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Author Archive: "Thrity Umrigar"

A Larger, More Colorful World

For the most part, I like getting older. With each passing year, I bridge the gap between the person that I am and the person that I wanted to be; feel like I'm closer to living the life I'd always dreamed of having.

But sometimes, when I pick up a new novel and then put it down some 300-odd pages later, I feel a sense of nostalgia. That thrilling feeling of discovering a new writer, of reading something that blows the top of your head off, gets more and more rare the older I get. It isn't that there isn't great literature being written today — of course there is. It's just that some part of me has aged, gotten weary, even jaded. Individual lines and passages can still take my breath away and a perfectly crafted ending can still make me burst into tears.

But oh, how I miss that old sense of being transported by a book, that sense of ownership and possessiveness that one felt when one discovered a writer for the first time. Discovering a new book or writer was like discovering a new planet — suddenly, you had to throw away all the old knowledge you

...


How Kaavya Viswanathan Got Yanked

I dunno, I dunno, I dunno. I know the verdict is in by now — author Kaavya Viswanathan plagiarized numerous passages from Megan McCafferty's novels. Viswanathan, a Harvard sophomore whose first teen novel, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, has apologized for those passages that bear an uncanny resemblance to parts of McCafferty???s novels. Her publisher has just pulled all copies of Opal Mehta from bookstores.

So, I guess it's a done deal — we now add Viswanathan to the Writer's Wall of Shame, where she sits alongside such illustrious peers as James Frey, Stephen Glass, and Jayson Blair.

But, but, but...

At the risk of appearing to defend a young woman who may well have committed an indefensible act, I have to share some of my thoughts about this situation. I'm wondering if Viswanathan's youth conspired against her in her downfall. By this, I don't mean the fact that the teenager had a book deal, a movie deal, and a huge advance, before her eighteenth birthday. I'm referring to the fact that young minds are impressionable and can absorb ...


To Be a Writer

The other day I had a couple of guys install a patio door for me. I watched as they worked on a gorgeous spring day, pounding nails, humming along to the radio, talking boisterously among themselves. They were working hard but they were clearly enjoying themselves, also. But not once in the course of that day was I gripped by an overwhelming urge to become a carpenter.

Ditto when I meet a surgeon, electrician, or engineer. No desire to learn their trade. No illusions that I can do it.

So why oh why does every person that I meet confess to me their secret desire to become a writer? It's getting to be downright ridiculous. At this rate, Americans will write more books in any given year than read them. A friend was recently telling me the lament of her friend who owns a bookstore. The store owner gets at least one or two walk-ins a week who want her to carry a book that they have self-published. That request doesn't bother the bookseller at all. What bothers her is the fact that those same people never ever stop to ...


Book Reviews

I've been writing freelance book reviews for over six years now but until the Wordstock Festival in Portland in April, I'd never come face-to-face with someone whose work I'd reviewed. Before, I???d heard from writers whose work I'd reviewed — I got very sweet emails from Susan Orlean (My Kind of Place) and Kathleen Finneran (The Tender Land) after reviews of their work ran in the Boston Globe. I once also got an email from the estranged wife of an Indian writer whose book I'd reviewed, lauding me for getting his personality just right (I never figured out just what she meant) and telling me sad, intimate details about their marriage.

But until I met novelist Laila Lalami at Wordstock, I had never met in person an author I'd reviewed. Luckily for both of us, I had given her book, Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, a favorable review. Laila and I were both on the International Fiction panel at Wordstock and I doubt that we'd have had as good a time as we did if she had harbored any ill-feelings and I had harbored any guilt about a negative review. ...


James Frey

James Freyed for our sins.

That's what I kept thinking during those agonizing weeks when every journalist, academic, commentator, and social critic seemed obsessed with flaying the drug addict turned writer for embellishing the details of his sad, pathetic life. It wasn't just a scandal.

It was a cottage industry.

Okay, so here comes the required disclaimer: What I'm saying should not be misconstrued to mean that I am supporting or defending what Frey did. I believe that when a work claims to be nonfiction, it should be just that. It should tell the truth. It should not exaggerate, inflate, or distort the truth. As someone who is gearing up to teach a memoir writing workshop this fall, I have special reason to resent Frey for what he did — he has made my teaching life harder.

And here's another disclaimer: I never saw Oprah castrate Frey on national television. I just read about it. And read about it. In fact, I read and heard so much about the public humiliation that I felt I had witnessed it. It well could be that, years from now, when my false memory syndrome kicks ...


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