Date Archives April 2010

Spring and resurrection

I’ve been reading The Golden Bough recently – an old 1920s work on myth and magic in ancient societies around the world. It talks a lot about vegetation deities – corn gods, maize gods, rice gods, etc. There are striking parallels in early beliefs around the world, in places that as far as we know had developed separately. The idea of plants being personified in a god that dies in the winter and is resurrected in the spring is repeated again and again and again, with different names and details…. Read More

“Russian Short Stories from Pushkin to Buida” Part 1

I was always going to enjoy this book. I have loved Russian literature from an early age, and this short story collection is a Hall of Fame of Russian literature. With a few exceptions, which the editor Robert Chandler highlights in his introduction, the big names are all here. The main omissions are Gorky, Grossman, Pasternak and Sholokhov, because their best work is in other forms like novels or poetry, and Nabokov, because agreement couldn’t be reached with his publishers. But there’s still Pushkin and Tolstoy and Dostoevsky and Gogol… Read More

Monday morning inspiration

Trust your reader. Not everything needs to be explained. If you really know something, and breathe life into it, they’ll know it too. Esther Freud The Guardian, Feb 2010

“The World Is What It Is” by Patrick French

A lot has been made of how frank this biography is. It’s certainly true that V.S. Naipaul gave his biographer Patrick French access to a huge amount of material, including things that other people would have tried to keep quiet about. For example the racism, the bigotry, the use of prostitutes, the affairs, the betrayals, the occasional violence, the perpetual cruelty. Yes, this is a very frank biography. But what impressed me most about the book is how French succeeded in making Naipaul into a consistent, understandable character. It doesn’t… Read More

“How to Write Short Stories” by Sharon Sorenson

This is a very useful basic guide to writing short stories. Most of it I have read or heard elsewhere (e.g. “show, don’t tell” – ever heard that one before?), but what I found useful was the examples used to illustrate the lessons. The examples were good because I’ve always thought of formulas for writing short stories as, well, a bit formulaic. I wanted to write stories that didn’t follow a formula, or stories that deliberately broke with the formula. But what I understood from reading this book is that… Read More

“Global Diasporas: An Introduction” by Robin Cohen

Global Diasporas by Robin Cohen is an excellent introduction to the theory of diasporas, a term which has expanded considerably in recent years from its original use in the Jewish Diaspora to describe all kinds of cultural and ethnic dispersions. Cohen starts by defining common features of global diasporas: Dispersal from an original homeland, often traumatically, to two or more foreign regions; alternatively or additionally, the expansion from a homeland in search of work, in pursuit of trade or to further colonial ambitions; a collective memory and myth about the… Read More

Literature optimisation

Just had a little blast from the future. With books being digitised and searchable on Google, will authors start writing books with their Google search ranking in mind? You know how these days there’s Search Engine Optimisation, where people try to design their blogs or websites so that they appear at the top of a Google search? Well, perhaps in the future there will be companies trying to sell SEO services to authors. Get your book on the first page of results! Just figure out what people are searching for,… Read More

Monday morning inspiration

Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not ­counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free. – Anne Enright The Guardian, Feb 2010