Even though I’m a millennial the first books I read with some literary interest were poetry by mid century poets. Then my interest expanded to fiction. Soon it invaded realism. And quickly graduated to books that were based on politics and the way the world is.
So it is no wonder that one of the writers who heavily influenced me as a young teen was Bertrand Russell. But it wasn’t coincidental. I really wanted to see his views on how the West views the East. Even for someone as liberal as him, some of his essays have the same streaks of superior colonialism that are a turn off for me.
I’d say that Jinnah and Iqbal have portrayed the East and West comparison a lot better because they both experienced them in all their culture and heritage. They both knew of the weaknesses of the East and the misgivings of the West. I find their analyses more realistic and truthful. My love for political books soon shifted to more indigenous politics. Benazir was a huge influence in my life since my dad was a huge Bhutto fan. He believed in Bhuttoism and had come to believe Benazir to be his true protege. Whether she remained a woman I looked up to is another topic and isn’t completely painless.
Books written by politicians with political undertones and overtones were popular in the Pakistan of 90’s. Some of these books weren’t even launched with freedom until the death of Zia, the worst dictatorship-based regime Pakistan has seen in its history.
Whatever Zia did or didn’t do, he turned an impressionable teen into someone who questioned Islam a lot. I saw a lot of oppression of women and minorities as a way to practice Islam and I took Zia’s version of politics as what is practiced in an Islamic state. I didn’t know that what he was running was a dictatorship.
So religious books were out. I didn’t identify with them.
My grandmother (my dad’s mom) decided to make me her successor in inheriting her extensive Arabic and Persian trousseau of books. She introduced me to Gibran, Rumi, Hafiz and Saadi Shirazi. She revered them like people revere prophets. She knew verbatim many Persian quotes and could even speak decent Persian.
So I started reading Persian when I was a preteen and by the time I was a mid-teen I had become well-versed in written Persian. She translated the tough bits for me.
But much as I like philosophy, no one, in my opinion, can live off of philosophical books only. You need a little spice.
Entered racy books by Jackie Collins, Bella Andre and Nancy Friday. I also started reading some writing by Sydney Sheldon, John Grisham and Paulo Coelho. I was hooked.
I used to read these books in the sanctuary of my room, hidden from general public because I knew they weren’t books that nice people read. Soon I had had my fill of erotica and lazy fiction and was ready to move on.
And move on I did. I jumped to writing.
Wow! That’s a big leap, you might wonder. Yes it is. And it didn’t work well because writing is a process which requires a giving up of the soul and mind.
This blog has more nonfiction than fiction on it. But fiction is what has truly taken longer and more difficult to generate. Is that because fiction needs more imagination? Probably. It is harder to live another life to create a story.
The process itself can be tumultuous and depressing. Sometimes characters can take unexpected turns in our heads and can end up with a fate that we hadn’t really wanted for them. The storyline can be hard to manage and we can even forget characters as we go along.
When a story is written there is a process of evolution of sorts. There is a high point, a low point, and a climax which can be an anticlimax sometimes actually. Not every story sees the usual peaks and troughs that we have associated with story telling. As opposed to poetry, fiction writing doesn’t follow strict rules.
So it’s no surprise that characters that start out as important lose their significance in the wake of new characters. The backdrop can become boring and even the story which started as strong and inviting, can become dull and boring. It’s all the process of writing. It can’t be similar or same.
Writers can fall in love with their characters also. They can also become attached to their characters’ idiosyncrasies and quirks. They can also love one character more than the other. They can become protective over their characters. It’s all possible.
So next time you read a work of fiction, remember that usually it’s not written for us. It’s written for the writer who wrote it. It’s written for the characters and the storyline. It’s an expression of the mind behind the story. There is very little that the writer expects from us. Whatever the writer needed has already been provided by the expansiveness of the process.
Now some might argue that would there be writers if there were no readers? That’s a valid point and a big part of why writers share their writings. Writers want acknowledgement of their thought process and their labor. They want us to like and love their favorite characters as much as they do. This is typically the acceptance that they’re looking for. But it’s hard for readers to always identify with the characters. This is a necessary process because it gives birth to the critics.
Critical evaluation of nonfiction is actually easy. If it speaks to you, you write a favorable opinion of it. If it doesn’t then you don’t. It’s simple to take a piece of literature apart and examine it. Nonfiction is harder to dissect because nonfiction is easier to agree or disagree with. It is usually someone’s opinion or a factual account. There isn’t room for much creative input. There are solid lines.
So coming back to my reading habits these days! I read work by amateur writers who write online. I am not feeling our published writers anymore. They read dispirited to me. There is a certain panache that’s missing.
Amateur writers are writing with much less finesse but it’s much more original and untamed. Exactly as literature was intended to be.