The Big Book Shelf by Sunil Sethi
30 famous authors talk about their life, their growing up, their craft and their books. Some of them talk about their discipline of writing while others just seem to go with the flow. The basket of authors has both young and old, all living authors who came on the show and fair representation of Indian, sub-continent and western writers, all of who have an India connect if nothing else than as a market. Each conversation is representative of the kind of work the author does, like Chetan Bhagat taking pride in the fact that he is the first English author that many in the country read and I can not agree more with him. Then there are people like Paul Theroux who have been writing all their lives and have lost count of the no of books they have written. There are popular authors like Shobha De and quintessential writers like Mahashweta Devi.
One big common theme that emerges out of these conversations is that of immigration. Most of the authors have lived in multiple cultures and this is one of the important themes that they have dealt with in their writings. Some of the Indian origin authors went out of their countries to either study or work and it is from there when they looked back at India that they could see the stories that they thought need to be told. Some like Suketu Mehta went out and came back to write. On the other hand there are those like William Dalrymple and Mark Tully who came to India to work and were enchanted by its myriad colors and chose to stay here. There are first generation migrants like Anita Desai and Ved Mehta and there are second-generation migrants like Kiran Desai. You see a common thread of trying to find themselves in their adopted cultures and in their own cultures. I think why migrants take to writing has two main reasons, one is of course their own sense of connectedness or belongingness that they try to cater to and second is the fact that once you pull yourself out of a certain environment, you are able to see it more clearly and completely. You become a better observer of your own culture, your own space and of the people who surrounded you and the distance provides you with a space that you fill with your writing. Till you are a part of a system, it is not possible to see it with wonder or see the stories taking place around you, at least not as clearly as you see them from a little distance. And since you have been a part of that system or space, you understand the nuances and nitty-gritty’s of the stories and then you feel the need to express them.
All the authors of course read a lot as well. Most of them were inducted into reading early in their lives and have their favorite authors though most of them read various genres. Most of the authors do research for their plots and characters but with only a very few going completely with their imagination. All of them follow a tough discipline in their writing like Jeffery Archer writing 8 hours a day with four 2-hour sessions for 50 days at a stretch to Anita Desai getting up early morning to write before anyone else in the house gets up. Each had their own way and their own preferred time to write, but the key is the discipline of writing every day without fail.
Sunil has captured the best part of the each conversation in his introduction to the book. So if you do not have time to read through the complete book, just read the introduction and you would get the gist of conversations and insights into the eccentric world of writers. Later conversations are extrapolations around this core. Since the conversations are based on the show that Sunil hosts, they are small and quick conversations, at least the version that reaches the audience. As a reader you want the more in depth conversations and more insights into minds that weave magical stories that we love to read. I hope that someone comes up with a book that looks into the minds of most read authors and how they created stories that connected with millions reading them.
Sunil, with envy I want to tell you that I would love to be in your shoes, to be able to go around the world attend literary festivals, and sit comfortably with the authors and converse with them about their life and books. Just be surrounded by books and the people behind them. Wow!
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