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Should we stop reading into authors’ lives and get back to their books?

(From The Guardian. Link to the complete article given below)

As soon as the news of VS Naipaul’s death broke a few weeks ago, a thousand think pieces rose as one, as though to take his place. His legacy was both attacked and defended, his misogyny and racism condemned and forgiven. This frenzied conversation crystallised around a question readers have been grappling with for years, but with increasing urgency: to what extent should we consider an artist’s personality, politics and ethics relevant to our appreciation of their work?

It seems that almost no one can separate the writer from the books when it comes to Naipaul. The same is true of our response to work by authors who have recently been accused of various levels of misconduct following #metoo. In the past week alone, compelling and devastating reports of abuse by lauded authors have appeared in the media: Gwyn Conger Steinbeck, John Steinbeck’s second wife, detailed his sadism and womanising in a memoir that has recently come to light; author Joyce Maynard has written of her experiences with JD Salinger, who summoned her to live with him when she was 18 and he was 53.

Practical criticism – the academic approach to texts that aims to consider words on the page independently of their author or the reader’s preconceived ideas – began almost 100 years ago; now, in 2018, such death of the author” talk appears to be dead itself. While the takes on Naipaul were diverse, and some argued that Naipaul’s bad character was irrelevant to his work, the fact of his bad character was always front and centre. It could not go unmarked– but what remains to be decided is the extent to which it marks the legacy of a Nobel prize-winning author.

Read more at The Guardian link here

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is Literature dead?

(From The Paris Review. Link to the complete article given below)

One evening not long ago, my fifteen-year-old son, Noah, told me that literature was dead. We were at the dinner table, discussing The Great Gatsby, which he was reading for a ninth-grade humanities class. Part of the class structure involved annotation, which Noah detested; it kept pulling him out of the story to stop every few lines and make a note, mark a citation, to demonstrate that he’d been paying attention to what he read. “It would be so much easier if they’d let me read it,” he lamented, and listening to him, I couldn’t help but recall my own classroom experiences, the endless scansion of poetry, the sentence diagramming, the excavation of metaphor and form. I remembered reading, in junior high school, Lord of the Flies—a novel Noah had read (and loved) at summer camp, writing to me in a Facebook message that it was “seriously messed up”—and thinking, as my teacher detailed the symbolic structure, finding hidden nuance in literally every sentence, that what she was saying was impossible. How, I wondered, could William Golding have seeded his narrative so consciously and still have managed to write? How could he have kept track of it all? Even then, I knew I wanted to be a writer, had begun to read with an eye toward how a book or story was built, and if this was what it took, this overriding sense of consciousness, then I would never be smart enough.

Now, I recognize this as one of the fallacies of teaching literature in the classroom, the need to seek a reckoning with everything, to imagine a framework, a rubric, in which each little piece makes sense. Literature—at least the literature to which I respond—doesn’t work that way; it is conscious, yes, but with room for serendipity, a delicate balance between craft and art. This is why it’s often difficult for writers to talk about their process, because the connections, the flow of storytelling, remain mysterious even to them. “I have to say that, for me, it evolved spontaneously. I didn’t have any plan,” Philip Roth once said of a scene in his 2006 novel Everyman, and if such a revelation can be frustrating to those who want to see the trick, the magic behind the magic, it is the only answer for a writer, who works for reasons that are, at their essence, the opposite of schematic: emotional, murky, not wholly identifiable—at least, if the writing’s any good. That kind of writing, though, is difficult to teach, leaving us with scansion, annotation, all that sound and fury, a buzz of explication that obscures the elusive heartbeat of a book.

Read more at The Paris Review link here


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Is literature dead?

(From The Paris Review. Link to the complete article given below)

One evening not long ago, my fifteen-year-old son, Noah, told me that literature was dead. We were at the dinner table, discussing The Great Gatsby, which he was reading for a ninth-grade humanities class. Part of the class structure involved annotation, which Noah detested; it kept pulling him out of the story to stop every few lines and make a note, mark a citation, to demonstrate that he’d been paying attention to what he read. “It would be so much easier if they’d let me read it,” he lamented, and listening to him, I couldn’t help but recall my own classroom experiences, the endless scansion of poetry, the sentence diagramming, the excavation of metaphor and form. I remembered reading, in junior high school, Lord of the Flies—a novel Noah had read (and loved) at summer camp, writing to me in a Facebook message that it was “seriously messed up”—and thinking, as my teacher detailed the symbolic structure, finding hidden nuance in literally every sentence, that what she was saying was impossible. How, I wondered, could William Golding have seeded his narrative so consciously and still have managed to write? How could he have kept track of it all? Even then, I knew I wanted to be a writer, had begun to read with an eye toward how a book or story was built, and if this was what it took, this overriding sense of consciousness, then I would never be smart enough.

Now, I recognize this as one of the fallacies of teaching literature in the classroom, the need to seek a reckoning with everything, to imagine a framework, a rubric, in which each little piece makes sense. Literature—at least the literature to which I respond—doesn’t work that way; it is conscious, yes, but with room for serendipity, a delicate balance between craft and art. This is why it’s often difficult for writers to talk about their process, because the connections, the flow of storytelling, remain mysterious even to them. “I have to say that, for me, it evolved spontaneously. I didn’t have any plan,” Philip Roth once said of a scene in his 2006 novel Everyman, and if such a revelation can be frustrating to those who want to see the trick, the magic behind the magic, it is the only answer for a writer, who works for reasons that are, at their essence, the opposite of schematic: emotional, murky, not wholly identifiable—at least, if the writing’s any good. That kind of writing, though, is difficult to teach, leaving us with scansion, annotation, all that sound and fury, a buzz of explication that obscures the elusive heartbeat of a book.

Read more at the Paris Review link here


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Sometimes the stories we want to hear the least are the ones we need to hear the most

(By Mini Krishnan. From The Hindu. Link to the complete article given below)

Knocked sideways at every exploratory step into the dizzying field of Indian languages, publishers repeatedly come face-to-face with an inconvenient question, given the politics of translated literature: are we merely reinforcing the hegemony of an elite society by transmitting their stories from class to clan to generation, so that it might continue its existence unopposed?

Last week, a collection of stories from the early 20th century reached me. The sentiments and predicaments of that time seemed so remote from today’s concerns that it was difficult to see how any of them might find an audience, except among students of sociology or culture studies.

Yet, if they were not published we would be depriving ourselves of a slice of our own history. Likewise, when a publisher receives an 80,000 word script which describes five centuries of the social history of a particular region, he knows it deserves to be published, but he also knows it will take a year to sell 300 copies.

Knock, knock?

The not-so-hidden problem is the shift in preferences. The alienation the new-gen reader experiences when presented with matters that were important just 30 years ago, never mind 100, has made a chunk of writers appear outdated and uninteresting, their writing overblown.

Should our works of fiction show and tell how to be different in an indifferent world, or should they hold a mirror to societies transitioning from democracies to authoritarianism? Isn’t terrorism more trendy than the lives of nomads, joint families and fishing communities?

Read more at The Hindu link here


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The Women of Block 2

(By Aamer Hussein. From Dawn. Link to the complete article given below)

When Shahbano Alvi, my friend and the publisher of my forthcoming book, asked me to give the first of a series of talks she planned to hold at her new bookshop, The Silent Reed, I suggested that instead of a routine discussion of my life and works, we bring together a group of artists (in the wider sense) and journalists to discuss the influence of Karachi, the city we had in common, on our work and practice.

About a dozen of us gathered that July evening. But our conversation spun off in an entirely unexpected direction: our audience was keen to discuss its present fears and future hopes. Looking back at how the city had affected our imagination and our aesthetic remained in the shadowlands of our dynamic, sometimes diffuse conversation.

But a recurrent motif was evident in some our interventions: the continuous presence, over at least three generations, of women in all walks of Karachi’s arts and letters. Asif Farrukhi mentioned the multi-talented Amina Nazli, best known as the editor of the literary journal Ismat and also renowned for her very popular compilations of recipes, whose long career spanned the years from the Raj to the Zia era. Her underrated stories and plays have just been reissued in two volumes that include hitherto uncollected material. Shahbano herself — when her company, Ushba, began to publish a series of gumshuda tehreeren [lost writings] — came upon a family legacy of hidden gems written in the early years of the 20th century by the women of her grandmother’s family: poetry, essays and notably some delightfully wacky mysteries written by Binte Fatima Naqviya, the most prolific among these young women. Most of those talented sisters and cousins migrated to Pakistan, bringing with them their writings to be rediscovered and shared with the public by their descendants.

Read more at the Dawn link here


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Country in Focus: Korea

Translators uplift Korean literature to global heights

(From The Korea Herald. Link to the complete article given below)

Every time Goksel Turkozu browsed through a bookstore in Turkey, he felt there could be more books of Korean literature in translation in his country where the passion for everything Korean runs high.

A devotee of Korean literature and professor at Erciyes University in the city of Kayseri, Cappadocia, Turkozu has adapted several well-known Korean novels into the Turkish language since he first set foot in Seoul in 1990 as a student.

His decadeslong dedication to spread Korea’s literary imagination to his homeland won him the Korea Translation Award given by the Literature Translation Institute of Korea on Wednesday, alongside other translators. The event was established in 1993 for the purpose of encouraging quality translation of Korean literature and its overseas promotion and publication. Since 2013, the award has been expanded to cover less widely spoken languages around the world.

“The popularity of Korean cultural wave Hallyu is still high in Turkey after more than 10 years,” Turkozu told The Korea Herald on Tuesday at a press conference in Seoul, one day ahead of the award ceremony recognizing the contributions of 150 translators and related professionals.

Read more at The Korea Herald link here


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The fictional foods we wish were real

(From Atlas Obscura. Link to the complete post given below)

Sure, you can buy a Wonka Bar at any candy store. You can drink a sugary Butterbeer at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attraction in Orlando. And you can find a recipe for Lembas Bread on about a million Lord of the Rings fan sites. But none of these initially fictional foods could ever live up to how we imagined they would taste when we first saw or read about them. Fictional dishes invite us to open our mental palates to the possibility of new flavors and experiences. And because they are the product of imagination, they often also carry an emotional weight that real food, no matter how exotic, can rarely bring.

Recently, we asked Atlas Obscura readers to tell us which fictional food had sparked their imaginations more than any other. The results were delicious. You told us about your love for make-believe foods from books, television shows, films, and more. Most importantly, you got super specific about what you think these foods must taste like, including an alien dish that reminds one of you of “raw horse meat or sashimi with a kind of hot spice.”

We’ve collected our favorite responses below. Next time you encounter a mouth-watering food that doesn’t exist, try and decide for yourself what incredible, impossible flavors it might actually have.

Read more at Atlas Obscura link here


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Top 10 books about Americans abroad

(From The Guardian. Link to the complete article given below)

My second novel, Feast Days, is narrated by a young American woman whose husband is relocated from New York to São Paulo. “We were Americans abroad,” she says. The novel of Americans far from home has a long history, and is perhaps distinct from its cousin, the novel of Britons overseas. Both get into a fair bit of bother away from native soil, but Americans tend to be viewed as the more innocent – citizens of a country that was once a colony, and which even now can’t quite see itself as an empire. This division is best embodied in the jaded Fowler and bright-eyed Pyle of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American. That book’s lesson is clear: you can be innocent and still cause a lot of trouble.

Innocence, in the classic novel of Americans abroad, tends to take the form of a lot of drinking and a lot of watching Spaniards being gored in the ring by bulls. But you don’t need me to tell you to read The Sun Also Rises. The same goes for The Sheltering Sky, The Names, Leaving the Atocha Station, A Sport and a Pastime and Tropic of Cancer.

And there are others, a long list of books written by American white men about American white men doing American white man things in foreign countries. Many of them are great. But in the 21st century, the subject takes in so many other voices, other stories: the experiences of American women; the experiences of Americans born elsewhere, returning to the country of their parents and grandparents or travelling as Americans for the first time; the experiences of LGBT Americans navigating new and uncertain terrain.

These are 10 of my favourite books that both handle and complicate a venerable theme.

1. Questions of Travel by Elizabeth Bishop
Bishop’s finest volume of poetry, which she wrote while she was living in Brazil after winning the Pulitzer prize for her previous collection, gives a portrait of a singular American abroad. There was never a writer better equipped to treat the expatriate experience with the richness, irony, self-deprecation, and dry wit it deserves. “Oh, tourist, / is this how the country is going to answer you / and your immodest demands for a different world?”

Read more at The Guardian link here


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V.S. Naipaul, a writer of many contradictions and obvious greatness

(From the New York Times. Link to the complete article given below)

V.S. Naipaul, the Nobel laureate who died at 85 on Saturday, had so many gifts as a writer — suppleness, wit, an unsparing eye for detail — that he could seemingly do whatever he wanted. What he did want, it became apparent, was to rarely please anyone but himself. The world’s readers flocked to his many novels and books of reportage for “his fastidious scorn,” as the critic Clive James wrote, “not for his large heart.” In his obvious greatness, in the hard truths he dealt, Naipaul attracted and repelled.

He was a walking sack of contradictions, in some ways the archetypal writer of the shifting and migratory 20th century. His life was a series of journeys between old world and new. He was a cool and sometimes snappish mediator between continents. Indian by descent, Trinidadian by birth, Naipaul attended Oxford and lived in London, where he came to wear elegant suits and move in elite social circles. “When I talk about being an exile or a refugee I’m not just using a metaphor,” he said. “I’m speaking literally.”

His breakthrough book, after three comic works set in the Caribbean, was “A House for Mr. Biswas” (1961), a masterpiece composed when Naipaul was 29. It has lost none of its sweep and sly humor. It’s about a character, based on Naipaul’s father, who begins his life as a sign painter in Trinidad and Tobago and improbably rises to become a journalist. The first sign he paints reads, in words the industrious Naipaul seemed to take to heart: “IDLERS KEEP OUT BY ORDER.”

The richest and most eminently re-readable books of Naipaul’s fiction after “A House for Mr. Biswas” include “In a Free State,” an intimate suite of stories concerned with colonialism and the vagaries of power. Set in Egypt, America, Africa and England, it won the Booker Prize in 1971. “Guerrillas” was called “probably the best novel of 1975” by the editors of The New York Times Book Review. It is Naipaul’s most propulsive book. Set in an unnamed Caribbean country where the air is thick with postcolonial British dominion, it offers a complex portrait of the manners and motives of third world revolutionaries. It is an uncanny meditation on displacement. You never quite know where the novel is heading. Its author would later say, “Plot is for those who already know the world; narrative is for those who want to discover it.” His last great novel, set in postcolonial Central Africa, may have been “A Bend in the River” (1979).

Read more at the New York Times link here


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How writing a short story collection is like starting a zoo

(From Lit Hub. Link to the complete article given below)

People are always saying, “I have an idea for a story.” But if a story starts in an idea it might as well give up and be a novel. I think ransacking your mind for story ideas builds up an immunity to the mysterious form itself. At some point you have to bow to the story’s elusiveness and refusal of paraphrase, that is, of expression as an idea. As Lucia Berlin said, “Thank God I don’t write with my brain.”

You saw something—even a word in somebody else’s story misread at first. You heard something. For a moment an awareness was yours, and you want it again, you want the words for it. It’s a kind of apparition.

Walter Benjamin says, “It is half the art of storytelling to keep a story from explanation as one reproduces it.” Reproduces!  Perfect word. Somewhere, the story already exists. You glimpsed it, you have to find it.

And then—it’s in the door like a stray cat. Then, for me, comes an occasional deceiving fondness, followed by the wish, in the middle of cooking or talking to somebody, to go get the story and grab it by the neck and be rid of it. This is after weeks, months. It’s my cat by then.

The very short ones are what I’m most interested in now—or most pressed to do. My stories have always been long, and now I want compression. The short shorts in my new book Terrarium (Counterpoint, August 2018) aren’t what I’d call flash fiction, maybe because the word “flash” is too—bright. Also, in our moment, it seems to be at the fingertips of anyone who write stories or wants to. I think readers believe it’s easy. Instead, like any short story, it requires concentration from the reader. And it’s not an invention of our period. I consider what’s now called flash fiction to be one manifestation of an art that goes back as far as we can see. Always, stories have been short and they’ve been long, depending on what overtook the storyteller and/or what the audience cried out for.

Read more at the Lit Hub link here