The last word: learning from your readers

I had another book club for A Deconstructed Heart and had a delightful afternoon with a great group of women. It always surprises me how different readers can interpret my book differently and come to wonderfully opposing points of view about the same characters. The whole experience was an interesting exchange, where I learned as much as I shared.

I was honored to be asked to name some of my favorite fiction (not my own) and to have those titles written down for future reference by one or two of the attendees. There’s nothing I love more than to share my love of really good writing, and I steered the reader towards Hilary Mantel‘s Wolf Hall and David Mitchell‘s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.

I told the group how much I personally don’t typically get into book clubs since I love to follow the meanderings of my own inclination (although I could make the Desi Lit Book Club an exception). One attendee told me how she loves book clubs because she would never normally pick up some of the books otherwise, and she loves to find the unexpected, to be shown a new perspective, and I realized what a great attitude that evinces. May we always be open to learning something new and having the humility to allow someone else to show us the way. This person is a remarkable example of living well, and the key clearly lies in her desire to always be open to new knowledge.

I was also asked what I learned from the process of writing my book and, until that moment, I had not reflected on what the act of writing had taught me. I realized how much I learned to appreciate my parents’ sacrifice to build a life for our family in England, and that the lesson was a gift. We take our existence and the facts of our upbringing for granted, and rarely acknowledge that there was a time and reality before us for our parents. Writing my book brought me to the understanding of just how much my parents’ immigrant generation had to let go, in order to give me the best chance in life. I’m glad I took the time to reflect on that sacrifice while I can still talk to my elders, and sharing my book with them has been deeply gratifying.

All in all, it was a really charming event and an afternoon I’ll remember fondly. Writing is a solitary act of arrogance, an omnipotent shaping of reality by the impulses of imagination. Readers make the act humane once more, through conversation, connection and communion with the book and with one another. It was a privilege to attend the process–a humbling and enlightening experience, a breaking of intellectual bread with other lively and insightful minds.


Do you find yourself being drawn to the same theme again…

Molen Lava (kindof)

Molen Lava (kindof) (Photo credit: lrargerich)

… and again? Either as a reader or as a writer? I can’t explain my attraction to stories about India/Indians and Pakistan/Pakistanis. Well, duh, you might say, your Indian heritage explains everything… but indulge me for a moment… what exactly is at work here? Is it a desire to see if someone is doing this better than I am? (Writing about, or simply being Indian?) Or is it a sense that something is inadequate… there is a missing piece that a novel, a story, even one I write myself, will tease out? A childhood memory that I am grasping towards or an inarticulate loss? I thought back to all the writers whose work I have coveted: Naipaul, Rushdie (for Midnight’s Children), Anita and Kiran Desai, Amitav Ghosh, Mohsin Hamid. While they rework the molten silver into strange and fantastical shapes, each utterly original but shining with that familiar gleam, I am rapt.