The influence of books

[Recently Facebook was full of people listing their 10 best books. Unfortunately they only listed the books and did not offer comments on why the book made it to their top 10. Here are two of mine. Of the two To Kill a Mockingbird will always, always and forever by #1. It is one book my father insisted that I read and I am glad I took his advice. There are other books that have had an impact on my life but the two mentioned here have impacted my writing.]


I read Harper Lee’s ‘To kill a mockingbird’ when I was ten years old. I have reread it a number of times over the years. Each time I am always amazed at how Lee has used simple words to tell such a beautiful and insightful story. I love how she has taken a regular family living in a regular house in a regular street and used them to weave a story about racism, growing up and about discerning right from wrong.
Another aspect of Lee’s writing that has influenced my writing is how she uses Boo Radley the neighbor through out the story. To me Lee writes like she is stitching. She uses Boo Radley as a thread. His introduction sets the foundation of Scout’s and Jim’s childhood similar to how a thread is knotted before you begin to stitch. Although the story focuses on a trial, Miss Maude and other incidents Boo is never forgotten. He weaves in and out of the story like a thread that disappears below only to emerge again to complete another stitch. At the end of the story when Scout simply says “Hi Boo” the image is complete.
Lee used simple language one that even a ten year old can understand. Through her writing she makes the reader visualize the people and the events. She uses descriptions to give depth to her story, like the single yellow light bulb in the jail house to describe the dark of night and also to describe the loneliness that surrounds Atticus as he defends Tom Robinson.
Over the course of my writing I found this book to hold examples of writing techniques that are discussed in various courses.Lee uses ‘layers’ and ‘transitions’ to move back and forth in the story smoothly and effortlessly.
One the reasons why To Kill a Mockingbird will always be my favorite is that when Lee wrote it she made sure it was a story that never tired of telling.

Another book that has influenced me is Amitav Gosh’s Hungry Tide a story set in the Island community of Sunderbans in Eastern India. In this book he has taken facts about a massacre that was swept under the carpet by the ruling party and drawn a fictional tale around it. But this book is more than a work of fiction. It is an investigative piece. Gosh views the history of the island community under a microscope. He covers the British Occupation of India, to the water ways in Eastern India and even the famed Irrawaddy dolphins that he region is famous for. His research is so exhaustive so much so that one can actually use the book as a reference. I found his work so compelling that a couple of weeks after I read the book I was in Sunderbans.
Gosh’s writing is all about the small details. He describes every aspect of life in the islands to the last detail. He takes care to explain the tides of the islands, explaining how the ‘tide changes very six hours causing islands to be reborn every time the tide recedes’. He describes everything just as they are and while I was there, there were times when I wondered if I was seeing the place through my eyes or through the words of Gosh.

The complete seafood experience

Lei Yue Mun the fishing village in Hong Kong  was filled with tanks and basins of live fish. Signs all around proclaimed fresh seafood and excellent cooking. But not a single store was open, everything was shuttered.

“But it is only 11 in the morning” said a fisherman who was sitting by the pier. “Everybody sleeping or cleaning.”
He pointed to a nearby shack where they were selling noodles and rice. But I was adamant I wanted the complete and authentic seafood experience especially after an eventful bus ride.

I explained in as simple English as I could where I was from, what I do and that I had come all the way for fresh sea food. He sighed and felt obliged to help me. It may also be because he understood it as that I had come all the way from India to eat the seafood.
He took me through a maze of aisles to a shop at the corner of the bazaar where a pot bellied man was sleeping on a table. With two taps he woke the man and spoke to him in hushed tones.
” He my friend will help you”.
The friend handed me a net and pointed to a large cement basin a 100 yard away with a curt
“Catch fish.”

In the basin there were a lot of small fishes, prawns and some eel like fish. I got down to business.
Whoever said that catching prawns from a basin is easy is just wrong. It took me forever and I still did not catch anything.
My endeavors had created a little spectacle and a crowd had gathered to watch my fishing escapades.

The friend finally lost his patience. He brought a small plastic bucket with a little water,caught a few prawns from the basin and threw them into the bucket and repeated his previous instruction – “Catch fish.”

I am pleased to say that I made progress and three prawns were trapped in my net. The gathered crowd clapped their hands at my success.

I proudly took the prawns to the friend and said “Fry”.
“Ok, Ok” he said . He dropped the prawns in a saucepan of boiling water.

While the prawns were being cleaned( I assumed) in boiling water, the friend set a table for me and offered me a cup of tea. I took out a book to read while I waited for the prawns to be cleaned and fried.

I had barely read a page when the friend placed a plate of three boiled prawns and a bowl of sticky rice in front of me.
I looked the prawns with their eyes bulging and said ” No. no boil.Prawn fry”.

“Ok, Ok” said the friend again not moving from where he stood.

I tried again. “Oil fry..?”
Came the reply again “Ok. Ok.”

I swallowed one of the prawns with much difficulty. When I felt nauseous at the thought of having to swallow another one I decided that I had had the complete and authentic seafood experience.
I paid the bill and I left the bazaar fifty dollars lighter for all my troubles!