, BABY!

HOW I LEARNED BAHASA INDONESIAN

Posted by René Volpi

28th Jul 2010

Feature photo: boyke bader Photo: Brian Giesen

“Learn Indonesian? What for? The only words you need to know are terus, berhenti and putar balik. Continue, stop, and turn around,” said my expat colleagues between snickers and high fives. “You know, for the taxi drivers.”

I could have lived in the expat bubble by eating in restaurants, hiring an English-speaking maid and hanging out with ‘my’ kind, but I wanted to be able to eat at roadside stalls and order without pointing. I wanted to have conversations with taxi drivers beyond “continue, stop, turn around.” I wanted to understand the jokes my Indonesian colleagues forwarded to each other, and I wanted to be able to speak to a certain cute girl in customer service.

When I first went to Indonesia in mid 2005, I had not expected to need (far less to want) to learn the local language. Like many Indians, I had been brought up to believe that all “educated” people speak English. The only other country I had visited previously was Malaysia, where English enjoys a similar status.

It was hard for me to imagine someone with a university education unable to speak English and to not be ashamed of the fact. I was surprised to walk into fancy restaurants and top hotels and to not be addressed in English. This reduced status of English was new and fascinating; my understanding of the world had taken a severe wallop.

I bought a couple of Bahasa books and found some online vocabulary and grammar exercises. My first goal was to learn the numbers, ask the cost of things, understand the response and pay the right amount.

I met this goal quickly, and I thought, “This language is easy! There are no verb tenses, no strict rules on word order and not even plurals.” In most cases you just repeat the word and it becomes a plural. Slowly I learned enough to try to talk about inane stuff with my co-workers, and avoid ordering genteng (roof tiles) instead of kentang (potatoes) at a restaurant.

I was arrogant and (probably) insufferable, and thought myself better than my expat colleagues for making an effort. I boasted about having “learned” the language in two months. I would pre-plan conversations and prepare sentences beforehand to show off my Bahasa skills. Things went fine for a while, but pre-planned conversations can only go so far. Indonesians have no qualms bursting out in laughter when a foreigner makes a mistake in Bahasa. I reached a point where I could communicate in many everyday situations, but I couldn’t make out a single word when people spoke to each other in Indonesian.

The truth became clear to me when one day, after I had enough of the laughter and bit back, one of my local friends quipped, “I’m sorry, but you sound too much like an airport announcement.”

“Or a newsreader,” another chimed in.

I had always assumed that I couldn’t understand Indonesians because they spoke faster when speaking to each other, but that was not the case. A German intern who had moved to Indonesia after four semesters of studying the language back home explained to me that difference between textbook Indonesian and colloquial Indonesian is massive.

Speakers add suffixes, drop suffixes, and use words not found in a dictionary. Words are often shortened, sudah becomes udah or even just dah, and the word lagi is used in a hundred different contexts. Anda, kamu, lu, bapak, ibu, mas, mbak, saudara and kau are all different forms of the pronoun “you,” yet while anda is supposed to be acceptable in all situations you will rarely hear it spoken between two Indonesians in an everyday conversation.

Indonesian turned out to be a lot more complicated than I originally thought.

I gave up on my language study books and started reading Indonesian blogs, tuned in to the trendy FM stations and filled my MP3 player with Indonesian songs. While I couldn’t tear myself away from my favorite English TV shows, I started watching Indonesian shows every now and then. I wasn’t making any tangible progress, but I felt I was doing my best to “immerse” myself.

Things started changing when one of my colleagues invited me to be the fourth player in a doubles tennis match. He was the quiet guy at work and I never expected to have much contact with him out of the office, but he turned out to be a very knowledgeable and encouraging person with the patience of a mountain and opinions on everything. He was also like a human auto-complete. While I struggled for the right word, he’d come up with suggestions that sometimes fit, and sometimes led me to form ridiculous sentences that sounded correct but ended up meaning something I hadn’t even remotely intended. Either way, I was learning.

Earlier the same month I was introduced to a law student who had no patience for English. We got along immediately, but communication between us was painfully slow and full of misunderstandings. Nevertheless, I was determined to communicate in Bahasa. Sometimes I’d have to break off mid-sentence to look up a word in a dictionary. Progress was rapid, though and within a few weeks I needed the dictionary less often during our conversations.

By using the language with friends and colleagues, I was making rapid progress, and after a while I didn’t even realize how far I had come. One day I went over to a friend’s place and a show called “Empat Mata” (Four Eyes) was on. I was able to understand a lot, and I even got some of the jokes.

By 2007, life had settled into a routine and I was itching for more. I wanted to expand my social circle and learn something new. I searched for a class that was close to home and had convenient timings. I found a French class. I was quite confident in Indonesian, but learning a new language through one that I had just learned seemed a bit intimidating. Feeling both nervousness and excitement, I signed up. It would be the last test!

When I walked into the institute the evening of the first class, my would-be classmates were all gathered in the café outside the classroom, getting to know each other. There was one other foreigner, an Italian who worked for the UN and wanted to prepare for his next assignment in Geneva. We were all talking in Indonesian, and he was mentioning how impressed he was with Jakarta’s skyline. The word for skyline, however, escaped him, and he looked around for help. None was forthcoming.

Garis langit?” I offered hesitantly, making a literal translation.

“Ohhh garis langit,” the group nodded.

I beamed. I knew then that I would get by.

Community Connection

Do you have a story to share about learning a language? Check it out here:

Call for Submissions: How You Learned a Language

….and good luck!

What really happened in Cambodia?

The Mysterious Disappearances of


Sean Flynn and Dana Stone


by René Volpi
Thanks to Tim King
Salem-News.com

Forty  years have passed since two of my colleagues and  friends, war photographers Sean Flynn and Dana Stone dropped off the radar.  What we know, what we don’t know, and what we may soon learn.

Sean Flynn and Dana Stone
Sean Flynn and Dana Stone

Forty years after the disappearance of Vietnam War photographers Sean Flynn and Dana Stone, we stand on the verge of possibly learning their ultimate fate. Flynn’s name made the news a little over a week ago, when it was announced that remains recovered in Cambodia could be his.

The son of legendary actor Errol Flynn, went missing in Cambodia on 6 April 1970, along with Stone. For 40 years, the world has wondered what happened to remove these vivacious, talented men permanently from the world. Books, a song and a play have been written; a movie by their friend and colleague Tim Page called “Frankie’s House” was loosely based on real events surrounding the lives of these journalists who didn’t just live at the edge, but managed to go past it.
One person who has never forgotten about Sean Flynn– besides me–for  he was a very dear friend who took me for rides on the back of his motorcycle, is his half-sister, Rory Flynn. She organized the recent excavation of the gravesite that could contain the remains of her long lost brother.
Initial reports on the recovery of the remains in Cambodia were apparently skewed, and the group working with Rory Flynn says the truth of what happened was not conveyed in a proper context by a number of media outlets.
Investigator Dave MacMillan, told Salem-News.com that his team acted with the consent of the Cambodian military, local police, local community leaders and landowners, and with the full knowledge of JPAC, (Joint Prisoners of War, Missing in Action Accounting Command) in Hawaii.
MacMillan said, “We are not amateur bone hunters, we volunteered to help Rory on her mission and worked as her field agents and did not receive payment for what we have done and are still doing, both Mr.Scott Brantley who is a registered private investigator from Nashville Tennessee and myself have combined 35 years of investigation experience between us.”

“Did they want to get captured? They never said anything like that to me or to others then working in Cambodia that I know of. They pushed the envelope, but knew the risks were extreme. Stone was very level headed, but Sean played high stakes.” – Jeff WilliamsDeclassified CIA document on civilian POW’s in Cambodia

Mike Luehring, a representative of the Flynn family, contactedSalem-News.com after our first report, to confirm the statements of Dave MacMillan, and the importance of informational accuracy.
Citing the “crazy press coverage of the event”, Luehring wrote, “I’ve followed your coverage and appreciate your accuracy on the story.” We always appreciate the verification; stories of this magnitude should never be sensationalized, yet they are, and this was no exception.
I have been in contact with a number of people who knew Dana Stone and Sean Flynn, and the list is growing. One person highly significant to the story, is T. Jeff Williams, who was in Phom Pehn on 6 April 1970.
He says our description of the last sight of Sean Flynn is not complete accurate, based on his memory, and he is indeed someone who would know. Jeff Williams was the only American AP correspondent in Cambodia when the 18 March 1970 coup occurred. He is among the last to see Sean and Dana.

Snapshot: Vietnam War 1970


To fully understand this point in the Vietnam War, and the complex, politically sensitive decision to invade Cambodia in 1970, you must consider that communists had been using Cambodia for a long time, unofficially, to fight a war against South Vietnam and the United States.
I wasn’t even nineteen then yet, but in working with the people who were there earlier, in this years-long quest for information, I am reminded of how quickly stories can change, and the extreme importance of first-hand accounts.

The last picture taken of Sean Flynn and Dana Stone, in Cambodia, shortly before they were taken captive at a Communist
checkpoint. Photo courtesy: Stephen Bell


The War in Vietnam officially began after the November 1964 attack on the U.S.S. Maddox, a Navy destroyer operating in the Gulf of Tonkin. The shots reportedly fired by the North Vietnamese vessel were a matter of contention for years in the U.S. People believed the story was contrived as a reason for war. Interestingly, since the 1990’s, the Vietnamese have displayed artifacts from a vessel in a museum that they claim was involved in the attack on the Maddox.
In the beginning there was a great deal of public support, not that most people had the slightestidea where Vietnam was.
But support and enthusiasm began to wane as the years passed, falling as the death toll kept rising. Americans were not used to seeing a bloody war being fought every night on the evening news, but that quickly became part of the American indoor landscape.

Then came the Tet Offensive in 1968, which it happened before my time there, and with it a high price for all those present.. The highly orchestrated series of communist attacks staged by the North Vietnamese Army and Viet Cong on the Chinese holiday, was costly for the communists who lost many of their fighters all over South Vietnam. The cost for Americans, in addition to the military casualties, was that the attack came to represent a turning point in the war. It was Walter Cronkite, who would later be integral in search efforts for Sean and Dana, who proclaimed to the nation that the war in Vietnam could no longer be won.
Cambodia had officially been neutral during the Vietnam War, but it was no secret that communist forces used Cambodia frequently to travel and stage operations, many of them utilizing the infamous Ho-Chi Ming trail.

Cambodia’s royal leader, Prince Norodom Sihanouk, was losing popular support over the growing presence of communists in his country. Khmer Rouge guerrilla fighters were growing and becoming increasingly organized.

While Sihanouk was in Moscow, on 18 March 1970, General Lon Nol took control of the government of Cambodia. With little patience for the communist insurgency, Lon Nol decided to go after tens of thousands of Vietnamese communists in eastern Cambodia, where a number of bases were maintained to support operations against the Americans and South Vietnamese.
According to historical accounts, Lon Nol tried to block the communists from using Sihanoukville, a main supply route, while demanding that their troops leave his country.

Answers.com states, “With their supply system threatened, the Vietnamese communist forces in Cambodia launched an offensive against Lon Nol’s government. As the Cambodian forces faltered, the United States decided to mount a limited incursion to save Lon Nol’s government. Destroying the communist base areas on the Cambodian border would also inhibit enemy operations in South Vietnam.”
I read an article this week that compared these teenagers of the Khmer Rouge, with those who came to comprise what we now know as the Taliban.

The press crews in Cambodia in early April 1970 were in many respects, on their own. This was the situation for Sean Flynn, Dana Stone and so many others.
Twenty days after the two disappeared, on 26 April 1970, President Richard Nixon’s approval was given for a multi division offensive into Cambodia.
‘Operation Rover’ assigned the U.S. Army’s First Cavalry Division’s Bravo Troop as one of the units to take part in the operation. While there was clearly a measured degree of success in Cambodia, this marked, or confirmed in some cases, the beginning of the end to the conflict, as stated on the Website for the Air Cav’s Bravo Troop:
“The campaign had severe political repercussions in the United States for the Nixon Administration. Pressure was mounting to remove America’s fighting men from the Vietnam War. Although there would be further assault operations, the war was beginning to wind down for many troopers.”

No Witnesses to Disappearance


Jeff Williams’ distinction of being the only American AP correspondent in Cambodia when the 18 March 18 1970 coup occurred, was part of a six-month assignment. During those approximately 180 days, 25 foreign journalists were killed–murdered–or disappeared. Jeff was around Sean and Dana in Cambodia, and he know them from working in Vietnam.
He says that in spite of the widely reported information about the two combat photographers electing to turn themselves into communist guerrillas, there is no definitive proof that Flynn and Stone rode up to a checkpoint at all.
He said, “No one was in sight behind that car that blocked the road. No ‘guards’ or Khmer Rouge. Sean and Dana rode up close to it, checked it out and came back to where the group of other journalists were hanging around, said they saw nothing and then decided to look on the other side. That’s when they disappeared.”
The car that Jeff refers to was photographed by Zalin Grant. It was a white sedan, parked sideways in the road to prevent traffic from passing. It is reported that communist guerrillas were in the woods adjacent to the car, with an ambush waiting for anyone who came close.

200 Armed Cambodian Tour Guides


The press tour that Zalin Grant was part of  that day, arrived at Chi Pou around noon. American reporters in Phnom Penh had talked the government information office into providing eight French armored cars, along with 200 Cambodian soldiers, to escort the newsmen into the combat zone.
This is where things begin to become unclear. The story about Dana Stone and Sean Flynn deciding to be captured, if it is true, is almost certainly based on what happened to a former Cover Girl model, Michèle Ray, who had been taken captive by Khmer Rouge, and was released unharmed within a week. This happened shortly before Flynn and Stone disappeared.
Of this notion, Zalin Grant wrote, “Sean Flynn had talked to me admiringly many times about how Michèle had gotten away with it.”
But that still isn’t proof.
One person who knew something about this was Roxanna Brown, the youngest credentialed photographer in Vietnam at one point. She reportedly stayed overnight with Sean Flynn, the night before he went missing. She died in 2008 in federal custody at Seattle’s Sea Tac Airport, because she was refused medical attention. Her family was paid close to a million dollars over the associated negligence.
Jeff Williams has a different take on Dana Stone and Sean Flynn’s last day of freedom.
“Did they want to get captured? They never said anything like that to me or to others then working in Cambodia that I know of. They pushed the envelope, but knew the risks were extreme. Stone was very level headed, but Sean played high stakes.”
Zalin explains that most of the news people were staying around a village that had recently been destroyed. Many were thinking about three friends; two Japanese TV reporters and a French photographer, whose car appeared to be the one blocking the road ahead of them. There are discrepancies about that as well.
“Sean and Dana were traveling with another photojournalist, René Volpi  from Magnum, when they saw the car from a distance, they stopped and sat a few minutes on their Hondas, trying to make up their minds what to do. When word came of trouble at the checkpoint, the Cambodian troop commander (or the “good guys”, which fought the Khmer Rouge) ordered the entire escort force to return to the safety of the nearest provincial capital”.

According to Zalin Grant, “One of them turned on his camera as Flynn cycled toward them, warning, ‘Pathet Lao! Pathet Lao!’ It was a measure of his excitement that he confused the guerrillas of Cambodia with those of Laos.”More time passed, and then a French TV crew that René from Magnum had summoned were sent back in the direction of Sean and Dana. What happened only adds to the mystery.

  1. Sean Flynn, Svat Rieng prov. 6 April 1970 Time photographer
  2. Dana Stone, Svat Rieng prov. 6 April 1970 CBS cameraman
  3. Richard Dudran, Svat Rieng prov. 7 May 1970 St. Louis PD COrr.
  4. Michael Morrow, Svat Rieng prov. 7 May 1970 Dispatch News Serv.
  5. Miss Elizabeth Pong, Svat Rieng prov. 7 May 1970 Christian Sci. Mon.
  6. Welles Rangen, Takeo Prov. 31 May 1970 NBC Hong Kong bur.
  7. George Syvertsen, Takeo Prov. 31 May 1970 CBS Tokyo bur. ch.
  8. Merry Miller, Takeo Prov. 31 May 1970 CBS New York prod.

Strangely, Dana Stone was nowhere to be seen at this point. René and Sean had convinced the French TV crew to turn around, but Sean stayed in the area. That is from what we can tell, the very last time that a western person saw either Sean Flynn or Dana Stone.
A couple of days later, more journalists were taken at a checkpoint, and the number of missing news people kept rising. Soon eleven newsmen were missing, along with two French teachers who had been captured. It was shocking for the local press corps.
Another key person in all of this, is Sean Flynn’s old friend Tim Page, who has never given up his interest in locating his old friend.
The CIA’s Electronic Reading Room publishes many documents that are now declassified. A search of their records for ‘Sean Flynn’ and ‘Dana Stone’ reveals some interesting information, some of which I was not particularly familiar with.

(will be continued in the next Post)

KURT COBAIN (Journals)

Cobain’s Journals: The Writer Behind The Rock Star

Posted by René Volpi

(big thanks to  Karan Mahajan)

Kurt Cobain

Enlarge Frank Micelotta/Getty ImagesMost people already know Kurt Cobain the rock star. But author Karan Mahajan says Kurt Cobain the writer is “funny, self-aware, and snotty with a knack for off-the-cuff profundity.”

When you’ve finished reading every last thing by a famous writer, literary convention holds that you move on to his or her letters, the DVD extras peddled by publishers. I have friends who have read the letters of Philip Larkin, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, John Cheever — you name it; I have very pretentious friends. So it always embarrasses me, as a writer myself, to admit that the only complete set of journals I own are those by Kurt Cobain, a rock star — not just any old rock star, but one who used to cross-dress and rhymed the word “mosquito” with “libido” in his most famous song.

Admittedly, Cobain was no Larkin or Ginsberg, even if he had the habit of lapsing into adolescent beat poetry. He was also severely challenged by things like spelling, and wore unwashed flannel, and on his notebooks he wrote “if you read you’ll judge,” which sounds a little more sinister when you learn that his widow made $4 million for the publication of these private diaries — the going rate for a man’s soul these days, apparently.

Kurt Cobain Journals
Journals
By Kurt Cobain
Paperback, 304 pages
Riverhead Trade
List price: $19.95

But for the naysayers who think that the Journals have little worth beyond being a pacifier for weepy fans who’ve been mourning Cobain since he killed himself at the age of 27, I’d like to say: You clearly don’t know Cobain the writer.

Cobain the writer is funny and self-aware and snotty with a knack for off-the-cuff profundity. Remarking to a friend that his band will be called “Nirvana,” he scribbles next to it the words “oooh eerie mystical doom.” He also jokingly refers to himself as “the moody, bohemian member of the group,” which is pretty much how most folks remember the man behind that amazing, ulcerous voice.

Better still, there’s a trashy, throwaway quality to the pages that makes them a lighter read than you’d expect, like you’ve accidentally Googled your way onto someone’s blog. Page after page of Cobain’s terrible handwriting is reproduced in faithful facsimile, covering such topics as forthcoming gigs, favorite songs, prophecies of fame, janitorial wages and, of course, the firing of terrible drummers, complete with gory sketches to drive home his point.

What isn’t present here, for better or for worse, are hyperconfessional entries that can be used to further dissect why Cobain took his own life. Even in ranting about drug abuse and the pressures of stardom, he comes across as a smirky young man who appreciates his luck and can see the comedy of having turned into a national icon — as I’m sure he’d have seen the comedy of having these journals discussed in the same breath as a literary heavyweight like John Cheever.

Karan Mahajan

Enlarge(Karan Mahajan was born in Stamford, Conn., and grew up in New Delhi. He s the author of the novel Family Planning)

Novelists get to say plenty in their massive tomes; rock singers only get four-minute songs with two verses and a chorus’ worth of lyrics; and so there’s a real pleasure in accessing the intelligence behind the music, even if it doesn’t qualify as “great literature.”

And hey, I’m not the only one who thinks these are better than mere DVD extras — just ask the poor publisher who had to pony up $4 million for a bunch of chicken scrawl.

My Guilty Pleasure is edited and produced by Ellen Silva.