When the Writing’s Arid, and the Reading’s Avid


September has continued in the vein of August – the traveling is in progress, the writing is sparse, but the reading is splendid. (See my last post – Reading Loads, Writing Zilch.)

I was able to indulge in the following, all for the very first time
The Town and the City by Jack Kerouac
How To Be Good by Nick Hornby
The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye by Sunny Liew
Avid Reader – A Life by Robert Gottlieb

First published under the name “John Kerouac” in 1950, this debut “autographical” novel did not become a literary success. It was written over many years in the conventional style, before the emergence of his spontaneous and quickly-written prose seen in “On The Road”, which marked Jack Kerouac as an exciting new voice and propelled him to be the ”King of the Beats”. Frankly, I got a bit bored half-way through this volume, whereas “Road” had gripped me and didn’t let me go till the last full-stop years ago.

Although I had watched at least two movies based on his books (High Fidelity, About A Boy) and a couple based on his screenplays (An Education, Brooklyn) I had not read Nick Hornby before. While his writing style is breezy, easy and comedic, it is a bit difficult to take him seriously. Until you realise that he is actually dealing with some serious issues, by being purposely ironic. Like the issue of morality in this book. It also helps that the setting of this story is North London, where I was vacationing for the summer.

This second novel by Mohsin Hamid was published in 2007 and became a million-copy international best seller. It was long-listed for the Man-Booker Prize and won several awards. One wonders if the protagonist in the story is not modelled after the author himself – a young man, born Pakistani, raised and educated in the US and Pakistan, worked as a management consultant in the US, lived in London, and became a UK citizen, subsequently moving back to Lahore, but continuing to divide his time between Pakistan, the US, UK, Italy and Greece. The book was made into a movie directed by Mira Nair in 2012, but I missed it.

I’m not sure if the purists among us count thumbing through the pages of a graphic novel as reading. Nevertheless, I’m not ashamed to admit that I quite enjoyed The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, the winner of the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize, as well as “Book of The Year” at the 2016 Singapore Book Awards. This is an unconventional retelling of the Singapore Story by Sunny Liew, who is an Eisner–nominated comics artist, painter and illustrator whose work is featured in the New York Times bestseller (The Shadow Hero.) My reading of this outside of Singapore is a mere happenstance – I ran out of things to read, and my London host happened to have a copy readily available.

The last book, Avid Reader, was really a timely gift to me from God. It was published officially October, but copies were available for purchase a couple of weeks earlier. I placed my order through The Book Depository, and got it to be delivered to my London address, just in time for the dying days of summer.

The title, Avid Reader, was chosen by the author to describe himself. But it is a label which I feel also aptly applies to me, if not for my lifelong passion, then certainly for my preoccupation during this season. It is interesting to note that despite a career spanning 60 years as an editor who shepherded a long line of big-name writers and husbanded a number of well-known and popular titles into print at big-name publishers like Simon and Schuster, Knopf, New Yorker and then back at Knopf, Mr Robert Gottlieb didn’t see it fit to call himself a “writer”. He said, “First of all, I dislike writing. I was never the editor who wanted to be a writer. Writing is hard.” Just that last sentiment alone makes one feel that here is one editor who truly empathises with the writer. And he has no advice about writing for writers, except one – “when encountering a writer’s block, don’t write, just type.” He does however offer an insider’s peeks into the origins and journeys of many a book – something along the lines of “the making of…”, and some publisher’s insights into a handful of writers. But one can’t help but feel that Mr Gottlieb is a man with a big heart and a generous soul – he has almost nothing bad to say about any writer, except for a very few, whose notoriety is already well broadcasted elsewhere, such as…

Forgive me, but I think it’s time for me to go do some typing. I’m back home in Singapore , where it’s always summer, and I don’t always have the excuse of travel.