Raymond Carver was a master storyteller, and a new audiobook contains many of his early stories, showing his development as a writer. They are classic character studies, with simple plots like some of Hemingway’s first stories were. The depth of observation is evident in both the exposition and dialogue, but only for readers or listeners paying attention. Subtle nuances in reaction are telling, and so what is not said becomes as important as what is. Today, of course, pop fiction is about fast actions and one-liners told by two dimensional characters. Little meaning, more explosives. (Otherwise readers get bored.) Yet this a trained response. We have been deadened to violence, and so don’t understand what literature is trying to do: to explain by illustration the motivations of individuals. The best stories are those which keep you thinking, and which don’t end with a cliche “bang.” The goal of literary writers is to write something that hasn’t been written before. To present a slice of life dilemma, not necessarily with an answer. Often just stating the problem or situation is enough, but in a unique way as the point of view pulls away, as in the movie Five Easy Pieces, or the Ray Bradbury story “I See You Never.” Carver is funny at times, and there are uncomfortable moments too. Not gratuitous, but driven by who the character is: an unflinching view. One cannot blame the author for being honest. (Or at least one shouldn’t.) The only thing that detracts from enjoyment today is in the dialogue. The overuse of the word “said.” Some pages or minutes contain over a dozen repetitions of it. (“Yes, of course,” she said. “Really?” he said. “Oh yes,” she said.) Never “he replied” or “she responded.” Said is better than “he growled,” as any writing teacher will tell you, but one doesn’t have to use it as often as he does. At least, writing today, one doesn’t. (Carver died in 1988.) The more modern approach is to use it only when the reader may be unclear who is speaking. (“Yes, of course, she said. “Really?” “Oh yes.”) Reminded me of listening to the dialogue of college students, in order to get that dialogue right: “He was like, ‘why did you do that,’ and she was like ‘Why not?’ and I mean, like, how can they, like, talk like that?” SAID vs LIKE. Sticks out, and takes you out of your suspension of, like, disbelief…he said. No one should be quiet if they have something to say. Some quotes on this include, “Read first, then think, then speak.” Or, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as WE are.”
Now step up to the microphone…see “About.”
A heartfelt comedy of manners, Diksha Basu’s debut novel unfolds the story of a family discovering what it means to “make it” in modern India. For the past thirty years, Mr. and Mrs. Jha’s lives have been defined by cramped spaces, cut corners, gossipy neighbors, and the small dramas of stolen yoga pants and stale marriages. They thought they’d settled comfortably into their golden years, pleased with their son’s acceptance into an American business school. But then Mr. Jha comes into an enormous and unexpected sum of money, and moves his wife from their housing complex in East Delhi to the super-rich side of town, where he becomes eager to fit in as a man of status: skinny ties, hired guards, shoe-polishing machines, and all.
The move sets off a chain of events that rock their neighbors, their marriage, and their son, who is struggling to keep a lid on his romantic dilemmas and slipping grades, and brings unintended consequences, ultimately forcing the Jha family to reckon with what really matters. Brooklyn-based actress Soneela Nankani narrates. She is a voiceover artist and singer of Indian and Ghanaian descent who grew up traveling all over the world – to Ghana, India, Scotland, Thailand, Turkey, Morocco, South Africa, Spain, and the Czech Republic. She has a strong theatre background and has worked with Classical Theatre of Harlem, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Primary Stages, the Vineyard Playhouse and Kansas City Repertory Theatre, and Sojourn Theatre.
Tower Review: What was creating the characters of The Windfall on audio like for you, and what made the book special for you?
Nankani: “I truly enjoyed narrating The Windfall. It’s certainly one of the audiobooks I’m most proud of. The book really spoke to me as a story about the challenges of identity, transformation, duty and desire. And at the same time there is so much humor in it! Diksha Basu does an incredible job of balancing the two. In terms of how I work on character voices – I generally get a very clear image of the characters as I read. What makes them unique, what makes them tick. And I create voices from there. In this particular book there are a lot of characters! So I was very lucky to be working with a fantastic director, Paula Parker, who helped me find even greater specificity with which to imbue and distinguish the characters.”
When should you post to social media, and why do we do it at all? In BOOKS FOR LIVING by Will Schwalbe the journalist and author of The End of Your Life Book Club details the books that have moved him and his friends personally. Among the books he discusses is an obscure title “Zen and the Art of Archery,” which was the inspiration for the classic “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.” Published in 1948 by German philosophy professor Eugen Herrigel, it describes getting rid of the self in knowing when to release an arrow. Technical skill must yield to instinct, and so it is an art achieved best by becoming one with the moment, in the Japanese sense of oneness. The practice then applies to other things, including reading. Why is reading an art? Schwalbe makes an interesting analogy in saying that in youth one’s reading is like seeing the moon from an alleyway, high up there in a slice of sky. In middle age it is like seeing it from a parlor. In old age it is like seeing it from a courtyard. Everyone brings their own experience to the reading, and the art is learned in a lifetime of connecting the dots. He also employs humor, as in the anecdote relating to his own archery skills: “I once shot an arrow at a target and hit the bullseye…of the other guy’s target.” He writes about digital media too, as he did for The New York Times. His house his cluttered with books everywhere, candidate for a hoarder’s TV show, perhaps. But you can fit your own 100 books on one iPod or iPhone, and travel everywhere with them, downloading them as needed. Narrator for Will’s book is actor Jeff Harding, a veteran of stage, TV, and film. Both have mastered their respective arts, making this a “must hear,” although Schwalbe also points out that fav authors, like fav artists or musicians, can only be arrived at by individuals experiencing widely and encountering them. And that requires curiosity, a rare element in our winner-take-all culture.
In A FIELD GUIDE TO LIES author Daniel A. Levitin shows that critical thinking is needed to overcome being bombarded by pseudo-science and “the loudest voices” that get the most clicks.