Monday, May 25, 2009

“What or who do you read if or when you are not writing?”

ERIC FORBES asked seven writers who will be appearing at the 2009 Ubud Writers and Readers Festival on October 7-11, 2009, what they read for pleasure

MICHELLE CAHILL, author of The Accidental Cage, a collection of poetry: “When I’m not writing, I read newspapers; I like The Age, The Monthly and The Guardian. I read blogs like 3Quarks Daily, Facebook and literary journals, my favourite being the Asia Literary Review, Heat, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore and New Quest (India). I like fiction when I have the time, I read lots of poetry ... and, for my day job I read the odd medical journal.”

KATE GRENVILLE, author of The Lieutenant, the Man Booker Prize-shortlisted The Secret River and the Orange Prize-winning The Idea of Perfection: “I’m never not writing, so a lot of my reading has a (usually oblique) connection to the current project. Part of my next book will be set in New Zealand, so I’ve been belatedly catching up with some of the history of that country, and have been shocked at my ignorance about it. I’ve also been reading about pubs and publicans in Australia in the 1830s and ’40s—the current project is about my great-great-grandmother, the illiterate wife of a publican in the tiny town of Currabubula, New South Wales. For pleasure, I’ve been rereading Robert Drewe’s latest collection of stories called The Rip—absolutely wonderful writing, very funny, but also very perceptive. I also read the Australian literary magazine Heat, which collects a wonderful mix of pieces in every issue; there are always a couple I scribble notes all over because they’ve sparked off a few ideas.”

MO ZHI HONG, whose first novel, The Year of the Shanghai Shark, won the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (Southeast Asia and South Pacific): “My reading time is quite short these days, unfortunately. I do read a bit online when I can—articles, magazines and blogs. James Fallows’s blog is one that a friend of mine recommended and that I look at when I can, and Seed magazine (a science magazine) is another. With respect to fiction, I tend to try to find things that aren’t too hefty length-wise, because of time constraints. I recently read Paula Morris’s Forbidden Cities, a collection of stories that was recently shortlisted for the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best Book (Southeast Asia and South Pacific), and Saul Bellow’s The Actual, which is a slim, great read. Anything large I want to read I save for holidays.”

MOHAMMED HANIF, author of A Case of Exploding Mangoes, overall winner of the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book: “Mostly newspapers and some blogs, and also an occasional short story. I have just started rereading Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I hope to finish it during this summer.”

ALICE PUNG, author of the funny and engrossing memoir, Unpolished Gem: “I read decisions about minimum-wage workers and wages for employees with disability. My ‘break’ from writing is my full-time day job, thankfully one that I love. I usually have three books going on at once—a fiction, a nonfiction, and a ‘wildcard book.’ At the moment I am reading Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed which is a nonfiction book about a journalist who spent a year working in minimum-wage jobs in America—as this is the area of law in which I practise; a fictional book called The Slap by an Australian writer named Christos Tsiolkas about the consequences when a man slaps a boy who is not his son at a barbeque, and Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others, an essay about how we react to images of war and torture.”

VIKAS SWARUP, author of Q&A (Slumdog Millionaire) and Six Suspects: “The task of fiction is to illuminate life, preferably with the dull bits left out. I love reading fiction because it allows me to immerse myself in another world, a world created by the writer. I cannot name any one favourite author. I like books which are straightforward and have characters that are well fleshed out. Some of my all-time favourite books are: Albert Camus’s The Outsider, J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace, Franz Kafka’s The Trial, George Orwell’s 1984, John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”

JEET THAYIL, author of These Errors Are Correct, a collection of poetry: “What you read leaks into your writing whether you want it to or not. I’m careful about what I look at when I’m working. If anything, it’s probably poetry. What I don’t read is newspapers and I don’t watch TV. That can suck the heart out of your day. I’m always looking for distraction, so it’s safer not to have a TV in the house. When I’m not writing it’s a whole other story. I read cookbooks for pleasure, and I read crime thrillers, the bloodier the better. I also like reference books, old books, field guides to birds, Aztec history, travel guides, trashy newspapers, mindless Hollywood. There are times I crave print. To the extent that if I find myself somewhere without anything to read, I’ll pore over the directions on a tea bag or tube of sunscreen. It’s a habit, reading, and I mean habit in the sense of addiction.”

Interviews by Eric Forbes, Tan May Lee and Janet Tay


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Eric. I enjoyed reading this!

Sunday, May 24, 2009 4:12:00 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home