Archive for the ‘Friday Round-up’ Category

It’s been a rough start to 2015, hasn’t it? I hope that wherever you are, in whatever corner of this beautiful, complex and devastating world, you are safe and well. In light of the events in Paris, the senseless violence, it feels trite to post about the other musings and reflections that caught my attention this past week. However, as always, they focus on art and writing, and while it may be difficult to believe this week that the pen is mightier than the sword, it’s important, necessary even, that we uphold this belief to be true. Because the alternative is just too terrifying.

Kathak dance

Chitresh Das

Pandit Chitresh Das. Photo by Marty Sohl.

On Sunday, January 4th, Pandit Chitresh Das, guru (in the true meaning of the word) to my own kathak dance teacher, passed away suddenly. He represented an increasingly rare combination of talent, dedication, vision and energy. That he should pass away with such suddenness, like a flame snuffed out, is a shock to all, and yet, somehow, the only fitting way, just much, much too soon. He would not have abided by a drawn-out farewell. And now, that flame burns on in the hundreds of students he has taught, in his own disciples, amazing artists in their own right, in whom he cultivated the strength and vision to continue his legacy.

Here is a collection of clips of him and of his incredible dance company performing and practicing. Do take a look, you’ll be enriched. For a brief glimpse into his history, read this lovely remembrance. Dancers from my own dance organization, Chhandika, closely affiliated with Pandit Das’ school in California, share their reactions here. And writer Sandip Roy pulls together a good audio clip here.

Indian literature: the Murty Classical Library

Harvard University Press sets about to make the vast and diverse classical literature of India accessible to the general reader. This means some 500 books over the course of the next century (imagine starting a 100-year project!) in over a dozen languages. The series “debunks the myth of a Hindu orthodoxy as being the only classicism we have,” said Arshia Sattar, an independent scholar and translator in Bangalore. (Thanks to Michael Warres for bringing this to my attention.)

Meanwhile, Columbia professor John H. McWhorter predicts that in a hundred years, “it is possible that only 600 languages will be left on the planet as opposed to today’s 6,000.”

Literary podcasts

Friend and fellow author Nayomi Munaweera, whose book, Island of a Thousand Mirrors, is a beautiful, devastating and necessary read, recently put out a call for literary podcast suggestions. The answers came pouring in, and I look forward to exploring them. They included:

OtherPpl with Brad Listi (via Neelanjana Banerjee)
Bookworm (also via Neelanjana)
A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment with Sherman Alexie and Jess Walter (via Andrea Gutierrez @AndreaGtrrz)
Rachel Cruz’s The Blood-Jet Radio (via Melissa Rae Sipin-Gabon)
New Yorker Fiction (via Miriam Leah Medow)
Selected Shorts (also via Miriam)

To which I add the BookRiot podcast, The Readers, and Books On the Nightstand. Now if only I had a little commute during which to listen to such things.

Writing and women: Why do Women Have to Abandon Their Lives to Find Themselves? In defense of civilized self-discovery.

Freelance writer Elissa Strauss wrote about her ambivalence about “Wild,” the book by Cheryl Strayed that was recently made into a movie starring Reese Witherspoon. It’s a thought provoking read, and the comment string on the Facebook page of a group to which I belong was long, respectful, engaged, analytical and well written. The type of online discussion that rekindles my faith in humanity. It raised issues of “finding oneself,” of the privilege of trying to do so, of women feeling they need to leave everything behind, of groundedness in nature versus “civilization,” of whether women should or do expect to find their reflections in the stories of others, of finding one’s way “through” versus “out,” and more.

 

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#WeNeedDiverseBooksIt’s been a while since I’ve done a Friday round-up, but I’m eager to restart, and this week has been one of plentiful material on the various topics I tend to follow. And I like to share.

Books:
All lists are subjective and incomplete, and often omit entries one feels should be included, but here’s a list of books to add to your To Be Read pile, from the Washington Post’s list of “top 50 books for 2014.”

The cyber-waves were all a flutter over the past couple of days, for good reason, about Daniel Handler’s (a.k.a Lemony Snicket) racist gaffe in his speech at the National Book Award ceremony, wherein he made a crack about Jaqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming, being allergic to watermelons. (Yoinks! Who says such things? I guess we know who.) To his credit, Handler apologized for his comment (which of course he says he meant as a joke) in a very real way: not just words, but a pledge to contribute $10,000 to the We Need Diverse Books campaign, and to match donations for 24 hours up to $100,000. That, folks, is a meaningful apology, although of course it does not erase or excuse the shameful behavior. I hurried over to make a donation.

On the topic of racism, Toni Morrison (swoon) says it like it is, with her trademark perceptiveness and gentle tone, on the Stephen Colbert show. If you don’t already love the woman and her writing, this will convert you. Makes me want to read Beloved all over again. (Thanks to Anjali Enjeti for calling this to my attention. The world should have more Anjalis, methinks.)

And in other Fabulous Author news, Ursula K. Le Guin makes a moving tribute to “writers of the imagination” and to books as art. Do take a look/listen.

Meantime, I just finished Nayomi Munaweera’s Island of a Thousand Mirrors, a very powerful book set during the decades long war between Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. Raw and devastating, it is also sweet and loving. A slim volume, an engrossing read.

Kids’ book club:

The fact that I run a children’s book club has garnered more attention than I ever anticipated. Attention was never what I was seeking. However, I’m glad to have been featured a few months ago in the Boston Globe, to have a piece on Parenting.com on the dos and don’ts of kids’ book clubs, and just today I had fun being interviewed by Barbara Dooley of the Barbara Dooley Show based out of Athens, GA. She wanted to know all about my motivation to start the club, and any advice I have for those wanting to do the same. This month, we are reading Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor, which is proving to be a somewhat wacky, incredibly creative and altogether enjoyable read set in Nigeria. How can this urban planner not love a young adult book that mentions, on the first page, the Lagos electricity company?

Urban planning:

Take a peek at Le Corbusier’s legacy in India via this series of photos by Paris-based photographer Manuel Bougot in Chandigarh. A different side of India.

Indian dance:

Here is a heart-warming and powerful story about a young woman with Down Syndrome who put in years of focused study to achieve what is a rite of passage for may Indian girls: the bharatanatyam “arangetram,” a solo performance. “Her father tells the crowd that [Hema] Ramaswamy’s arangetram was more than a dance graduation; it was the day she became, in the eyes of the world, a full individual.” This young woman’s strength and determination are inspiring. Additional photography by Preston Merchant.

Parenting:

This article needs very little description. It’s a spot on, non-blaming, humorously written description of what it means to be the “default” parent—the one who knows the kids’ shoe sizes, the dates of friends’ birthday parties, the location of the favorite barrette (on the floor of the living room behind the arm chair, mental note made at some point in anticipation a getting-ready-for-school meltdown). If you are the default parent, every single line will resonate with you. If you are not, you’ll gain new appreciation for the one who is.

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Train on Wiesener Viadukt, Switzerland. Photo by David Gubler (www.bahnbilder.ch) via Wikimedia Commons

Train on Wiesener Viadukt, Switzerland. Photo by David Gubler (www.bahnbilder.ch) via Wikimedia Commons

(Rather conveniently, as you’ll see below, this was the Photo of the Day on Wikimedia Commons today.)

I’ve been away (on the exquisite shores of Curaçao, in the Dutch Antilles), but in the few days since my return, a few good nuggets have caught my attention:

India and film/photography

First and foremost, this gorgeously shot and completely fascinating film on the Aghori sadhus (holy men) of Varanasi, India. Very timely, as yesterday was the Maha Shivaratri festival celebrating Lord Shiva. Three young men–photographers and filmmakers–spent weeks on the banks of the Ganges among these holy men whose closeness to death, skulls and human ashes makes them both controversial and revered. Put life on hold and do watch this, then also check out these accompanying photos. Thanks to Farhana Huq for calling my attention to these.

Books and photographs

On the subject of photographs, here is another set, with very different subjects. This is what a librarian looks like. Any surprises?

The business of books

I found these statistics, on newspaper book reviews, reviewers and gender, thought provoking. Are female book reviewers likely to skew their reviewing toward women authors? What do you expect?

And while we’re talking of book reviews:
Do we really need negative book reviews? What is the value of criticism that is “unable or unwilling to criticize?” Should one go by the old adage, if you have nothing nice to say…? (via Randy Susan Meyers)

Writing

The world of writers was abuzz last week with Amtrak’s announcement that it is putting together a program of free or low-cost rides for writers wanting to use them as a writing retreat. As both a writer and an infrastructure planner (in a previous life), I was immediately deluged by vivid memories of train rides throughout my life, slicing through European countryside nibbling on butter cookies (edges and corners first) with my parents and brother, stopping in the middle of the night for the passport control in the Alps between France and Switzerland, piling onto the French TGV with classmates and mounds of duffel bags for an eighth grade school trip to the Mediterranean coast, peeing into the hole in the bathroom of the first class car of a train cutting through the dusty middle of India and watching the clankety tracks whizz by underneath, spilling apple juice all over my copy of Watership Down at the age of 11 as a train leaned into a curve, climbing up into the hills north of Tokyo among the cherry blossoms and mineral-green waterfalls in the Shikansen with my three year old’s head, heavy with sleep, cutting off the circulation in my thigh.

Needless to say, trains conjure up memories, descriptions, feelings of excitement, new ideas. What better location to sit and write? I’ll be following Amtrak’s program with much interest.

India and infrastructure

Google Maps has announced the availability of Street View and See Inside in India. There’s a slight creepiness to the fact that one can clearly see the people who happened to be at those spots when the pictures were taken, but at least a reasonable effort has been made to blur their faces. From a research standpoint, this ability to view specific locations is very useful. One can get an accurate sense, for example, of how far one can see from the rooftop of the Jaisalmer fort (click on the little yellow figure on the bottom right for the dots to appear that represent areas you can explore). Or how the shadows lengthen across a certain courtyard at sunset.

And now I want to get on a train and leave frigid Massachusetts and its dirt-encrusted snow for Rajasthan.

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Geological notebook, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Geological notebook, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Literature

What makes a book a classic? Italo Calvino suggests “a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” Lovely. Perhaps he has a similarly compelling way of defining a book that is “literary?” I’d welcome that. This Salon article explores some angles of the debate. Should the author be dead? Should the work be widely studied? Should it change lives? And what does that mean, anyway?

And:

This woman read one book from every country of the world. This type of goal strikes me as gimmicky–I’ll do this thing for one year and blog about it and develop a following–but it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t interest me as well. My recent attempt to find well-reviewed translations of middle grade literature (for the fourth grade book club) set in different regions of the world and NOT written by a westerner has been frustrating. The lack of translated work in the US in general is disappointing. So it is with interest that I look at this article and this woman’s list.

So on a related note: Asia and Children’s Lit

I’ve known about author Mitali Perkins for a while, especially as she resides in the same state as I do, and I was delighted to discover, through her blog, the web site of the South Asia Book Award (for children’s literature). I used it to pick out some selections for next month’s reading options, including Padma Venkatraman’s Island’s End.

Education and learning

Do you take notes on paper or on screen? I grew up in France where classes were given lecture-style as early as middle school. French children learn to take notes efficiently, filling notebooks which they then use to study for the baccalauréat exams at the end of their senior year. (At least, this is how it was 2-3 decades ago. I guess I might be in for a surprise were I to venture into a French collège today.) From this experience I’ve retained a penchant for pen and paper note-taking, even when surrounded by people tapping away on laptops and other devices. This article, therefore, is satisfying to me. Learning, it would seem, is deeper and more lasting when transmitted to the brain via longhand note-taking.

Craft of writing

One writer’s fundamentals. Writer Laura Harrington reminds us with clarity and simplicity of what it is easy to lose sight of when one is in the depths of creative writing. Excellent tidbits to post here and there in your writing space.

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Mithila painters. Photo by Abhishek Singh, via Wikimedia Commons

Mithila painters. Photo by Abhishek Singh, via Wikimedia Commons

I’m adding in some categories that weren’t here last week, mixing it up a bit, although many are related and overlapping. Happy perusing this weekend.

Storytelling

This one is hard to categorize, but I’ll use “storytelling” because it will suck you in. A beautiful and astonishing piece on exorcising the “hungry ghosts” after the 2011 tsunami in Japan. (Via author Ruth Ozeki who, I have to point out since I’ve been scrutinizing author photos recently, has a fantastic photo of herself on her site.)

Writing. But also filmmaking, and women.

Picking up on Dodai Stewart’s declaration on Jezebel that 2013 was “a great year for women over 40” in film and television, Bloom contributor Vicraj Gill continues with some great links about the negative impact that age can have on a writer’s prospects (and the advantages of ebooks and social media in that respect), the reasons for which publication shouldn’t be the sole differentiation between “writer” and “non-writer”, and more.

Writing–craft and business

Grub Street Writers has posted a preview of its offerings this year’s The Muse & the Marketplace conference, taking place in Boston May 1st through 3rd. I highly, highly recommend attending this conference. The caliber of the workshops, the quality of the services, the camaraderie, the opportunities for networking have all served me greatly over the past seven years since I first attended. (And this year, I get to be one of the presenters!)

India

Professor Veena Talwar Oldenberg, author of one of my bibles of research for my work in progress, narrates this entertaining story relating to mass sterilization efforts in India in the 70s. (Men might want to skip the minimally graphic yet still squirm-inducing drawing of a vasectomy at the start of the article.) And yes, the story is entertaining for the humor with which it is told. But a lot of people were far from entertained. Let’s not forget that.

Art, and South Asia

At the end of February, Syracuse University is presenting a symposium devoted to South Asian folk art traditions around the world. Watch a compelling video about Rani Jha, master painter and teacher at the Mithila Art Institute in Madhubani, whose inner fire is apparent under her calm and thoughtful demeanor.

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The walls of old Delhi

The walls of old Delhi. Via Wikimedia Commons

 

New year, new feature: the Friday Round-up. Below are some features that I found noteworthy over the past week of so (although not necessarily dated within the past week). Filed under some of the rubrics that tend to garner my attention. Morsels for the mind and soul.

Art (Photography)

A while ago I discovered Tasveer Journal, an online magazine for photography in India and elsewhere, and I was struck by many of the collections and articles it features. For example: spend some time with Renunciation. These photographs that Pooja Jain has taken of the world of Jain nuns in Rajasthan will transport you to another time and place, not only of this planet but perhaps of your mind as well.

And in a completely different direction: the pictures that Elena Shumilova takes of her children and animals on her farm are magical. They will make your heart sing, if it doesn’t melt first. The noble, shaggy creature in the first few reminds me of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In fact, many of these look taken out of a fairy tale. The comment stream is interesting, if not particularly eloquent, because of the debate regarding photoshopping and other means of altering an image. Is it the photographer’s natural skill with a camera that matters most, or the final image?

India

This article in The Atlantic, and its accompanying videos, depicts a certain side of the Indian capital: what is left today of Delhi as a sanctuary. (This is not the Delhi that has been so infamously featured in the news of late.) Over the last eight centuries, wave upon wave of immigrants have washed into Delhi, seeking refuge. By conservative estimates, there are now about 30,000 refugees in the city, says the article. Video interviews put a human face to their experiences: an Afghan man who has yet, after 26 years, to feel a sense of accomplishment; a Burmese doctor offering free health care; a musician who found an opportunity which never existed for him at home.

Meanwhile, photographer Stephanie Sinclair, who has dedicated herself to documenting the harmful repercussions of child marriage, shares these pictures of young children in Rajasthan who have taken a stand against their own parents and refused to be married. Cynics may point to the fact that this is yet another western woman going into the dark recesses of Indian society and pulling out horror stories, but the mission is undeniably important, and these snapshots are compelling.

Food

This series has been going around for a while, but it never grows old, and it certainly bears looking at several times: what a week of groceries looks like around the world. As they say in France, sans commentaire.

Journalism

“This is Danny Pearl’s final story.” Intense, and very well told. A decade after journalist Daniel Pearl is beheaded on video (the story and images are haunting), his close friend and colleague Asra Nomani comes face to face with his killer at Guantánamo.

The craft of writing

“The what of the story … doesn’t matter one whit if you’re missing the why.” Read this piece by Ann Bauer who brings home the importance of focusing on reader-based writing, not writer-based writing.

The business of writing

“Should Women’s Fiction Have its Own Category?” Don’t get me started. Just about anyone who writes, and probably anyone who purchases books, is likely to have an opinion about this. The idea of categorization is on my mind these days as my publisher needs to provide the distributor with three categories in which to place my book. Here’s one take on the subject, by Yael Goldstein Love: that category needs to go. (via Lisa Borders.)

Writing and India

The Code of Writing: Vikram Chandra’s quest to recover his Indian self.” On computer programming, Sanskrit, storytelling and the culturally split self, among other things. Lengthy, but a good read, especially if you have read at least part of Vikram Chandra’s body of work. (I highly recommend Love and Longing in Bombay.)

Urban history & development

The historical soundscape of New York City. Here is a fun reconstruction of the sounds of the city in the Roaring Twenties.

Art (Dance)

Returning to the stage at 55, and with an artificial hip, Alvin Ailey dancer Elizabeth Roxas-Dobrish has some beautiful reflections and video footage here. “When you’re younger, you have everything — you have the flexibility, you have no fear. But you don’t savor every step, every movement of every fingertip, every beat of the music. I feel like I’m tasting food for the first time.”

 

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