How does reading about Barack Obama’s father shape world literature? Is the literary world a conglomerate that follows trends or patterns? Then, does it not oppose the very idea of creativity?
In a poll conducted by the international writing magazine Wasafiri 25 writers were asked about the books that have shaped world literature, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude topped the list. This book even in its translated version is older than 25 years. There is no doubt that it remains a delight in the magic realist genre and is fabulously nuanced and loaded with symbolism.
One of the primary reasons mentioned for its choice is, "Apart from the fact that it's an amazing book, it taught western readers tolerance for other perspectives."
Are we assuming that the West must decide? Have there been no literary efforts in other languages precluding English? Not all of the writers polled are considered huge names. Therefore, this sort of survey is obviously the opinion of 25 people. Is it any better than a random reader poll?
These are essentially reviewer type pat choices. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita has been chosen for its “astonishing virtuoso performance, which has never been excelled". Never according to whom? One writer. Is literature a performance? How do we measure excellence? And if it has not been bettered then how has it influenced world literature at all? Aren’t creative efforts about growth, even if – better if – it is tangential?
Is Raymond Carver’s work important because, "Thousands of young writers have been taught to pare their work to the bone”? Are we talking about literature as an editing course?
Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters was chosen for "a new form of intimate poetry, quite different from Robert Lowell's confessional verse". Is poor Lowell the only one into confessional verse? And what is intimate poetry? Writing about intimate things or getting the reader to get intimately involved in the process of such work and its thoughts and metaphors?
Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Satanic Verses figure as well. I was curious about the latter. How would this book qualify as one that influenced the literary world? Are we talking about writing, pushing the envelope or inviting controversy? What was Rushdie’s literary topography to begin with? A religious book. Would he agree that he was influenced by it and therefore his effect on literature is a reflection of the effect of the Quran? Has his work seminally induced a genre of parodist writing? I am not too sure. Those who took on religious ideas did so from different perspectives – there was the modernist view, the alterative sexuality view, the view from the reverent side. And there have been several forms of irreverent writing before Verses.
I am quite amazed that in 25 years the Obama memoir, Dreams from My Father, made it. The reason: It is "definitely the most influential book historically, but … also a work of literature too, beautifully written, and the product of deep, open-hearted reflection".
Most influential historically? I do not think it is because he traces his father’s life. It is because he is the President of America and a product from a certain background. I cannot comprehend this obsession with the ‘difference’ being highlighted continually.
I suspect some books and literary figures get chosen because writers are sometimes not willing to take the onus of their own ideas.
Creativity is a lonely hunter and you may not find the big kill but, wait – can you feel the adrenaline rush? That is inspiration and perspiration enough.
(c) Farzana Versey