On Cultivating a Reading Habit

Recently, an acquaintance, let us call her X, asked me how she could start a reading habit. Given that she is close to my age, I asked her what kinds of things she liked to read, thinking I might offer her some book suggestions. Consider my surprise when she confessed that she could remember the last time she actually read a book. “But I read a lot of news and stuff online,” she said in her own defense. When I shared this with some other reader friends, they admitted to their own difficulties with reading as much as they used to. Some said there was enough drama going on around the world, so they did not feel a need to read fictionalized drama. Some, like X, said they read online and did not care about offline reading. And there were the odd few who said they “prefer to experience life rather than reading about it.” Continue reading On Cultivating a Reading Habit

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5 short stories

Top Five Short Story Reads for October 2017

Last October, I went the predictable route with a collection of horror stories for Halloween. This month, let’s turn to fairytale retellings, one of my favorite fiction sub-genres. As with many readers and writers, fairytales, with all their enchantment, magic, and fantasy aspects were my first thrilling introduction to storytelling. And these retellings for adults not only subvert the usual, tired tropes — the damsel in distress, the wicked witch, the handsome prince, the evil giant, etc. — but give us more complex and nuanced worlds and characters. Many famous writers have tried their hand, through novels and short stories, at both revisionist retellings of ancient fairytales and creating original ones of their own. We’ll get to the latter another month. For now, let’s take a look at the traditional, well-known ones that have been retold and made entirely new by these writers: Angela Carter, Susan Scarf Merrell, Robert Coover, Jennifer Wortman, and Michael Cunningham. Continue reading Top Five Short Story Reads for October 2017

Booknotes: Favorite Writing How-to Books Part 4

Happy International Translation Day. Perhaps you are wondering why there is yet another Hallmark-like day for this. I had to look it up too. Wikipedia, that font of never-ending rabbit holes, er, wisdom, says that FIT (International Federation of Translators) had designated this day in 1991 for the official celebration of translation because it is also the feast of St. Jerome, the Bible translator considered the patron saint of translators. Of course, the celebration is for all countries, not just Christian ones. And, earlier this year, the UN also passed a resolution declaring September 30 as International Translation Day to recognize the role of professional translation in bringing nations together. At the outset, let me say that I believe all of us, readers and writers alike, are translators. The very act of reading involves translating and interpreting the writer’s meaning and intent. The act of writing involves translating and interpreting one’s own meaning of everything we have ourselves read, seen, heard, experienced. So, translation to me is not simply the act of converting words from Language A to Language B. And, as such, I have found the following books on translation important to me as a reader and a writer above anything else. Continue reading Booknotes: Favorite Writing How-to Books Part 4

5 short stories

Top Five Short Story Reads for September 2017

This month’s selection of stories is to do with the theme of getting older. The Oxford English Dictionary and the US Census define the midlife period as between the ages of 45 and 65 years and I am beginning this phase of my life this month. So I went looking for stories specifically about what I call “Middlescence.” Here are some of them by Yiyun Li, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Karen Shepard, Jon Hickey, Anushka Jasraj, and one of my flash stories from earlier this year. As usual, they are all free to read online by clicking on the titles below. Enjoy. [NOTE: For regular readers: You may have noticed that I tend to share stories by Alice Munro and Grace Paley quite frequently. Both of them have, of course, written many terrific works on this theme. I tried to mix it up a bit this time.] Continue reading Top Five Short Story Reads for September 2017

Booknotes: Favorite Writing How-to Books Part 3

In 2014, I wrote a six-part series about bibliomemoirs published from 1990-onwards till early-2014. This month, we have three bibliomemoirs featured in that series — Rebecca Mead on George Eliot; Alexander McCall Smith on W H Auden; and Janet Malcolm on Chekhov. First, why bibliomemoirs? Read Part 1 of the series for that. For now, let me share Joyce Carol Oates’ definition: “Rarely attempted, and still more rarely successful, is the bibliomemoir — a subspecies of literature combining criticism and biography with the intimate, confessional tone of autobiography. The most engaging bibliomemoirs establish the writer’s voice in counterpoint to the subject, with something more than adulation or explication at stake.” Second, why bibliomemoirs as writing how-to? I find that when we dive deep into how a particular literary work has been written — peeling back the layers of biography, history, writing process, narrative structure, etc. — we gain a much deeper understanding of both the work and the art and craft of writing. It helps, of course, when the literary work is one we also enjoy and admire. Continue reading Booknotes: Favorite Writing How-to Books Part 3