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July 19, 2018
I stumbled across two stories on autofiction, the new genre that is becoming a staple on everyone’s TBR list.
If you fancy a craftily curated memoir, you are a fan of autofiction, the novel where the author uses his or her life as the framework of the novel. The term ‘autofiction’ has a story behind it. It was coined in a blurb of Serge Doubrovsky’s book Fils in the late 1970s and focuses more on the author’s alter ego than his or her immediate memory. The resultant book could be a self-help module as we see how the author deals with a variety of situations that could or need not be fictional. Have you read books by authors of this genre? Some of them include Karl Ove Knausgaard, Rachel Cusk and Sheila Heti.
More here: Sheila Heti, Ben Lerner, Tao Lin: How ‘Auto’ Is ‘Autofiction’? by Christian Lorentzen
Auto-fiction seems to be the novel of the now- these fragmented times when people who are literate and have access to smartphones frame their entire lives around the social network world online. These novels tell the truth by telling lies; the authors come forward with all the might of their fictional selves and invent or deconstruct reality as we now know it. It’s not as straightforward as it seems and writers face many roadblocks when it comes to style of writing and identity issues. More and more women and queer writers are making their voices heard. Critics, however, do not approve of this selfie-oriented departure from the traditional novel. Do you agree with them?
Read Drawn from life: why have novelists stopped making things up? by Alex Clark.
July 16, 2018
Vatsal got a book called Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension by Michio Kaku. It explores ten-dimensional space and Kaku’s Theory of Hyperspace. The book was far too heavy to comprehend for us three-dimensionals and then a discussion began about the book Flatland, a 2D world occupied by geometric figures where men are polygons and women are straight lines. It’s a dream that leads the narrator, a square, to go to a 3D world called Spaceland.
Abhishek decided to end the debate once and for all by bringing up a book that dealt with a non-debatable subject — death. This led to a groan from the audience; no prizes for guessing which book is being spoken about. When Breath Becomes Air has been discussed in many previous BYOB Parties as well, making this BYOB Party a celebration of repeats. Abhishek described how the book chronicled the life of the surgeon and how his life changed post-diagnosis. He was blown away by the maturity in which the doctor and his wife conducted themselves. Dr. Paul Kalanithi was fascinated by death and this why he opted to become a doctor despite his love for literature. Some readers asked Abhishek if they thought the doctor was brave. That was a given; the beauty of the book lies in how it explains how one must conduct oneself in troubled times. Decisions can be made in spite of instability. The doctor had a child at this time. Here’s a passage that Abhishek read out; it’s one of those books that makes you cry:
“The family gathered together. During the precious minutes after Paul’s decision, we all expressed our love and respect. Tears glistened in Paul’s eyes. He expressed gratitude to his parents. He asked us to ensure that his manuscript be published in some form. He told me a last time that he loved me. The attending physician stepped in with strengthening words: “Paul, after you die, your family will fall apart, but they’ll pull it back together because of the example of bravery you set.” Jeevan’s eyes were trained on Paul as Suman said, “Go in peace, my brother.” With my heart breaking, I climbed into the last bed we would share.”
Divya was tired of the excessive debates too and decided to present a non-controversial story, a true story about an Antarctic expedition called Endurance by Alfred Lansing. The story is astonishing, well-researched and undeniably true. Lansing spoke to ten of the survivors of the Endurance’s final trip and has meticulously recreated the expedition, where for ten months Shackleton and his crew tried to battle the odds. “A huge part of the book is technical and filled with ship terminology,” Divya said. “In spite of that, the book keeps you on edge and since it’s not a fiction, the treatment is different. No iceberg collision takes place at all when you expect it. It’s not a typical read.”
More books in Part 8.
July 12, 2018
Do you like reading about female spies? If you do, head to the YA section as contemporary spy fiction hardly has female leads. There are usually femme fatales or helpless female victims in books by John Le Carre and Ian Flemming.
“YA spies are based on a fantasy (teenage spies don’t exist), not the reality of the intelligence world (as contemporary spy fiction draws from).”
Ally Carter, Robin Benway, Shannon Greenland, Jennifer Lynn Barnes, Kat Carlton, T.A. Maclagan, Annabel Monaghan, Laura Pauling are some authors who have written contemporary YA books featuring female teenage spies. Contemporary fiction, however, is ‘the province of men’. Did you know about Stella Rimington, the first female Director General of MI5, who wrote a fictional series about a female intelligence officer called Liz Carlyle?
Read more here: Why Don’t Female Spies Grow Up? Women in Contemporary Spy Literature.
July 9, 2018
Apurba is fond of reading remote narratives about obscure places and people. This time she chose a Hebrew writer called Isaac Bashevis Singer who wrote in Yiddish. Love and Exile is the story of Singer’s own life from his childhood in Poland until the time he went to New York. It’s the story of the birth and growth of a writer, a Yiddish one at that. Once Hitler came to power, his family fled from Poland; he finally ended up going to the US following the heels of many of his friends who had emigrated to other countries including Palestine because they had the money. Apurba identified with this Nobel Prize Winner’s candor. In his late 20s, he was as disillusioned and clueless about life as many of us are. He wrote in Yiddish, which was a dying language. Even when he was in the US, he found it difficult to gel with the east coast Jewish population. His older brother was more established than he was. In fact, the first thirty years of his life were pretty unremarkable. This was heartening to Apurba as here was a man who lived an ordinary life and talked about, including all his failures and the alienation of displacement.
Here’s a short story by Isaac Bashevis Singer if you want to get hold of his fantastic prose right now. Click here.
Abhaya got a children’s book this time, a delightful read called Dear Mrs Naidu by Mathangi Subramanian. The story revolves around Sarojini whose best friend moves out of her basti. She now wants to go to his school which is better than hers; the Right to Education Act then makes its appearance and using the story of a friendship and letters to the freedom fighter Sarojini Naidu, Mathangi Subramnium creates a very informative and educational book with the message that good intentions alone are not enough for implementation. Comparisons of the book with the Bollywood movie Hindi Medium were made. Although the book is for children, Abhaya found it well worth a read to make sense of this controversial act.
Swimmer Among the Stars, a collection of short stories, by Kanishk Tharoor did not disappoint. Sowmya looked forward to yet another Tharoorian waft of prose. and she was delighted. “He’s a master with words,” she gushed, ” His stories are simple but very different. In fact, my favorite story is one about an eyelash.” His stories are diverse featuring elephants, cooks, space and armies. His historical epic take of the world is punctuated by myth and folklore and influences of Italo Calvino and Borges appear from time to time.
Click here to read an interview with the master craftsman.
More books in Part 7.
July 6, 2018
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July 5, 2018
In light of the recent spate of suicides in the news, it is comforting for a reader to know that books can also miraculously pull you out of the murkiness of depression or wake you up if you are seized by a momentary desire to die. Kevin Powers writes with great honesty about how he had lost his will to live and used drink as his crutch. He knows that the war was one reason for the way he shut things out but he does not lay the blame squarely on what happened to him. He does remember from the blurred years of his going adrift that he attempted to read:
As I drifted further and further into my quarantined stupor, my attempts to read anything became ridiculous, often resulting in a book held diagonally in a trembling hand, examined with one eye squinted and the other shut, until I eventually added the reading of books to the many other higher order activities that had once separated me from the rest of the nonhuman animal kingdom and that I could no longer reliably perform. But one day, for some reason, I picked up “The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas” and found that the following oft-quoted lines of Thomas’s provided me with a moment of, for lack of a better word, grace: “These poems, with all their crudities, doubts, and confusions, are written for the love of Man and in praise of God, and I’d be a damn’ fool if they weren’t.”
Enough said. Read What Kept Me From Killing Myself by Kevin Powers.