Welcome back to R/W, our weekend linkblog on writing, reading, language, and literacy. This week we’re thinking about writing mechanics, reading mechanics, and the politics of translation.
I am always happy to find great articles and sites from industry experts that can help me improve my skills as a writer. I especially like articles that throw in just the right amount of snark to catch my interest and make me feel smug and accomplished when I see that I’m getting something right. I was recently directed to Philip Athans, an acclaimed author and editor who tosses out all sorts of writing gems at Fantasy Author’s Handbook, and has also published more in depth guidebooks along the same lines. While the title suggests fantasy and science fiction authors only, writing is writing. His advice can work for anyone who puts words to paper (or screen).
Tim Parks thinks we should teach kids to read with a pen in their hands, ever ready to take notes or craft rebuttals. Approach reading like we do so much of the internet: infinitely remixable.
There is something predatory, cruel even, about a pen suspended over a text. Like a hawk over a field, it is on the lookout for something vulnerable. Then it is a pleasure to swoop and skewer the victim with the nib’s sharp point. The mere fact of holding the hand poised for action changes our attitude to the text. We are no longer passive consumers of a monologue but active participants in a dialogue. Students would report that their reading slowed down when they had a pen in their hand, but at the same time the text became more dense, more interesting, if only because a certain pleasure could now be taken in their own response to the writing when they didn’t feel it was up to scratch, or worthy only of being scratched.
I am here for this, Tim Parks.
Over on the Toronto Review of Books, Meghan Davidson Ladly interviews a number of writers and editors about the burgeoning literary scene in Pakistan. The literacy rate in the country is only 55% and many of the upper classes have emphasized English literacy and writing. There are nine languages commonly spoken in Pakistan, Urdu being the official language, but English tends to be the province of the upper class.
The strong emphasis on proficiency in English within many of the state’s top schools serves to further divide the upper classes from the rest of the population and, by extension, excludes whole categories of writing from discussions of literature. “If you cannot understand any of the languages this population speaks,” says [writer Mohammed] Hanif, “you’re not going to make very sensible decisions about your life or about your literature, because you have already assumed whatever these people are saying, it is not worth listening to.”