Kazuo Ishiguro has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature and, as a long-term scholar and fan of Ishiguro, I feel compelled to join the celebration. The Swedish academy aptly described Ishiguro’s works as possessing “great emotional force” which “uncovered the abyss beneath our illusory sense of connection with the world”. But in an interview posted on the Nobel Prize website, Ishiguro offered a narrower statement of his interest in wordly connections, saying:
One of the things that’s interested me always is how we live in small worlds and big worlds at the same time: that we have a personal arena in which we have to try and find fulfilment and love, but that inevitably intersects with a larger world, where politics, or even dystopian universes, can prevail. So I think I’ve always been interested in that. We live in small worlds and big worlds at the same time and we can’t … forget one or the other.
It started when an American academic noticed how frequently the acknowledgements sections of weighty academic tomes featured a male author thanking his nameless wife for typing.
The academic, Bruce Holsigner, began sharing the screenshots on Twitter under the hashtag #ThanksforTyping.
And the response was stupendous. As the screenshots flooded in, a veritable army of unpaid women suddenly became visible. Not only were they typing, and retyping, but translating and editing and – um – doing the actual research.
It is astonishing how many people who type books are named “My Wife”. Weird name. #ThanksForTyping
We all have, within our memories, a treasure trove of characters. Maybe it was that quirky childhood friend or the mysterious neighbors next door. Perhaps it was that mean old lady down the hill or that big brother who (almost) always tried to protect you. Or maybe it was that strong, kind father who guided you through life’s hardest lessons. Sound familiar? These are all beloved characters in Harper Lee’s classic novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
It’s always gratifying to delve into your own treasure trove to discover those characters who speak to you. Many characters in To Kill a Mockingbird were people from Harper Lee’s life. Her childhood friend Truman Capote was the template for Dill Harris. Her father was the backbone of Atticus Finch. How can you go into your memory and find those “characters” who motivate you to write? Maybe no one seems as memorable of Boo Radley or Dill Harris, or maybe you simply have to take a closer look.
Examine intensely those characters who speak to you, as Harper Lee did: “Dill was a curiosity. He wore blue linen shorts that buttoned to his shirt, his hair was snow white and stuck to his head like duckfluff; he was a year my senior but I towered over him… his laugh was sudden and happy; he habitually pulled at a cowlick in the center of his forehead.” Imagine if Harper Lee had ended this description at “Dill was a curiosity.” She doesn’t make us discern what she means; she shows us that he was a curiosity. She makes him curious to us by showing him through appearance, sounds, and habits.
“Literature deserves its prestige for one reason above all others: because it’s a tool to help us live and die with a little more wisdom, goodness and sanity.”
As writers and book lovers, we know everyone should be reading literature. But there are people who view it as frivolous and who question the value of reading novels and poems when there are so many real problems and issues happening in world. In this video The School of Life, founded by philosopher Alain de Botton and curator Sophie Howarth, explains why we should all be reading literature – and even why we should prescribe it as a cure for life’s many ailments.
Filmed at The New Yorker Festival in October, this video features Pulitzer-prize winning novelist Junot Diaz and Karen Russell, author of the acclaimed Swamplandia, discussing the difficulties writers experience when writing short stories.
Diaz and Russell are in-conversation with The New Yorker’s senior editor Willing Davidson.