Some Good Books I have Recently ReadYes, I know, two posts in one day, when my posts are usually separated by weeks or months. Well, it is one of those days. Procrastination in action. All those chores calling seductively to me like sirens, and me girding loins and turning away from the temptation of it all to dutifully write a blog...One of the things I've been wanting to do with this blog is to note books that I've read that have affected me in a profound way, but I haven't had a moment, and I doubt it is something I could be consistent with anyway. But just as a note to myself I want to mention two books, one, an anthology from India's top feminist publisher, Zubaan (an imprint of Kali for Women) called The Inner Line, and the other, a collection of stories by Jeffrey Ford called The Empire of Ice Cream and Other Stories. The anthology just came out and it has one of my stories in it, but I don't want to comment on that. What it has are a bunch of stories by India's top women writers, many of them translated from Indian languages other than English, including some writers I utterly admire, like Mahashweta Devi (Bengali) and Ambai (Tamil). The stories travel the world from village to city to foreign country, and there isn't a single poor story in it (although some stories translate better than others). What stands out for me is how this anthology showcases the different ways in which women voice their pain and their triumphs. Some of these voices are subtle, others strident. We need them all.The second book I mentioned, Jeffrey Ford's collection, contains some very fine stories, including two I'd come across before. I've been priviliged to be part of a jury that gave an award to one of these stories, but I had no idea of the breadth (or depth) of Ford's work until I read this anthology. Ford uses language like a true artist, and some of the stories may even be called clever in the way that they play with ideas and tropes, including things that have been around for a while, like Greek mythology --- and to all these he manages to give something fresh and uniquely Fordian --- but what stands out for me, what makes this collection not only outstanding but moving, is the compassion he has for his characters. The Boatman is a case in point. After reading this collection I realized that this quality --- compassion --- developed, I imagine, from a life fully and thoughtfully lived, with responsibilities and hard times and all --- is not something that surfaces often in the fiction that I've read, particularly in SF and Fantasy (notable exceptions including Ursula K. Le Guin). The other interesting thing about this collection is that the author has posted end notes after each story. These are interesting little gems in their own right, illuminating Ford's creative process and (because they are post- rather than pre-) avoiding the problem of spoilers.
posted by Vandana 3:20 PM
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Finding the Balance: Notes on a Saturday MorningFor some years now, I've been walking a thin line, falling off, clambering up again, stagerring a few centimeters, falling off... and so on. The balance I am talking about is one familiar to most people --- and women in particular, and my specific version is this: the balance between the competing demands of job, family life, writing, math/physics passions, friendship and community, and social responsibility. I've spent far more time falling off and attempting to climb back on than I have spent actually walking that thin line. How to apportion that elusive thing, time, so that one does justice to all these things? Because I need them all, I should not have to choose between them. That would be like choosing between breathing and eating. The way our modern urban societies are set up, however, make this balancing act difficult in the extreme.Part of it is to become super-organized. I'm trying, and it is difficult, but I make progress the way a snail on a sidewalk makes progress toward the green verge, the promised land. Perhaps one day...One of the ways I've thought of becoming more efficient is in organizing the information I receive or acquire about things in which I am interested. Take my current obsession, prime numbers. I've been reading about them off and on for the past couple of years, having to put aside my reading frequently due to other pressing things, and by the time I go back to the subject what I'd learned earlier is half-forgotten. Last year I set down all the main results I'd read about until that point on a piece of paper and put it up in my kitchen. (How many kitchens do you know that have the Prime Number Theorem as part of the wall decor?) But that, I find, is not enough. So my latest idea (probably impractical, like most of my ideas about organizing) is to write up a little amateur's monograph on the subject, for myself alone --- not simply a compilation of facts but an account, a narrative, as well.I'm interested in primes because they are interesting --- the best of all possible reasons --- but also because they play a major role in a story I'm working on, about a mathematician. When I am obsessed like this, with, say, Subject A (could be primes, or the nesting habits of mole rats, or the possibility of hyperspace) and I let my mind become slack and receptive, then I see aspects and analogs of Subject A everywhere, even when I wash the dishes. It is a very strange feeling. And I'm digressing, which is not a very organized thing to do. Sigh...Talking of balance, I've got to go do some chores. Perhaps if I keep my mind open, like the sail of a boat turned to hold the wind, prime numbers will pop out everywhere, wiggling their tails among the fruit at the grocery store, doing cartwheels across the student papers I have to grade...
posted by Vandana 12:31 PM
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