Friday, May 23, 2008

Read The Inheritance of Loss by Kirin Desai

I finished The Inheritance of Loss last night, which I enjoyed a lot. It got me to wondering about the author, and here are some interesting things I read in interviews with her.

As you said, you had an unconventional method for writing Hullabaloo; this being your first book, do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

KD: There are all kinds of theories that you get told in writing workshops--"Write what you know," and that sort of thing, which I don't believe at all. I think one of the great joys of writing is to try and explore what you don't know, that's exciting to me. There are all kinds of little things--show, don't tell--I just wouldn't pay attention to any of that really. I don't think you can write according to a set of rules and laws; every writer is so different. I can't imagine how they come up with these rules--they're really ludicrous. You can't learn to write in that fashion. What inspired me really was reading, reading a lot and learning from other writers. Learning how they are going about something--I was very aware of that when I was writing this book. Every book that I read at the same time I'd think, "Hmm--how do they do this?" Looking at it in that way, from a technical point of view, which we don't usually do as a reader. But really I think that's for me what was important; I was training myself to look at my work with a critical eye.

Her basic point here--that the most important part of learning to write is learning to read--I absolutely agree with. It's something I talk about with my freshman comp students all the time. In that field, it's called "reading rhetorically." The other thing I tell them is that all the rules for writing that they get told are really rules for re-writing--that when you are writing you should act as if there are no rules, and then in the revision stages you channel the ghost of English Teacher Past.

Contrary to the impression Desai gives here, I do think it's important for the end product to show rather than tell. But if what she means is that you should ignore that rule while writing and then come back with a critical eye to see what works (presumably discovering that failing to show doesn't work), then I'm with her.

What did you think you wanted to say when you first set out to write The Inheritance of Loss? Do you think you managed to convey all you wanted to?

. . . . As for whether I'm content with the book -- I always have the feeling that something got away. Where is that thing -– the sublime novel? What would it feel like to hold that in my hands? Whenever I come across it as a reader, I read trembling. Like any art form, when it's great, the person experiencing it exists in a form of grace. I hunger for that feeling as a writer as well as a reader.

Are you satisfied with the way your work has developed, as a writer? Do you see yourself continuing to write more in future?

I think this book is better than the last, but certainly I don't think it's perfect. It's the hardest thing to write a perfect book. Yet, of course, as a reader, I hunger for it. It's a constant desire and I know I'll write another book for that reason.

Writing, for me, means humility. It's a process that involves fear and doubt, especially if you're writing honestly. I imagine businessmen feel smug at least twice a day. Writers? The moments are rare.

All of these comments jumped out at me, because they so accurately describe my experience.

No comments: