“Literature is a luxury, fiction is a necessity”
As I shared with you two posts ago, these days I am reading Negotiating With the Dead- A Writer On Writing by Margaret Atwood. The book is a long essay on the role of the writer in the society, what shapes a writer and the various devices writers use. Atwood talks about her formative years and how she came to be a writer (these autobiographical details form the most interesting part of the book). It is great to see how a writer can talk with such ease at the same time about James Joyce and the torment that most modern authors go through, that is, the 20-city book tour . Her style is witty, funny and conversational- that’s three things I expect these days from a book. But still, I have noticed that my mind wanders away, as if looking for and missing something and at times I have been unable to pay any attention to the text. And I know it isn’t because I am disinterested. To my relief, I have at last realised what plagued me.
The answer struck me accompanied with a quotation of G.K. Chesterton that I read in the school library once- “Literature is a luxury, fiction is a necessity.” My reading lacked the amusement of the imaginitive format of fiction, having entirely limited my reading to non-fiction. I needed to meet unknown characters, encounter new settings, plots and emotions. The void inside me could only be filled with fiction, an author’s imagination, a brainchild and extract of her (it may well be his) conscious and subconscious experiences.
I have thus decided to embark on a simultaneous journey with The Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield which I bought on a visit to the Delhi Book Fair this year with the school’s Book Club. I read about Katherine Mansfield for the first time in my life in the Guardian (over the years it has become my favourite newspaper) in the British Council Library. A writer, whose name now I fail to recollect, had talked about Katherine Mansfield being her hero and how the short story writer’s relationships with both men and women influenced her work. The feature was accompanied Anne Estelle Rice’s portrait of Katherine Mansfield (scroll down to see). I remember leaping from the canapé (right, there are canapés at the British Council Library) to the computer that was right in front of me- the one that until a second ago someone else was using, who had forgotten to log out from his Facebook account- and looked up for Katherine Mansfield. That the day was still vividly alive in my memory made me smile when I saw at a stall her book whose proud owner I now am.
I guess it will be a journey of self discovery now that I have submitted myself to two very able female writers to guide me on my way who will take care of both, my necessities and luxuries.