As it’s 2008, and now time to begin a new Reading List, it’s also time to choose the best book that I read in 2007. Looking at the list, I don’t feel particularly inspired. The works were all over the place in subject, style, and quality. Many of the books seemed to drift into the realm of memoir. Another trend that continues in modern writing is writing less about universal or grand themes than about individual experience. Writing is becoming so introspective as to border on a form of self-help, it seems to me, rendering a good number of books alien to the reader on a basic level. Because of that, although I loved Aleksander Hemon’s “Nowhere Man” for its voice and honesty about growing up, and Edwidge Danticat’s hard-to-resist sentimentality in “Brother, I’m Dying”, it was the books that combined individuals with history to fully realize the harsh sweep of the world that had the most impact on me. So for non-fiction, Ryszard Kapucinsky’s “Travels with Herodotus” stood out with this amazing thought:
“And yet does not that monumentality [the scale of structures built by tyrants] owe its existence to some conviction that what is negative and weak in man can be vanquished only by beauty, only through the effort and will of his creation? And that the only thing that never changes is beauty itself, and the need for it that dwells within us?”
And in fiction, Orwell’s “Burmese Days” somehow still captures that sad country better than more recent works.
2008 should be a year full of beauty.
Last year I wrote briefly about listening to Amit Chaudhuri, a well known Indian author. In that post, I found him to be…well…arrogant. I was wrong. I had the pleasure of participating with him on a panel discussion earlier this week about fiction writing. The topic was “creativity” and he spoke about his experiences discovering what kind of writer he was. I hadn’t prepared much – not knowing the audience, being on planes for hours on end the past month, and because I tend to prepare at the last minute – but it’s getting easier to be calm about these sorts of things. It also helped that the first panelist delivered a quasi-academic, not well thought out lecture that meandered through stereotypes of creativity. Continue reading →