Summer Sabbatical | Madhu Bazaz Wangu
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Summer Sabbatical

Summer Sabbatical

I started 2008 by writing short stories. By the end of May I was working on my sixth. In June, as always, I shift my attention to reading. For me, June, July and August are focused reading months with only a smattering of writing.
During spring/summer months I read on the back deck, sip my morning tea and breathe in the scent of morning glories, marigolds and mums. I read on the plane, on the beach, in bookstores and only sometimes in my study, when it rains. I drink a cup of coffee. I read and think about what I have read. I highlight the lines that teach and inspire.

This spring I started with Doris Lessing’s Stories followed by Isabel Allende’s The Stories of Eva Luna. Finally, I read Roald Dahl’s Collected Short Stories. The three authors have strong writing styles and authoritative voices. So, in between I had to clear my palate by reading about writing. This helped me to shift from fictional dream of one author, come back to earth and move on to the next author.

In her thirty-five stories Lessing shows her artistry, her mastery of words. A realist, her theme of ordinary men and women in marriage and other relationships reflect each character’s psychological make up. Her stories express the dangers social systems face if they neglect their women. Yet she reassured me that women have lived and continue to live rich lives.
Her knowledge and sensitivity of her characters’ frame of mind is superb and information about their lives enormous. She transported me to a world populated by ordinary people under complex social and familial situations.
In between this and the next book, I read Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer. She believes that anyone can learn the magic of writing, that writers are magicians.

Isabel Allende’s twenty-three stories were seductive, sensuous and intoxicating. They stirred passion and love through the beliefs, convictions, and honor of the characters that her fictional dream evoked. At times, the narrative ran through several pages but it was not boring because the characters enchanted and loved. Like the thorny cactus in the shimmering deserts of Latin America and Chile they bruised and allured.
Allende captures a whole life in a few sentences. She juxtaposes day-to-day life with miracles, the ordinary with the supernatural and lets the two contrasting situations affect one another. The sights, sounds and tastes came alive. The experiences were universal.

This time I had to clear my palate with someone intellectual, someone as non-sensuous and non-sensual as V.S. Naipaul. I read his Reading and Writing: A Personal Account. This made me realize that some writers are prodigies but for some others writing style and voice comes slowly, in spurts. In both cases, however, the magical art of writing is a grueling process.

My last summer reading was light. Like candy and cashews, Roald Dahl’s forty-eight stories are addictive. So unpredictable! I was never sure if the hero or the villain was going to win in the end. Somewhere in each tale a twist is injected. While in Allende’s stories everyday co-exists with supernatural, in Dahl’s stories macabre malice springs from the ordinary. He crafts humor with sophistication, yet his humor is sadistic. In his delightfully moral and unsentimental tales he juxtaposes scenes and people that jolted me but never out of his world of dreams.

It is September now and I am absorbing the essence of my summer reading. Although my particular interests, spirituality and aesthetics, seem to be far removed from the fictional world of the three authors I read, each one of them has inspired me. Their creative styles and individual voices have stirred my imagination. I am to weave the apparition created thus to write my next four short stories by the end of this year.
Summer spoils me, changes my habits. I have to force myself each morning to sit down and write at least 500 words a day. In May I wrote 1000. I will get back to that. I get a feeling of deep satisfaction when I write the quota of the day.

1 Comment
  • “the magical art of writing is a grueling process”

    Ay, isn’t that the truth?!

    Glad you had a chance to escape the writing process to enjoy a few books this summer. I hope it let you relax, unwind, and absorb so that you have a productive fall. Considering you wrote 6 short stories earlier this year in a relatively short period of time, I have no doubt you could do it again!

    September 9, 2008 at 6:02 pm

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