Thursday, August 22, 2013

Why write "noted", "observed", "declaimed", "stated", "remarked"... when "said" does the job so well?

Rule Nos. 3 and 4 from Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing:

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.

The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated,” and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” …

…he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs.”

Learn the other rules from reading this blog post by my favourite blogger, Maria Popova: "RIP, Elmore Leonard: The Beloved Author’s 10 Rules of Writing".

Thursday, August 15, 2013

If you read only one book this year, let it be this one

Back in August last year I had published a post about an inspirational book I had just finished reading.

I was so impressed with the thoughtful advice and thought-provoking ideas offered by Clayton M. Christensen and his co-authors in How Will You Measure Your Life? that I wanted everyone I know, especially my students, to read it. (That post "Reading this book will change your approach to life" — continues to be among the most popular on this blog.)

Recently, I was asked to review the book for the August-September 2013 issue of Books & More.

Here is the review (based partly on my original post) in its entirety:

A life changer

Book: How Will You Measure Your Life?: Finding Fulfillment
Using Lessons from Some of the World’s Greatest Businesses
Authors: Clayton M. Christensen, with James Allworth and Karen Dillon
Publisher: HarperCollins
Pages: 206
Price: Rs. 299 (Flipkart)

IT IS RARE to find two people separated by some forty years in age raving about the same book.

When I wrote about How Will You Measure Your Life? on my blog some time ago, one of my students, Archita Nadgouda, who is in her twenties, wrote to say, “I cannot thank you enough for recommending this book to us! This was just the book I needed at this point of time when I’m embarking on a new relationship and planning a new career.” A few days later, Patrick Michael, executive editor of Dubai’s Khaleej Times who will soon be turning 60, posted his comments: “This is a must-read book for all, especially those starting out in life.”

On second thought, however, I am not surprised that both Archita and Patrick were entranced by what How Will You Measure Your Life? has to offer.

Like me — and like you — they must have asked themselves these universal questions many times over the years:
  • How can I be sure that I will find satisfaction in my career?
  • How can I be sure that my personal relationships become enduring sources of happiness?
  • How can I avoid compromising my integrity?
Unbelievable as it sounds, How Will You Measure Your Life? not only provides the answers to these questions but also explains, with the help of real-life examples, how we can find fulfillment.

Slim in size but big on ideas, this book does not claim to offer simplistic answers. Instead, as in the introductory chapter, it provides insightful illustrations of how the theories this book propounds can help us in our lives. We first learn that people often think that the best way to predict the future is by collecting as much data as possible before making a decision. “But this,” the authors tell us, “is like driving a car looking only at the rear-view mirror — because data is only available about the past.”

The authors then explain why experience and information by themselves are not enough: “There are many times in life where we simply cannot afford to learn on the job.… This is why theory can be so valuable: it can explain what will happen, even before you experience it.”

Then, in the first section titled “How to Find Happiness in Your Career”, the authors examine what it is that really makes us tick, and follow it up with an enlightening debate on "incentive" versus "motivation". By the time we are through with this section, we understand clearly why motivation trumps financial incentive every time.

Section 2 deals with "Finding Happiness in Your Relationships". Too few of us seem to have understood that there is much more to life than our career. That is why we focus a great deal on becoming the person we want to be at work — and far too little on the person we want to be at home. We indulge in this self-destructive behaviour because, the book tells us, investing our time and energy in “raising wonderful children or deepening our love with our spouse often doesn't return clear evidence of success for many years”. Consequently, we over-invest in our careers, and under-invest in our families. What is the danger here? If we don’t nurture and develop those relationships, the book warns us, our family won’t be there to support us if we find ourselves traversing some of the more challenging stretches of life, or as one of the most important sources of happiness in our life.

The third and final section, which happens to be the shortest, is devoted to the topic of living a life of integrity. Titled "Staying Out of Jail" (how appropriate), this section explores a theory that, the authors say, will help you answer your final question: How can I be sure I live a life of integrity?

And, finally, here's a quote from the book that should motivate you to grab hold of a copy right away:

It is frightfully easy for us to lose our sense of the difference between what brings money and what causes happiness.

If you read only one book this year, let it be this one. Especially if you are young and have embarked, or are about to embark, on a career and a relationship.

Quotes from books, quotes by writers... to inspire, influence, and induce a new way of thinking-4

This was published in the August-September 2013 issue of Books & More magazine:


Quotes from books, quotes by writers... to inspire, influence, and induce a new way of thinking/RESEARCHED AND COMPILED BY RAMESH PRABHU 

"We accept the love we think we deserve."
— "Bill" to "Charlie", the main protagonist of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. "Charlie" had just told "Bill", his teacher, that his sister's boyfriend had hit her but she was still going around with him

"Inside us there is something that has no name. That something is what we are."
— Portuguese writer and recipient of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Literature José Saramago, quoted in Salman Rushdie's memoir, Joseph Anton

"If you love life enough, it would seem you can force life to be good."
— American journalist Martha Gellhorn, in an article about life in post-war Italy, written in 1949. The article is part of an anthology of Gellhorn's writings, The View from the Ground 

"An information-rich world is a time-poor world, and a time-poor world is an attention-poor world."
— P.M. Forni, in The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in the Age of Distraction

"A great distance between you and your enemy is still the best defence."
— Czech refugee "Carl Zlinter" to "Jenny" in Nevil Shute's The Far Country, which is set in small-town Australia

"Writing books is the closest men ever come to childbearing."
— Norman Mailer, American novelist whose most popular books are The Naked and the Dead and The Executioner's Song 

"Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss."
— Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

"If a problem has no solution, it is not a problem to be solved but a fact to be coped with over time."
— Former Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres to Donald Rumsfeld, twice U.S. secretary of defence, quoted in the latter's book, Known and Unknown: A Memoir

"What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?"
— C.L.R. James in Beyond a Boundary, hailed as the most finely crafted book on cricket ever written. It is said the book is, in a sense, a response to a Rudyard Kipling quote from the poem "English Flag": "What do they know of England who only England know?"

How do you like the idea of a short story that can be read in three minutes or less?

I discovered NPR's "Three-Minute Fiction" contest by chance some four years ago. And shortly afterwards, on October 29, 2009, I sent out an e-mail recommending it to Commitscions.

I also mentioned in that e-mail that "Postmortem", one of the contenders for the top prize, had been submitted by well-known Indian author Amitava Kumar. (Each story had to be an original work of fiction and begin with this sentence: "The nurse left work at five o'clock.")

I received feedback almost instantly:
  • From Padmini Mazumder (Class of 2011)
I absolutely love short stories. I think it takes a lot of imagination and quick thinking to write one AND it takes me only a few minutes to read one. :)

Sir, I hope you read "The Last Leaf". Please do. O'Henry rules the short story scene!

  • From Ranjini N. (Class of 2010)
I think "Postmortem" is simply awesome. There is a beauty in telling the story in a few words and then subtlety in leaving a lot to the imagination of the reader by not saying it all. Amazing!

You can read "Postmortem" here. Incidentally, Amitava Kumar has just published his latest book, non-fiction this time, titled A Matter of Rats: A Short Biography of Patna. You can read up details on Amitava Kumar's blog.

NPR's "Three-Minute Fiction" contest, meanwhile, continues to be as popular as ever. For the most recent round of the competition, guest judge Karen Russell asked participants to submit original short fiction in which a character finds something he or she has no intention of returning. The winning story this round was "Reborn" by Ben Jahn (pictured below).

You can read "Reborn" here.

And check out more of the goodies NPR, formerly National Public Radio, has to offer: books, movies, games and humour, music, and, of course, news.


Sunday, August 4, 2013

His views on "older reading media" — a reference to books — may be a little extreme, but...

...Rick Gekoski's thoughts on how a Kindle transforms your life are spot-on:

I'm a rare book dealer, but since getting an e-reader older reading media seem awkward and cumbersome.

Here's an excerpt from Gekoski's column in a recent issue of The Guardian: I discovered on our way to Heathrow, I had forgotten to take my Kindle. This has never happened to me before, for it is now so essential that I almost buy it a companion ticket. When it became clear, checking my bags for the third time, that I was now Kindle-less, I had a reaction so acute as to qualify, almost, as an anxiety attack. No Kindle? What was I going to do?

Read the article in its entirety here.

And, afterwards, read my post to understand why I am crazy about my Kindle Fire: "The best thing since sliced bread for book-lovers (a Facebook conversation)".

Friday, August 2, 2013

The hoax that shook the Washington Post to its foundations

In journalism class this week at Commits we watched that venerable classic, All the President's Men, based on the book of the same name by Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the two Washington Post reporters who exposed the Watergate scandal. Their dogged investigation ultimately brought down the most powerful man on the planet.

A day later, the students watched Frost-Nixon.

Afterwards, Commitscion ASWATHY MURALI (Class of 2015), who has been checking out Washington Post-related articles, made the valuable suggestion that there should be something on the Reading Room blog about the hoax that shook the Washington Post to its foundations: "Jimmy's World", the story by Janet Cooke that won her a Pulitzer Prize but was later proved to be a fabrication. You can get all the details on "Story Lab", a very interesting blog published by the newspaper: Story pick: Janet Cooke and "Jimmy's World".

(What is Story Lab?  According to the "About" page, this is "where readers and reporters will come together to create and shape stories. Washington Post writers will talk about some of the hard choices involved in journalism". Read the description in its entirety here.)
  • PS: Aswathy Murali tells me "A Boy of Unusual Vision", which won Baltimore Sun reporter Alice Steinbach a Pulitzer Prize in 1985, is her favourite feature. I have to say I am gratified that our students are taking an interest not only in happenings around them (reading the daily newspaper has become a habit now) but also in events that have shaped our understanding of the world around us.
UPDATE (August 6, 2013): The Washington Post has just been sold to Amazon founder Jeff P. Bezos for $250 million. I first read the news on The New York Times website this morning:

The Washington Post, the newspaper whose reporting helped topple a president and inspired a generation of journalists, is being sold for $250 million to the founder of, Jeffrey P. Bezos, in a deal that has shocked the industry.

Read the full news report here. And read this opinion piece, too: "The end of the Graham era".