The Frontal Cortex

Plane Reading

Sorry about the light posting – I’ve been traveling. As far as I’m concerned, the best thing about air-travel (besides the safety aspect) is that I get to read novels. For some reason, I’ve decided that I can’t work or sleep on planes, so I always make sure that my carry-on bag is stuffed full of fiction. On my last flight, I consumed Unaccustomed Earth, by Jhumpa Lahiri. I won’t bore you with my praise, but it’s a remarkable collection of short stories. The sheer fluidity and poise of her writing is, as a fellow writer, somewhat depressing. She makes it look so easy. I’m really curious about her early drafts, and how she pares down her prose, so that it’s so precise and taut.


  1. #1 Khalid
    May 9, 2008

    Jill: How much do you revise, generally?

    Lahiri: That’s really all I do. It’s all a process for me of continued revision. I worked on most of the stories in this book for several years. When I finished some, and I published some, along the way, then I considered them done, but I still worked on them for a considerable length of time, and the ones I didn’t publish, I continued to work on. Most of these stories were simmering for two to three years, minimum.

    Jill: Do you think about the architecture, or shape, of these stories, while you’re writing them?

    Lahiri: I think about the structure, sure. I think about what’s going to happen, and how it’s going to happen, and the pace. But I think if I stop to think about it in an abstract sense, I feel very daunted. I just try to enter into the story and feel my way through it. It’s a very murky, intuitive way of going about it.

  2. #2 George
    May 9, 2008

    I also really enjoyed Unaccustomed Earth. I haven’t yet been able to shake the stories out of myself. I appreciate Khalid’s post, because if I were going to pick a word to desribe her writing I would have said intuitive.

  3. #3 deborah
    May 10, 2008

    You can’t praise it enough really. It’s both ordinary and exotic at the same time. How does she do that?

  4. #4 Steve Marr
    May 10, 2008

    Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll have to pick it up. For a good book about the reading and writing process I recommend Elaine Scarry’s, “Dreaming by the Book.”

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