Sunday, May 23, 2010

Readings and Books

I read a story this cool rainy afternoon at The Writer's Center in Bethesda to a small and intimate group of listeners who braved the dripping rain beside the wonderfully and diversely talented Dan Gutstein, who read a series of variously intense and playful non/fictions from his new book titled Non/Fiction. It's a book to dip into and savor, and it's another I'm adding to my review list for this summer.
The story I read (from Temporary Lives) was The Man on the Veranda, written years ago in the first flush of Garcia Marquez fascination, published in small spiral notebook, also making an Honorable Mention in the Zoetrope Fiction prize (2003 I think). It's the first time I read a story whole, and I was worried about boring my readers to death.

Choosing a story to read at a reading is an interesting exercise--I don't want to keep reading the same story, but it seems like some stories elicit a stronger reaction than others. Balancing the niceties of time constraints with excerpts intending to whet rather than dampen interest in the rest of the work, with being present in the moment and responding to audience reaction while still planning a few things to say, etc. all seems very delicate. Still, The Man... is a story I like, and I learned a few things reading it all the way through aloud like this--one, as one of the audience also advised me later, I don't really need to read every paragraph! to keep a sense of the central narrative alive, and two, each time I rush as I worry about time (in a subterranean attempt to ease the listener) I could actually lose a listener. Lessons to apply to the next reading, I guess.

It was lovely to read with Dan Gutstein though, whom I've shared an office with at GW, and also charmant to run into Mark Wallace, prolific author of poetry and fiction and various other forms, also from (even longer ago) my days of teaching composition and literature at GW. It felt like a GW thing, which was cool, and raised echoes of the last, great reading, in April at GW, with Gina Welch, who read from her very intriguing memoir of living among evangelical Christians in Jerry Falwell country, In the Land of the Believers. (For more on that reading, please see Tess Malone's vibrant blog post in April on the GW English Blog.)

That was a very special reading, for many reasons, not least that I come from as-dedicated and often evangelical Christians in the deep south of India, which seems to bear uncanny resemblance to the deep south here in the US, and read from the one story in Temporary Lives which touches on this (the title story)--not to mention how extraordinary it was reading with Gina, who is amazingly talented and charismatic, and, although it was rather surprising to see the room so packed, it was also nice to end my semester at GW on such a high note. Another book on my list!

For now I'm reading Ariel Sabar's My Father's Paradise : A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq, also a book I discovered on attending a reading at GW--a fascinating memoir of his experiences in Iraq and his re-creation of his father's and other relatives' lives--especially interesting to me because of my (maternal) grandfather's connection with Iraq, a story I am excavating and wanting to write about--after serving in the British Army during World War I he stayed on and lived in Basra and died in Basra, as did my grandmother--another amazing character I want to write about. I'll post a review when I'm done. In addition to catching up to all those posts I wrote in my head for April!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bree O'Mara

It's been more than a month, I know, and I have so much I've been plotting and planning to write about, but everything is interrupted for this. I can't seem to get over the enormous tragedy of South African Irish writer Bree O' Mara's life being taken, in the recent Libyan plane crash--the one where the lone Dutch boy survived--along, of course, with all else on the plane. I'd not heard of her before, but just the tragedy of the circumstances--an "emerging" writer with a book deal traveling to London to sign said deal--and the enormity of her talent, along with the exuberance of her personality and her life, feels arresting.

What especially intrigues me in her writing is her interest in humor--Home Affairs, her first book, described in The Times as a satirical look at the new South Africa, won a Citizen book prize, voted on by the South African public, and her second book, Nigel Watson, Superhero, which she has described as being about "turning 30, hating your job, and finding your wings,” also pursues comedy. Quoting the Times: "Humorous in tone, it is set in London and follows its nondescript anti-hero as he tries to be “someone else, somewhere else, doing something completely different”."

I've become awfully interested lately in reading humor, because it brings to mind early obsessions with P. G. Wodehouse and Kurt Vonnegut and Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde in particular, and I'm especially keen on reading "adult" takes on humor (rather than YA) although I'm still wallowing in children's humor these days, as I read to my daughter, who's five now, particularly Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss. Although it is probably gauche to admit it, I absolutely loved Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones' Diary--trust me, it beats the movie hollow, if you haven't read the book yet; and although this one felt less compelling (too much sameness), also The Edge of Reason. This spring, by way of his visit to GW and to my Intro to Creative Writing class, I also discovered Howard Jacobson, another writer whose work is deft with humor, whose books I am lining up to read. As also Tom Mallon's--he's the new Director of Creative Writing where I teach and I chanced to hear him read from one of his many novels, Two Moons, a year ago, a book I'm yet to read, but there you go, another for my list. My first novel (not yet published) has humor in it--and I want to return to that lightness which carries depth in other work.

So to me it feels like a double loss, a woman writer, who writes satirically, with humor and wit and intelligence. I want to read Home Affairs and Nigel Watson, Superhero. I wish there were a more natural, writing-world way I had come to know of these books and their author. I wish Bree O' Mara's work long life and continuity. I wish I could say to Bree, thank you, keep doing what you're doing, you inspire me. All I can say is I am sure when I read her I will learn from her. And I will write again about her books.