Marginalia: George Eliot

November 22 was George Eliot’s birthdate. She has been one of my early favorites and, maybe, only second to Virginia Woolf among my literary icons. What got me hooked from the start was how she packed so much into a single page about human nature and character that rereading certain bits still leaves me breathless. I completely agree with Byatt that: “One of the reasons I loved her work when I met it was that she both showed people thinking intensely — as well as feeling — and knew and understood herself what they were thinking about. . . When I was younger it was fashionable to criticise Eliot for writing from a god’s eye view, as though she were omniscient. Her authorial commenting voice appeared old-fashioned. It was felt she should have chosen a limited viewpoint, or written from inside her characters only. I came to see that this is nonsense. If a novelist tells you something she knows or thinks, and you believe her, that is not because either of you think she is God, but because she is doing her work – as a novelist. We were taught to laugh at collections of “the wit and wisdom of Eliot”. But the truth is that she is wise – not only intelligent, but wise. Her voice deepens our response to her world.” Continue reading Marginalia: George Eliot

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Published: Booknotes: The Good Immigrant (The Aerogram)

One of the finest essay collections I have read this year is ‘The Good Immigrant’. Edited by writer Nikesh Shukla, the collection has essays from 21 Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic (BAME) creatives from across the UK. These are writers, actors, comedians, and more, writing about their experiences growing up as immigrants or children of immigrants. A review by me was just published over at The Aerogram — a US-based South Asian art, literature, life and news site. Funded by, among others, J K Rowling, and blurbed by, among others, Zadie Smith, it came out after the Brexit vote and during the peak madness of the US presidential election. Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) creatives (writers, actors, comedians, and more) from across the UK came together to write and share their experiences as immigrants or children of immigrants. Their themes, however, are universal and, having been an immigrant across various countries myself, I found much to identify with and ponder. Continue reading Published: Booknotes: The Good Immigrant (The Aerogram)

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

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