Booknotes: Oscar and Lucinda

Screenwriting guru Syd Field often wrote/said: When you’re writing a scene, look for a way that dramatizes the scene “against the grain.” My book notes today are related specifically to this technique of going “against the grain”, using Peter Carey’s 1988 Booker-winning ‘Oscar and Lucinda’, as example. I have loved this novel since I first read it and still dip into my favorite bits from time to time. Continue reading Booknotes: Oscar and Lucinda

Booknotes: Jane Eyre

Originally posted on indiatopia:
In my book circles, the Austen vs Brontës debate has come up often. And, though I’ve come to appreciate Austen’s finer points over time, I have always preferred the Brontës. With the three Brontë sisters, there’s the Charlotte vs Emily debate (Anne, sadly, doesn’t get much airtime). This has been harder. For years, I stuck with Emily because I found ‘Wuthering… Continue reading Booknotes: Jane Eyre

Booknotes: Writing Women’s Lives

Writing Women’s Lives is an anthology of autobiographical writing of fifty American women writers spanning the entire twentieth century — the first writer here was born in 1860 and the last in 1962. In introducing us to these writers, Susan Cahill, the editor/anthologist, described how their cultural and socio-economic diversity makes them a pleasure to read while also busting many myths around the phenomenon of “woman writer.” And I believe that we, women writers of today, need our models to turn to from time to time — if not to emulate, then to see how we are or could be different. Benchmarks, if you will, that show us whether we have managed to move beyond the traditions set by our predecessors. We also need to know and appreciate the powerful sisterhood to whom we owe so much. Continue reading Booknotes: Writing Women’s Lives

Writing Practices: On Writing Vignettes

The word “vignette” originates from the French “vigne,” which means “little vine” and refers to the vine motifs used sometimes as decorative embellishments to a text. Put a pin in that phrase “decorative embellishments to a text” because we’re going to come back to it. There is a fair bit of conflicting commentary regarding vignettes. Some people refer to short stories or flash fiction as vignettes. Often, a personal essay is described as a vignette. These are not entirely accurate. For me, short stories and flash fiction are about complete stories with the classic story elements of protagonist, antagonist, conflict, complications, resolution, and so on. A personal essay may or may not be a vignette. So let’s explore this narrative form today and see how it is different from these various other forms of writing. Continue reading Writing Practices: On Writing Vignettes

Booknotes: The Bluest Eye

With ‘The Bluest Eye’, Morrison wanted to explore racial self-contempt and how that comes about in us. In the late-60s, when the idea of different kinds of racial beauty was just beginning to be properly articulated and accepted, she wanted to show, through the life of a twelve-year-old girl, Pecola, how concepts like “ugly” become personal and how they shape personality and, therefore, life. Throughout, Morrison has also scrutinized the effects of religion, shame, classism, colonization (of the mind), gender politics, incest, child molestation, etc. To avoid dehumanizing those responsible for creating this kind of mindset in a child, Morrison has given us complex, layered characters who are, to me, almost Dickensian. I say “almost” because it is when describing the worst things that happen to or are done by some of these characters that Morrison surpasses Dickens’ pathos. Her truth is searingly honest but kind, and her kindness carefully extends to both the flaws and the virtues of these men and women. Dickens showed us who people are or can be; Morrison shows us who we are or can be. Continue reading Booknotes: The Bluest Eye