It’s been a while since I posted anything here, but I had a very good reason for my silence: a nice long holiday! After several years of absence, I went back home to visit family and friends. Trying to catch up with so many things left me with very little time to actually sit down and write something (apart from my short post about Claridad). Now that I’m back and life is slowly getting back to what it was, it’s time to post a new blogger interview, and this month Vishy has agreed to participate in my year-long guest posts.
I’m a regular visitor on Vishy’s blog. Apart from his poetry reviews and a few read-alongs we did together, he’s one of the bloggers that interact with their readers not only on his blog but on his readers’ blogs as well, something I really appreciate.
1. Who are you?
I am a reader and a book lover. Probably someone who reads too much (bibliobibuli). I also love buying books. If you have read Agatha Christie’s ‘Witness for the Prosecution’ and remember the description of the main character Leonard Vole’s house – well, that is what my house looks like.
Though I have many bookshelves, they have long since been filled to capacity and the books have overflown past the shelves on to the table and to the floor. This doesn’t prevent me from buying more books. I keep thinking that I buy more than I read and so at some point I should stop buying or at least read the new arrivals before buying new ones, but that is not how life works. There are beautiful pleasures in life and one of the most beautiful of them is buying a new book and there is no point in denying myself that. Life is too short. So, I have made my peace with that. I love the Japanese word ‘Tsundoku’ which perfectly describes my life – “buying books and not reading them; letting books pile up unread on shelves or floors or nightstands.”
I love having a cup of coffee or spicy Indian tea, while delving into the beautiful pages of a book. I also like playing with cats and dogs, watching cricket and tennis on TV and watching the occasional movie. I am also a TV series addict. If you have a favourite TV series, even if it is an obscure one or a one-season wonder, I have probably already watched it. Some of my recent favourites (that is ‘recent’ for me) are ‘Monk’, ‘Downton Abbey’, ‘Alias’, ‘The Good Wife’, ‘The Americans’, ‘Castle’, ‘Hostages’, ‘Homeland’, ‘Penny Dreadful’, ‘Trophy Wife’, ‘Growing Up Fisher’, ‘Breaking Bad’ and the TV series version of ‘Olive Kitteridge’. The important days of the year for me are Oscar night, Emmy night and the whole of the second week of the Wimbledon tennis championships leading up to the finals. I am more excited about these days than even my own birthday or Christmas or New Year or Diwali.
2. Why do you blog and what is your blog about?
I used to write book reviews and send them to friends by email. Then one of my creative writing group friends inspired me to start my own blog. I was a shy blogger initially, using my blog as a repository of my book reviews. Then I met other book bloggers who also reviewed books and many who read way more than I did. It has been wonderful getting to know many of them and being part of this wonderful book blogging community. I mostly review books on my blog, but I occasionally write about something else – probably a movie that I enjoyed or about music that I recently discovered. For example, I wrote about my favourite movies here and I wrote about a concert I went to, here.
3. Favorite books/authors/genres.
My favourite books keep changing often, because I discover wonderful new books and writers every year. At this moment, these are some of my favourites.
The Wall by Marlen Haushofer – Probably my all-time favourite novel. It is a book that I didn’t want to let go after I finished reading it. It is the story of a forty-something woman who is probably the last woman left on earth and she has a dog and a cat and a cow. The magic that Haushofer weaves with such a minimalistic setting is stunning.
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque – My favourite literary war novel. In a not-very-long novel, Remarque has said everything that needs to be said about war. Others can only repeat what he said.
Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman – My all-time favourite essay collection. Fadiman’s collection of bookish essays never fails to delight me. I pick the book every year and randomly read some of the essays again. A must read for any bibliophile.
Beyond a Boundary by CLR James – My favourite sport is cricket, and like any self-respecting Indian, I have my favourite players and my favourite teams. I have read many books on cricket, but this is my all-time favourite. It is a memoir, a book on cricket history, a book on social history and a book filled with potted biographies, all rolled into one. It is literary in style and James’ erudition comes through in every page. Many imitators have tried to match James’ style and sweeping take on cricket since, but none have been able to match the master. When I got this book, the only edition in print was published by Duke University in the US and it was listed as a book of sociology. That was one of the ironies in life – the greatest cricket book in history was kept in print and published by a university in a country where cricket is not played and is made fun of (well, mostly).
When Eight Bells Toll by Alistair Maclean – One of my all-time favourite thrillers. I read it first when I was a teenager, and I keep reading it once in a few years. I haven’t read it recently, but I am sure I will like it when I read it again. The story is told in the first person, the hero is vulnerable but strong and brave, most of the action takes place in a ship, there are islands, search for gold, badass villains, a beautiful and strong heroine and surprises in the end – what is not to like. And to cap it all, the first page starts with a long description of the Peacemaker Colt and the damage it can do when it is used to shoot someone and just when we are wondering what Maclean is getting at, the action explodes – one of the greatest first pages ever.
A few other books that are my all-time favourites and which I can’t really miss out are:
Berlin (City of Stones and City of Smoke) by Jason Lutes
Odes to Common Things by Pablo Neruda
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma.
4. Kindle or paper book?
I recognize the usefulness of the Kindle. One can carry probably around a thousand books in it. For most readers it would be their lifetime collection. One can also increase the size of the font which is extremely convenient. The Kindle book collection also doesn’t occupy valuable space at home and create clutter. Having recognized all this though, I feel that there is a romance to paper books which is not there in Kindle books. Lending/borrowing books, buying used books, gifting books to bookish friends – all these cannot be done with the Kindle. Imagine this scene from ‘Gilmore Girls’ – Jess ‘steals’ the Ginsberg poetry collection ‘Howl’ from Rory’s bookshelf. He then returns it to Rory later. When Rory flips through it, she discovers that Jess has left comments on every page. She realizes that he has already read it many times. That revelation sparks some interesting and beautiful conversation. How can such a scene happen with a Kindle book? I know that at some point of time, I will be getting a Kindle, but as of now, I am sticking to paper books.
5. Three things you learned from a book.
1. This happened when I was in school. Our history teacher asked us to name the capital of Turkey. Most of my classmates said Istanbul, which was Turkey’s most famous historical city, but which was also the wrong answer. I answered correctly – Ankara. The reason for this was that one of my favourite comic stories ‘Johnny Nero in Turkey’ was set in Ankara and explored a little bit of Turkish history. It is amazing how much we can learn from comics.
2. There are probably no new stories, because they have all been written already. I had an idea for a novel – what happens if a man/woman gets out of the economic system (makes enough money and becomes financially self-sufficient), shuts himself/herself off from the world and decides to spend his/her days pursuing intellectual pleasures – reading, watching art films, writing poetry, painting, visiting art museums, listening to/learning music, self-educating oneself in different fields like mathematics, biology, physics, learning new languages. I wanted to explore how the life of this man/woman will be and how it will affect him/her psychologically and whether this life is possible at all. It looked like a novel idea to me as I haven’t seen this theme explored before in novels. Then I discovered a novel by J.K.Huysmans called ‘Against Nature’ which explores exactly this theme in a different era. That is when I realized that if an idea looks new and fresh, it has probably already been explored by the French (this has happened repeatedly during my French literature reading days that now I am no longer surprised).
3. We generally tend to equate beautiful prose with literary fiction. We expect thrillers, murder mysteries, romances, horror novels and books from other genres to look plain with focus on the plot. But beauty knows no barriers. It gives itself fully to everyone without any distinction. And it unfurls itself in all its glory from unexpected places. We should grab it when we see it and enjoy its company while it lasts. Forgetting about the highly artificial ways in which novels are classified. Raymond Chandler is, of course, the obvious example for writing beautiful prose in his hard-boiled detective fiction. But my favourite is Alistair Maclean. For example, take this passage from Maclean’s ‘Breakheart Pass’, the only Western that he wrote.
For the weary traveller seeking a haven of rest, the saloon bar offered nothing but a total lack of hygiene, an advanced degree of decadence and an almost stultifying sense of depression and despair. Neither did the majority of customers. They were remarkably in keeping with the general ambience of the saloon. Most of them were disproportionately elderly, markedly dispirited, unshaven and shabby, all but a lonely few contemplating the future, clearly a bleak and hopeless one, through the bottoms of their whisky glasses. The solitary barman, a myopic individual with a chest-high apron which, presumably to cope with laundry problems, he’d prudently had dyed black in the distant past, appeared to share in the general malaise: wielding a venerable hand-towel in which some faint traces of near-white could with difficulty be distinguished, he was gloomily attempting the impossible task of polishing a sadly cracked and chipped glass, his ultra-slow movements those of an arthritic zombie. Between the Imperial Hotel and, also of that precise day and age, the Dickensian concept of a roistering, hospitable and heart-warming coaching inn of Victorian England lay a gulf of unbridgeable immensity.
Isn’t that beautiful, almost Dickensian? Who would have thought that this was a twentieth century writer, writing in gorgeous, exquisite Victorian prose? Maclean wrote war novels and crime thrillers in gorgeous prose like this.
6. Best book to take with you on a desert island.
It will probably be a poetry collection. Because I can read a poem and then look around the island and see how they relate to each other and then go on and read the next poem. So, probably my desert island book will be the collected poems of Mary Oliver.
7. Best book to use as a doorstop.
It has to be a big and thick book. Probably ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr.Norrell’.
8. Favorite quotes.
As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.
‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends –
It gives a lovely light.
‘First Fig’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay
It was evening all afternoon.
‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird’ by Wallace Stevens
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
‘Separation’ by W. S. Merwin
There are treasures everywhere, her father told her.
What kind of treasures? she asked.
All kinds. Like this, he said, grinning, holding up a record…
Oh, Isabel said, unsure if this was actually proof.
Belly, he said, putting the record down on his stack and squatting next to her, it’s a treasure if you love it. It doesn’t matter how much it costs, or whether anyone else wants it. If you love it, you will treasure it, does that make sense?
‘Glaciers’ by Alexis Smith
9. Three tips for bloggers.
1. Write regularly. That is the hardest part when we get started and also when there is a lull in our reading or there is distraction in our lives. Don’t put pressure on yourself to write so many posts a week/month, but write regularly.
2. Be a part of the blogging community. Book bloggers are friendly and warm and they are also very well read and smart and intelligent. There is a lot to learn from them and there is a lot to contribute to the community by sharing your own thoughts. There are so many ways of participating – in addition to regular things like posting book reviews, replying to comments and commenting on other blogs, one can participate in events like readalongs, 24-hour readathon, literature months and daily memes.
3. Always reply to any comments on your blog. Bloggers love other bloggers who nurture their readers. Also, comment regularly on your favourite blogs. If you do that, those bloggers will keep coming back to your blog and sharing their thoughts on your posts. This is what makes blogging magical.
10. Best/worst blogging experience
Probably the first time I discovered a book blogger. Or probably the first time I got a comment on my blog. Probably both these would be my favourite blogging moments.
11. You are also a writer. Tell us more about your writing/book/s.
I wrote one book as part of NaNoWriMo, a few years back. It is unpublished and is destined to stay that way for a while (it is beautiful to me, because it was my first literary baby and we always have a soft spot for our first child, but it has too many flaws to be publishable). It is a love story set in Shanghai, with lots of Chinese culture and literature thrown in.
12. What is your writing routine like? Do you have one?
When I write, I put aside everything else and immerse myself into it. So that means no phone calls, no emails, no Facebook, no social life, showing a curmudgeon-face to interruptions, erratic eating schedule and erratic sleeping schedule. This works well for shorter writing projects like essays, book reviews, short stories and poems but this probably is not a good way of doing things while working on a long writing project like a book. Though Balzac specialized in doing just that, I think it is important to make space for life also while working on a longer writing project like a novel.
13. Three tips for writers.
It is easy to give tips and so I am going to give three here.
1. Write regularly. Even if what comes out of your pen/keyboard is not satisfying, do keep writing – either so many hours a day or so many pages a day.
2. Read some of the books by the masters/creative writing teachers. They give good advice ranging from things like grammar and punctuation to things like plot and character. Two good books on writing that I can recommend are ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King and ‘The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop’ by Stephen Koch.
3. Read regularly. We learn a lot (about writing) from reading without realizing it. One beautiful book on this topic is ‘Reading like a Writer’ by Francine Prose.
14. What are you most passionate about?
I love all kinds of narrative art. So, I love stories told in all kinds of ways – through words, through poems, through pictures, through moving images and theatre and film, through songs. I also love discussing books and stories and beautiful sentences with fellow book bloggers and bookish friends.
Other things I am passionate about are drinking coffee (I love Anne Fadiman’s essay ‘Coffee’ which is an ode to coffee lovers), watching cricket and tennis on TV (I think they are the two greatest sports ever invented by humans), learning new languages (I have tried my hand at learning French, Russian and Chinese with varying results), trying different kinds of chocolate (chocolates comprise a significant part of my grocery bill), exploring new cuisine (love Italian ravioli, Russian blini, Ethiopian Injira, Spanish omelette, Mexican Enchilada, French crepe, Swiss Raclette, Persian rice with vegetable curry, Chinese mapo dofu and qing jiao tu dou and Indian Phulka with potato curry) and playing with cats and dogs. I live in a place filled with magnificent dogs and beautiful puppies and some of them are my friends. My newest project on this front is to befriend my neighbour’s St.Bernard – he is huge and intimidating, has a bark which sounds like a lion’s roar and doesn’t care for me much. It looks like it will take a lot of hard work to win the friendship of my St.Bernard friend. But I will get there one day.
15. Last book that made you cry.
There are many books which made me cry. But I have to mention this book one more time – ‘The Wall’ by Marlen Haushofer.
Other books which made me cry are ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ by John Green, ‘The Language of Flowers’ by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, ‘First Love’ by Ivan Turgenev and ‘Forbidden’ by Tabitha Suzuma.
Some of Vishy’s books:
Ask me a question.
No questions for me this time. No problem.