Today I’m very happy to introduce this month’s guest blogger, Priya, who blogs over at Tabula Rasa. I’m a frequent visitor to her blog – in addition to reviewing novels she has reviewed poetry, wrote a post about music recently, and although she has not mentioned this, she is a writer. I really enjoyed reading her short story, The Dew Eagle which you can read online here.
My name is Priya, which means beloved in Sanskrit. It is a painfully common name here in India, a fact that used to bother me until I discovered that it shares linguistic roots with the name of the Norse goddess of love, Frejya or Frigg. I was further delighted to read that Frejya rode a carriage driven by cats. Scandinavian myths are a new hobby and the mythology section of the campus library is my favourite haunt. A twenty-something language buff, I am a year into a Master’s in Linguistics. I love to read and once had a friend introduce me to a group with the line, “She eats books for breakfast.” For a cat-lover, I am quiet as a mouse and rather fond of comfort zones. I am a TV addict, devouring everything from Downton Abbey to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I am a passionate doodler, a daydreamer and a closet believer-in-magic.
2. Why do you blog and what is your blog about?
Tabula Rasa did not start out as a book blog. But because my life is largely composed of books, it was only natural for my passion for reading to eventually take over my writing space. Tabula Rasa turns five this month, and it has gone through many changes over the years. But peel off all the layers and you will find that it is still just a cozy place for me to find my voice.
3. Favorite books/authors/genres.
J. K. Rowling, Sir Terry Pratchett, Stephen King. These three have more in common than being writers of genre fiction. Their books are sincere, passionate and they have created worlds I care about as much as, and sometimes more than, my own. All three traverse uncharted areas of the mind, shine a light of hope in its darkest corners and most strikingly, often and with great insight, wield humour to combat its deepest terrors.
4. Kindle or paper book?
Every time this debate fires up, I want to remind people that it is the story that matters, not where it is written. I would read Harry Potter on eggshells! I have begun to embrace the handy Kindle lately, with the convenience of a lit screen and the harmless virtual highlighter. However, this is not to say that there aren’t days when I crave the smell of old paper and the coarse touch of a worn dust jacket… I guess a part of me will always remain old school.
5. Three things you learned from a book.
1. The Book of Brownies by Enid Blyton is a story of three friends who are tricked by a witch into kidnapping the King’s daughter. Banished from the Brownieland, they set out to rescue her. This was my first foray into fantasy. I do not claim to have understood either the nature or power of magic at the age of seven, but I do remember the conviction that I had stumbled upon something big. Soon, I developed a near-reverence for Blyton’s stories and idly dreamt of tea parties for pixies and fountains of lemonade.
Blyton taught me this – reading fantasy is like taking your mind to the gym. It is a crucial exercise that will strengthen your mind, stretch its horizons. Growing up, you will have hurtling towards you truckloads of knowledge, big facts and unshakeable emotions. School will offer convenient explanations for some, solutions that you can pack away in neat little compartments of your head. But fantasy will teach you to accept and love that not every problem has an answer.
Fantasy gave me, early on, the curiosity essential for learning even as it made me comfortable with the inexplicable. Years later, when Terry Pratchett told me that humans need fantasy to believe, to be human, he put into words an idea that had struck me at seven.
2. I learnt the significance of the written word from Possession by A.S. Byatt, which made me see the good in keeping records of life’s seeming inconsequentialities. Byatt inspired me to maintain a (fairly consistent) diary. I will never stop thanking her for it.
3. Joining a book club made me realize, on the very first meeting I attended, that sharing your experience of reading a book makes it at least twice as pleasurable. The book in question was Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. I have always had issues with it, and while the discussion did not drive all of those away, it did introduce a myriad little details I had missed and allusions I had failed to draw. Readers are like snowflakes, no two are alike, and each one will add something of his own to the interpretation of a book. That was also the day I heard someone state that the aim of the club was not to critique books, but to admire them; this, I fashioned into my blog motto.
6. Best book to take with you on a desert island.
Life of Pi by Yann Martel. The book is more than an entertaining adventure. It is spiritual and cynical, offers both hope and an essential reality check. More than anything, it cheekily toys with your conception of truth. Pi Patel is an intriguing character and Yann Martel is a genius world-builder. Really, what better story to read on a deserted island than that of a boy who survived two hundred and twenty seven harrowing days on a lifeboat with a Bengal tiger?
7. Favorite quotes.
I have always found Ray Bradbury to be full of this kind of sharp and delicate wisdom that forever sticks with you. I haven’t read nearly enough by him.
Life in the end seemed a prank of such size you could only stand off at this end of the corridor to note its meaningless length and its quite unnecessary height, a mountain built to such ridiculous immensities you were dwarfed in its shadow and mocking of its pomp.
– Something Wicked This Way Comes –
It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away. The difference between the man who just cuts lawns and a real gardener is in the touching, he said. The lawn-cutter might just as well not have been there at all; the gardener will be there a lifetime.
– Fahrenheit 451 –
We never sit anything out. We are cups, quietly and constantly being filled. The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.
– Zen in the Art of Writing –
8. Three tips for writers.
I am no expert, the only thing I can attest for is consistency. I learned this from Ray Bradbury, who says you must collect all ideas you get and try to finish one piece (story, if you are a fiction writer) a week. Practice certainly made me better. So here is my tip – read what writers you admire have to say. Stephen King tells you to read, for every good writer is a reader. Even he insists on consistency, telling you not to wait around for the muse to appear. Neil Gaiman thinks that so long as you write with honesty and confidence, there are no rules. He basically tells you to set your own rules, which is the best and hardest advice you will ever get.
I am passionate about language and how it creates and shapes thought. I am also passionate about teaching, especially children. I rarely talk about the latter on my blog, as I have not yet fully explored it. But I do believe one of the greatest pleasures in life is witnessing that moment of understanding in a kid’s eyes, catching the expression as it travels from dazed confusion to twinkling clarity.
10. Last book that made you cry.
I surprised myself last year when I teared up reading The Iliad. Admittedly, some of it may have been because I had made it through to the end, a feat I had deemed impossible. The Iliad presented a tense build up to its final showdown. It had been predicted from the start that Achilles would kill Hector, but even so, when it happened, Hector’s death hit hard. I was alone at home and had been reading aloud to myself, when I choked up. I could only imagine the stunning response the scene must have invoked in a live audience and found a new admiration for the style of narration.
The King and Queen of Troy react to their son’s murder in typical Greek-epic fashion, with wailing monologues. But it was the scene when Hector’s wife hears his mother’s cry that I found truly heartbreaking. Andromache is in a chamber, ordering her maids to heat a bath for Hector when he arrives, when she hears the commotion and runs out. The page ended with these lines:
“On reaching the great tower and the soldiers,
Andromache stood gazing from the wall
and saw him dragged before the city.
Chariot-horses at a brutal gallop
pulled the torn body toward the decked ships.
Blackness of night covered her eyes; she fell”
My tears resumed at the end when the Trojan King begged Achilles for Hector’s body, and he complied. I once met an English professor who waxed eloquent about the emotional strength of the Indian epics in contrast with the Greek ones, especially that of the Mahabharata, which is ten times the length of Homer’s works. If I ever meet the professor again, I would ask him to go back and read this.
There is a book I have been meaning to read, called Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad by Alice Oswald. The book, which sounds intense and lyrical, is a translation of the Iliad, chronicling all the deaths leading up to Hector’s. Here is a reading from it:
I have so many great book-related memories that is difficult to choose just one. I used to read Jules Verne and westerns and Romanian folktales, but one book I loved very much and I would read again and again was a translated old copy of world myths. I remember the first letter of each story was an elaborate composition of curls and lines, such as you would find in a book of fairy-tales and each story had pictures. That’s how I found out about Gilgamesh, Tristan and Yseult, El Cid, Gudrun, Siegfried and Brunhilde, and King Arthur. It’s amazing how the books of our childhood stay with us for a long time. To this day I love stories based on myths and fairy-tales.