Books / Scribbles

A mixed bag of writing- through the books I read and am reading

My reading has been very sporadic the past few weeks. When on some days the reading urge came with full throttle, on others it was slow, lingering, just making it through the day. But great writing always finds its way through the cracks of daily life; calming the nerves or yet sometimes coaxing them to provide a thought. I came across some prolific writing through the novels I was reading. While some were elaborate, some succinct carrying in their sentences an absurdity one could only marvel with a smile on the lips, or a wholehearted laugh. Here’s what I have been reading, a mixed bag of writing and captivating storytelling.

Jing-Jing Lee in How We Disappeared ensures effective word delivery, lucid with a rhythm of sombreness. The backdrop of the story is the time when the Japanese invaded the territories of Singapore. A well-balanced mix of storytelling and incisive writing give way to a novel that qualifies as an important book on South East Asia because of its war-torn history. It also introduces the reader to the concept of “Comfort Women”- one that not many books dealing with this historical period have talked about. As it so happens, when there is a gut-wrenching history that forms a crucial part of the book, the portrayal of emotions is as necessary as its characters. Through Wang Di, one of the main protagonists, the author exhibits the pain and suffering of all the women who would have gone through this horrendous time, trapped in Japanese brothels. Jing-Jing Lee’s sometimes short sentences are arresting, delivering the pain they are meant to across the pages.

If words are capable of conveying the agony, they also act as soothing balms. The sort of writing that I found in Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend. A grief-stricken friend mourning the loss of her friend is the framework of the story that elicits happiness and comfort when a dog, giant Dane, enters the scenes nudging her master to read to him. So you see, the comfort of words isn’t an unknown concept! It is one that every living being, seeks. Nunez’s writing provides hysterical moments when she says out loud the agonies of being a writer, or about its misadventures quoting the most hidden or unknown but which is true. Some sentences go-“If you are going to be a writer, the first thing you have to do is take the vow of poverty.” While some- “writing about someone is a way of killing that person.” (especially a family member)

While the above makes for some witty lines, there were more I saw as pearls of wisdom- being handed-out to a writer who is learning the skill each passing day. It is laden with Woolf’s idea of writing being defined as catharsis in most testing periods. From the prose ideas inspired by Knausgård to the humor referred to as an important ingredient to a successful writing recipe, Nunez’s writing is a seamless transition from meditation to factual. And while we are at the art of writing, how criminal would it be to eliminate mentioning the maestro, Nabokov.

I am one and a half essay in and Think, Write, and Speak has me holding by hand, so I can meander under a watchful eye in the pathways of Nabokov’s writing career. The book is a collection of essays, reviews, and interviews. The latest publication from Penguin, but looks quite apt for a Nabokov admirer and writing enthusiast, who in particular adored Lolita for its writing craft. It is going to be the year where I explore more of Nabokov’s writing prowess (looking at Pnin for now). This collection of essays couldn’t have come to me at a more suitable time. I can see myself reading it in breaks and reaching out for it when in need of something challenging, or to know the musings of another writer.

Full-length novels sometimes leave me with fatigue, one that is solvable by binge-watching a series comprising of no more than 2 seasons, or short stories and articles/essays that serve as pleasant doses to refuel me to begin my next book. Somewhere between watching Bridgerton, I roped in Story of an Hour by Kate Chopin- it reads like flash fiction- very moving and These Precious days by Ann Patchett- a heart-warming piece on friendship.

And now I am off to exploring pastures anew- my first Isabelle Allende. A few days back I finished my first Tanizaki- Some prefer Nettles is an extra-ordinary piece with the writing finesse of a classic. As a word hoarder, I hope to satiate myself with another batch of great writing in the coming weeks too.

If you wonder what the traits of good writing can be, it is most inarguably this-

“Her writing was good for three main reasons: a lack of sentimentality, a lack of self-pity, and a sense of humor.

-Sigrid Nunez, The Friend