Saturday, May 09, 2015

On Female Authors I've Read - 1

When I look back at the books that I have read in last 10 years, which happen to form the bulk of my reading, I realize that I have not read as many female authors as male. It is not that I completely overlooked the works of female writers but the list is smaller in comparison. Perhaps it is because I was never able to take a fancy to the female authors whose work I have read. Therefore, unlike Ruskin Bond, Jose Saramago or Haruki Murakami, whose multiple books form the part of my reading shelf, I hardly possess more than one book of any female author. It is not as if female authors are completely neglected. From the likes of Doris Lessing and Alice Munro to mainstream authors like Elif Shafak and then a number of authors in native Indian Languages, including the likes of Ismat Chugtai, Indira Goswami, Quratulain Haider and Mridula Garg, I have done my bit of reading, though not as extensive as the works of male authors.

In this multi-part blog post, I have decided to recall some of the female authors, and their works, that I have read over the years, with a hope that this exercise will inspire me to read their other works, or perhaps explore other female authors.

I begin with Doris Lessing and Alice Munro, two authors of supreme quality and paragons of storytelling and craft. In Doris Lessing's case, I think I picked the wrong book (The Cleft). Perhaps I should have started with her classic Shikasta, but when I read that there are five books that form the series (Known as Canopus in Argos), I backed off. My plan was to read something else to get familiar with Doris Lessing's style and once I have acquainted myself with it, I will pick the five-part Shikasta. Sadly, The Cleft did not inspire me enough to pick another Doris Lessing book. Not that it was a bad book; the basic idea of reimagining the very start of humankind, and that too from a feministic point of view, was interesting and so was her take on relationship between men and women, something that she attempts to explore from a very primal perspective. Yet, for all its ambition, the novel was not exciting enough. On a side note though, Doris Lessing, who died few years ago, remains itched in my memory for her cute reaction on winning the Nobel (, it just lights you up and brings a smile on your face.

Alice Munro’s was a different case. For last few years, I have been receiving a Murakami book as my birthday gift, my wife well versed about my preferences. The Nobel Prize for literature is usually announced around the same time and for few years running Haruki Murakami’s name has been circulating in media speculation as the frontrunner. However, Murakami has been constantly overlooked in favour of someone else, like it was in 2013 when Canadian author Alice Munro, a master short story teller, won it. Therefore, it was out of curiosity that I picked one of her books, Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage (Interesting name), in Cincinnati. The book has around ten stories, though I have so far managed to read only one. Strangely enough, though I thoroughly enjoyed this story, somehow I never managed to go beyond that one story.

Often when I travel to a particular country, I pick up books of authors from that country. I bought Elif Shafak’s Forty Rules of Love in Istanbul, following the recommendation of the shop owner (His obvious suggestion was Pamuk, but I have already read him before). A quick read in comparison to say The Cleft, and a bestseller in several countries, the book, which keeps switching between modern day America and 13th century Persia and is high on Sufism, somehow came across as too sweet to me, a bit like Sufi version of Mills and Boons. Especially the narrative set in modern times. Whereas Rumi and his relationship with Shams Tabrizi (who, instead of Rumi, happens to be the central character) makes up for great reading (my inclination towards historical fiction perhaps resulting in the bias), the second narrative come across as superficial and unreal in comparison. A light read, but not good enough to make me an Elif Shafak fan.

In next post, I will list some of the female writers from India and their works that I have read.