Category Archives: macmillan

Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee

Draft No. 4 Title: Draft No. 4: On The Writing Process
Author: John McPhee
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374142742
Genre: Non-Fiction, Writing Skills, Essays
Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I have read books on reading. I have read books on writing as well. But off-late no book on writing has made me laugh and “Draft No. 4” managed to do that. It made me chuckle and kept my spirits high and also in its own way told me that it is okay to not get that sentence correct, that it is alright to not stress over punctuation sometimes and also that there will be times that you will not be able to write. It broke a lot of writing fallacies that are out there and made me see writing in a whole new way.

Also, if you have to learn about a subject, then why not turn to one of the very best? John McPhee is a professor of journalism at Princeton, writes for The New Yorker and has published over thirty books. Let me also tell you that “Draft No. 4” could have easily fallen in the trap of being preachy and pedantic, which it doesn’t. McPhee makes you see how writing is – truly is for those who are writers and also for those who want to become writers.

What I loved about the book is that I could identify with most of it. For instance, McPhee states that while you might write for only two to four hours a day, your mind is working twenty-four hours on the book. He also mentions of “the elegance in the less ambiguous ways” – for instance, the turn of the phrase or where to place the bracket words (he does get to technique as well).

This is a collection of essays that doesn’t take away from the joy of writing. It lends to it beautifully. He of course says and advises the way he has to, but also gives you room to come up with your comfort rules of writing. The ones that actually work for you. So why must you read this book then? Because it will open your mind to going back to the basics of writing (which is what every writer says but most don’t really know what they are talking about) and implement them in your way to your advantage. McPhee makes it seem simple (not without mentioning its cons and the power of writing to drive you crazy sometimes) and at the same time ironically tells you that your fourth draft perhaps will be the best one, ready to publish.

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The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year That Changed Literature by Bill Goldstein

The World Broke In Two Title: Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster and the Year That Changed Literature
Author: Bill Goldstein
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.
ISBN: 978-0805094022
Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography, Literary Non-Fiction
Pages: 368
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

To want to read a book since a while and then to actually read it and not be disappointed by it is kicking Murphy’s behind. I had to say this because I was apprehensive about whether or not I would enjoy reading “The World Broke in Two”. I love books centered around literary events and what happened in the past between authors and what were the circumstances like. You get the drift. This book is about the year 1922 and four authors that changed the course of English Literature – Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, Thomas Stearns Eliot, and Edward Morgan Foster. Each battling with their personal demons and on the side trying to make sense of their professional lives and where they fit in in the scheme of things.

“The World Broke in Two” is a fascinating read and I don’t mean it in the loose sense of the word. I really do mean it. If you have interest in history, books, the creative process, and more so the changes that took place after WWI, then this is the book for you. I don’t mean to broaden the scope of this book, but it can be classified over genres and that is also the beauty of this title.

What I loved the most about this book is how Goldstein brings to fore the various writing processes of these four authors. He describes the process in detail, not to forget the anguish of these writers, the self-loathing at most times and how they also learned from each other. For instance, how E.M. Forster learned from Woolf when she gave him a copy of Jacob’s room. The book is layered with anecdotes and what is wondrous is that it is almost like a Russian doll when it comes to discovering more books to read for a novice reader. Goldstein very tactfully blends the historical with the literary – neither of which feel too much of at any given point in the book. The book if anything, reads like a novel.

Goldstein does not shy away from speaking of the authors’ mental and physical challenges and how they sometimes became an impediment and at others a catalyst to surge ahead. “The World Broke in Two” is a stunning read about four authors, the worlds inhabited by them and at the core of it, their writing which is paramount to this book.

Fresh Complaint: Stories by Jeffrey Eugenides

Fresh Complaint Title: Fresh Complaint: Stories
Author: Jeffrey Eugenides
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374203061
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction
Pages: 304
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Jeffrey Eugenides’ writing has come a long way. Who am I to judge that? His ardent fan. One of his ardent fans, who could not get enough of The Virgin Suicides or Middlesex or The Marriage Plot (weakest among the three and yet, I loved it to bits). One of his fans who cannot stop raving about his new book “Fresh Complaint”, a collection of short stories that shows family love, discovery of the self, adolescence, identity and what it means to be American (well, not all the time) through ten stunning stories (two of them which I found to be off, but loved them nonetheless).

I have also always believed that writing short stories is way more difficult than the novel. Short stories have to be taut. You cannot take liberties with time and space as you would in a novel and that makes them even more difficult when it comes to engaging with readers. In Eugenides’ stories we meet people who are broken, who are whole, who go through life in a daze and some who think they have it all under control and stumble only to realize that this isn’t the life they wanted anyway.

My favourite stories in this collection are “Baster” – which is funny and yet so tragic and also “Air Mail” – which is about Mitchell whose story was left hanging in The Marriage Plot and this story somewhat gives it closure. “Complainers”, the first story in the collection is about dementia, old age and above all of the beautiful friendship two women share over the years. And last but not the least, I absolutely could not get enough of the title story. “Fresh Complaint” is a story that could very well have been a novel. It is the story of a high school student whose wish to escape her immigrant family has consequences on a British physicists’ life beyond repair.

Characters in this collection are not kind all the time. They are just human. Eugenides allows his characters to make their mistakes, live their dreams and see regrets for what they are. He takes you to uncomfortable places and is not apologetic about it. These stories date from 1989 to 2017, out of which eight were previously published (I hadn’t read any). “Fresh Complaint” is a collection of stories that are real, insightful and dark, allowing characters to hide, to be seen and not without some humour as well.

 

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong

GV Title: Goodbye, Vitamin
Author: Rachel Khong
Publisher: Henry Holt
ISBN: 9781471159480
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 196
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Off-late, I’ve been reading a lot of literary fiction (as I always do), but have hardly come across books that are both literary and funny. “Goodbye, Vitamin” is one such book. The story is of Ruth (but not just her, you come to know as you go along) who comes back home to her parents, after receiving a call from her mother Annie when her father is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Don’t get me wrong – the book isn’t funny funny as much as it is full of wry humour and irony, which most certainly worked for me.

Howard Young is a prominent history professor who doesn’t know what is happening to him. He seems to be lost and is mostly isn’t aware of his condition. His wife is of the opinion that almost all food isn’t good for his health, which leaves him with very few options to eat. Ruth is trying to come to terms with a break-up.

This being the plot of the book is not all. The issue of identity, belonging and what happens when a parent faces dementia is heart-breaking. Khong tells the story with such tenderness that as a reader you do nothing but give in. The book is constructed in the form of journal entries and what happens through one year (I think) and how it impacts these characters, day by day.

I love the storytelling style. While it isn’t new, it somehow makes you more engaged as a reader. You want to know more. You feel like you are snooping on someone else’s life and somehow it is alright. This isn’t a feel-good novel but it does have its moments and the balance makes it even better, if you ask me. Added to that, it looks at perspectives of outsiders as well – friends, neighbours, colleagues and that provides another layer to the story.

Khong’s writing is simple. There are no frills. I love when the author is so sure about what he or she is doing that there are no fillers in the book. “Goodbye, Vitamin” is not only that kind of book but it is also the kind of book that is very comforting.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Publisher: TOR Books
ISBN: 978-0765376466
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 416
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I have always been wary of reading fantasy and high-fantasy at that. In my mind, there are so many plots and sub-plots to follow that I lose track of all of them and then the names in these books – almost difficult to remember and recall when needed. I would always have to go back and see where did I encounter a particular character and what happened to them. However, that doesn’t deter me to read fantasy novels, that I want to or the ones I have loved before of a certain author. It takes me time to finish it, or the series but I do get around anyhow. This time though, “A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E. Schwab – the first book in the Shades of Magic trilogy surprised me. I started and finished it in almost a span of three days and that’s saying lot, giving I was reading multiple books at the same time.

“A Darker Shade of Magic” is about multiple Londons and magic. These are parallel Londons – The Grey, The Red, The White and once upon a time, there was The Black London as well. And at the center of all of this is Kell – one of the last Antari – magicians with a rare ability to travel between these Londons. Before I say anything further about the book, let me say something about the author and her writing style. Schwab doesn’t spoon-feed the plot to you. She doesn’t explain anything right at the beginning. You are not served, so to say. You need to figure things as a reader. Now back to the book: Kell is not only a messenger of Red London (belonging to the Royal Family) but he is also a collector of trinkets and often risks bending some rules to collect these. We don’t know much about Kell till of course the plot unfurls and then you cannot wait to know more about him.

By the time you have almost gotten into Kell’s part, you meet Lila Bard – the thief so to say in Grey London and is far more enthusiastic than the greyness and gloom of this London. The story then becomes very interesting when Kell’s and Lila’s path cross (of course that’s a given), given Lila wants an adventure and Kell perhaps needs something else which he isn’t aware of. And before you know it, it is up to them to save all of the worlds from the deadliest enemy of them all.

Schwab’s writing is quick. She doesn’t waste them. You get to know about the characters by their actions, not as much as the author telling you about them. So, there is more showing, which is how it should be. Kell and Lila of course are multi-faceted and layered, and at the same time, you know exactly how they will react at times – you are that comfortable with them as a reader. You come across some really bad-ass villains which you will come to hate and the idea is that they just want to reintroduce vitari magic (you will learn of this as well) in all of Londons, thereby keeping them open to immense destruction. The characters are excellent. The plot is without any loop-holes and brilliantly conceptualized. More than anything, the writing is super. I cannot wait to finish the trilogy.