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Jane Eyre and the Selfie@ Link Wanderlust

Karen Swallow Prior celebrates a book about selfhood in her essay Jane Eyre and the Invention of the Self  in The Atlantic. If you haven’t read Jane Eyre already, it is well worth your while. A book primarily read by school children and considered as a classic, it has so ubiquitous a presence that if you haven’t read it, you may already know about the terrible childhood of Jane Eyre and how she climbs out of her destitution through sheer willpower. Jane Eyre’s story is Charlotte Bronte’s articulation of the self, the idea of selfhood we now see versions of in the selfie.

“But before the selfie came “the self,” or the fairly modern concept of the independent “individual.” The now-ubiquitous selfie expresses in miniature the seismic conceptual shift that came about centuries ago, spurred in part by advances in printing technology and new ways of thinking in philosophy. It’s not that the self didn’t exist in pre-modern cultures: Rather, the emphasis the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century placed on personal will, conscience, and understanding—rather than tradition and authority—in matters of faith spilled over the bounds of religious experience into all of life. Perhaps the first novel to best express the modern idea of the self was Jane Eyre, written in 1847 by Charlotte Brontë, born 200 years ago this year.”


This book has laid the foundation for the first person narrator. It was written in 1847 and was a by-product of people now were forced to interpret religion and their circumstance for themselves. No preacher could change Jane Eyre’s position, and she alone was responsible for her destiny.  Considering that this month witnessed Charlotte Bronte’s bicentenary, this looked like a good link for Link Wanderlust. Which Bronte sister’s work do you most love?


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Anxiety and Bus Theory@ Link Wanderlust

Jessie Burton writes in her article Success, Creativity and the Anxious space about how 2015 was probably the best year of her life. A million copies of her book The Miniaturist were sold. For any aspiring writer, this sounds like the pinnacle of achievement.

But this was exactly the time when she was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Burton then chronicles the story of her mind- a mercurial thing like all minds out there. The problem with writing a book and one that flies off of the shelves at that is the anxiety that you may never be able to write another word again. Success is impossible to handle when you are used to failure.

“When something you have made in private is mass-consumed, the irony is that the magnifying glass burns even brighter on you as an individual. Who you are, where you come from, how you make your work. And if you do not have immediate answers to this, because let’s face it, who truly does, then boy, are you in for a bumpy ride. When something like this happens to you, however minor it might be in the great scheme of fame, you never know what’s waiting in your personal wings. You never, ever know how the spotlight on your identity is going to make you feel. You may hypothesize that you’d be really good at dealing with it, but forgive me that I beg to disagree.”

The success of her book led her to dark spells that she coped with and wrote out. Reading her story gives you an insight into the working of a writer’s mind, or even the mind of someone who works entirely on his or her own. Writing a book can turn you into an overnight success; it can wear you down as well. Looks like ups and downs go hand in hand.


So how do you reach there at the pinnacle of success?  I found an article about the Helsinki Bus Station Theory in an article by James Clear called Stay on the bus. The idea is that you could be working on the same idea for years but it’s reworking it and sticking with it that brings the real breakthrough. So if you are stuck on a manuscript, it will begin to work only once you start reworking it.

Have you ever been stuck with your writing?

I liked the common sense no-nonsense approach of this article and the possibility of inserting the picture of a bus in this blog post was too tempting to miss.


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A Tribute to Umberto Eco

Could Umberto Eco be more different from Harper Lee? Perhaps in a Terry Pratchett novel, but not in real life!

Umberto_Eco_1984Umberto Eco was not an attention hog, but he was an extremely prolific writer! With a string of novels, non-fiction works, anthologies and children’s books as the fruit of his pen, it is significant to note that he was a semiotician first and then a writer.


Semiotics is the study of meaning-making, the study of sign processes and meaningful communication. This includes the study of signs and sign processes (semiosis), indication, designation, likeness, analogy, metaphor, symbolism, signification, and communication.

To understand what this really means, we suggest that you wait until you are re-incarnated much more intelligent!

Reverse some more. In his work Opera aperta, 1962, translated as “The Open Work” he argues that for a literary text to be most rewarding, it should be capable of being interpreted in various ways. A closed work would be something that has only one possible, correct interpretation. Albeit not literary, 1+1=2 would be an example of a closed work.

Eco, in his own words, “Every text, after all, is a lazy machine asking the reader to do some of its work. What a problem it would be if a text were to say everything the receiver is to understand – it would never end.”

As you can see, there is no resonance between Ms. Harper’s insistence that she has only one message and Mr. Eco’s open works.

The Name of the Rose is the book that garnered Eco popular fans. It is groundbreaking because it is “an intellectual mystery combining semiotics in fiction, biblical analysis, medieval studies and literary theory.”

The greatest epitaph, we stumbled across, must be this one, “And the craziest thing about this maddening book: people not only bought it, but read it — and tried to “understand” it.

Eco’s books were not for reading, they were about being understood.

Last week we spoke about Harper Lee. These two gifted writers might have been different in many aspects, but they were both completely unlike a character in Foucault’s Pendulum, “Jacopo Belbo didn’t understand that he had had his moment and that it would have to be enough for him, for all his life. Not recognizing it, he spent the rest of his days seeking something else, until he damned himself. ”

They recognized their moments, and lived their lives, and where able to sigh with satisfaction when their books were closed.


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A Tribute to Harper Lee

Usually we expect Friday the Thirteenth to be the day that brings bad news. In 2016 it is highly unlikely that any Friday the Thirteenth, or any other day, will eclipse the sad news of 19 February.

On this day, Harper Lee, author of  To Kill A Mockingbird, and Umberto Eco, author of  In the Name of a Rose, left us. Both were successful and celebrated authors. Both probably achieved much more than they ever expected. Yet, we have two authors who could hardly be more dissimilar.



Harper Lee

Just as To Kill A Mockingbird, is famous and public, so Harper Lee was enigmatic and private.  She never expected the great success that Mockingbird turned out to be.

I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of the reviewers but, at the same time, I sort of hoped someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement. I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.
— Harper Lee, quoted in Newquist, 1964

She was born, in the virtually unknown town of Monroeville, Alabama. And here, in the town with a population of 6500, she also transitioned from nightly sleep into the eternal quietness that awaits us all.

Her nephew, Hank Conner, said in a statement “We knew her as Nelle Harper Lee, a loving member of our family, a devoted friend to the many good people who touched her life, and a generous soul in our community and our state. We will miss her dearly.”

This theme, of Nelle Harper Lee, as an ordinary person, and not a famous author pervades her life. This is significant in an era where fame is equated to or confused with success. (Note to feminists: Nelle is a tribute to her maternal grandmother. It was not an attempt to sound more like a man!)

When asked why she did not continue writing, she answered:  “Two reasons: one, I wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any amount of money. Second, I have said what I wanted to say, and I will not say it again.”

Her intense desire for privacy, and perhaps, inability to deal with the lack of it caused by of success is a a subject that has been discussed, examined, dissected and misunderstood since her book Mockingbird took its maiden-flight.

At InstaScribe we had a heated discussion about the second part of Ms. Lee’s (never married) statement. We seriously doubted that she, or anyone else, has only one thing to say, and can get it said in one go.

Why she chose to stop writing has not been revealed yet. Most probably we will never know why she chose to stop writing, but we salute her for not stopping one book sooner!

Having said that, Go Set a Watchman was published in 2015. It was the bestseller in the US for that year. The success of this book shows that the public believes they could learn from Ms Lee, and that she had much more to say.

Go Set a Watchman was surrounded by controversy. Originally published as a sequel to Mockingbird, it was later admitted that it was, in fact, the first draft.

Much has been written about the fact that Watchman was published after Harper Lee insisted for 55 years that she only had one story to tell. Various legal shenanigans were suggested, and a claim of elder abuse was made. (This was later dismissed.)

Alice Lee, Nelle’s sister and lawyer, died ten weeks before the publication of Watchman. Add to this the fact that at this time our dearly departed author was partially blind, deaf, suffered from a stroke and had short term memory problems, you can see why many are confused by the publication of Watchman.

Yet, Harper’s life is not to be remembered for controversy, but for quietness, or as a mourner wrote,

“Hey, Boo, you left your mark without a lot of fanfare… The recognition and praise seemed to roll off you like water from a duck’s back. I’m pleased you disavowed the limelight of fame, in favor of the familiar company of your true friends and hometown waters. Paddle on, Nelle.”

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Google Books versus The Authors

Recently, The Guardian reported that various well-known, respected and successful authors have joined with the US Authors Guild in a lawsuit to prevent Google from adding books that are still under copyright from being added to the ever-growing collection of digitized books.

Before delving into this court case, that is indeed very relevant to every author, let us just look at the aim and history of Google Books

Google Books: An Overview

Google Books contains a range of print books and magazines that were scanned and digitized. This means that the text in these books can be searched. These books are provided by publishers, authors and Google’s Library Partners.

In other words, the idea is to make print books in libraries all over the world accessible via the Internet. The first books were scanned in 2004, and the collection has reached 25 million books by October 2015. Google believes that there are about 130 million unique titles in existence. They aimed to complete this project before the end of the 2000’s.

Copyright and Fair Use

The fact that a book has been scanned and digitized does not automatically mean that the entire book is available for reading, copying or printing.

Google has a four tier access system in place:

  • Full View: The complete book is available on Google Books and can be downloaded. Generally, these are books in Public Domain. In a few cases, publishers have given permission that books that are still under copyright may be accessed in this way.
  • Preview: The in-print book has been scanned and digitized completely, but the number of viewable pages is limited. These books are marked as copyrighted and downloading, printing, copying these texts are restricted.
  • Snippets: This view is for books where Google does not have the right to display a preview. Only, a very limited sample is displayed. Generally, two or three lines surrounding the search query. Searches are also limited to prevent the user from gaining access to the complete text via varying search queries.
  • No preview: These are for books that have not been digitized yet. Effectively, a digital online library catalogue card, with the ISBN, author, publisher etc. are displayed.

Authors have the right to opt out from the program. If a book has already been scanned, it will be classified as a “No Preview” book.

It is important to understand what Google Books actually offer (do) in order to be able to accurately judge the complaints of the authors and publishers.

Fair Use, Copyright and Writer’s Incentive

Looking at the facts, as found on Wikipedia and Google Books, it does seem as if Google Books offer a real service. It seems as if authors and publishers are protected from being exploited.

If this is, in fact, the case, why has there been various lawsuits over the years to try and prevent Google Books from continuing its service to humanity?

The current case has its beginning back in 2005. The case was made that Google copied millions of books without permission and therefore illegally. Authors asked for damages amounting to $1500 per book.

This case was settled in favour of Google in 2013 by judge Denny Chin. He ruled that Google did not need the author’s permission to scan a book, or to publish snippets, which falls under fair use.

This judgement was appealed and the appeal was heard by the US court of appeals for the second circuit. And, again, Google won.

The Court said:

The ultimate goal of copyright is to expand public knowledge and understanding, which copyright seeks to achieve by giving potential creators exclusive control over copying of their works, thus giving them a financial incentive to create informative, intellectually enriching works for public consumption . . . Thus, while authors are undoubtedly important intended beneficiaries of copyright, the ultimate, primary intended beneficiary is the public, whose access to knowledge copyright seeks to advance by providing rewards for authorship.

The Last Chapter?

JM Coetzee, Margaret Atwood, Malcolm Gladwell, Peter Carey, Thomas Keneally, Ursula K Le Guin, Tracy Chevalier, Yann Martel and Richard Flanagan, are but some of the authors who have joined the Authors Guild’s in the latest attempt to prevent Google Book from continuing its digitization project.

An appeal was lodged at the Supreme court, which is expected to determine during the second quarter of the year as to whether they will hear this appeal or not.

How do we at InstaScribe feel about this? Zen Scribe answered eloquently, convincing us all of his wisdom, but he chose the No Preview option concerning his statements.

At this point, we don’t know if the Supreme Court of the US will even hear the appeal, and whether the authors and the Authors Guild will win.

What do you think? Is Google Books a valid, reputable endeavour or is it a legalised version of The Piratebay?

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Readers Can’t Digest – Week 74 (1-Feb to 7-Feb)

1. McDonald’s to give away children’s books with Happy Meals











2. Spelling uses multiple parts of the brain, research shows









3. Archie Comics Gives Away 100 Free Digital Editions












4.Amazon to launch a subscription music service













5. Speed-Reading May Not Be The Answer












Ruskin Bond, Old Men and a Quiet American @ Talking Terrace Book Club in January, 2016 (Part 2)

Did you visit our Talking Terrace Book Club post last week? You can read it here. Today we’ll look at the books my colleagues Srishti and Abhaya were reading.

Srishti took us through an old story that she had read by stalwart writer Ruskin Bond. The tiger’s name is Timothy and the lesson was part of one of her English lessons. The story is about the author’s grandfather who adopts a tiger cub and then must part with it as it becomes a menace. Many many years later, he sees a tiger in the zoo which he feels sympathetic toward and he believes it to be his own tiger. It’s a beautiful story. Bond writes with no airs and graces- he just shows the scenario and brings nature to life, which is probably why he is so much a part of the syllabus in textbooks in India.

Abhaya is discovering writers in Karnataka.

carvalho-menof mysteryK.P.Purna Chandra Tejaswi was a Sahitya Akademi Award winner. Besides being a writer, he was also an ornithologist, photographer, publisher, painter and environmentalist. Abhaya enjoyed his two novellas in a book called Carvalho/Men of mystery:Two Novellas. The first story is set in the Western Ghats in southern India and is an adventure story where a group of people from diverse professions come together. The second story is dark and brooding.

“Somehow I was reminded of Ruskin Bond while reading him, but given that I haven’t read much from Ruskin Bond anyway, I am skeptical of myself,” Abhaya said.



Advaita the Writer by Ken Spillman is a book about a child’s adulation for Ruskin Bond. Advaita is a lonely girl who studies in a  boarding school in Dehradun. When she learns that her favorite author lives nearby, she is inspired to write.  Incidentally Spillman wrote this book in dedication to Advaita Kala. Abhaya found this small wonder of a book at Lightroom Book store in Bangalore.

old man and the se.jpgAbout The Old Man and the Sea, Abhaya said,” My first book of Hemingway and I liked it from the first page. I usually find that it takes a few pages before I’m  really able to get into a book but this one reeled me  right in.”

He liked the way the book was as simple as a children’s book, as technical as a treatise on fishing, and as philosophical as the story of our relationship with food. “You just can’t go by the reviews,” Abhaya said. Apparently, a  reviewer has asked why the old man couldn’t have gone to McDonalds instead!
the quiet anerican

The Quiet American is a book on war. “War zones provide a fertile ground for etching rich characters with varied motives and ethical ambivalence. Graham Greene’s treatment of a love triangle in the Indo-China (Vietnam) war zone is controlled and nuanced. The story is set in the 1950s before the Americans got fully involved in the conflict.”

The edition that Abhaya had read also had a brilliant introduction by Zadie Smith.


topi shuklaTopi Shukla is a novel by a Hindi writer Rahi Masoom Raza. It’s a story set in the independence era in India. “ Having grown up in the UP of the 1990s, I identified with many parts of the story,” Abhaya said. It’s a book about the love –hate relationship between communities that is a given in many parts of India. So there is a bundle of contradictions- love for Ghazals, shayari and sufi music while rooting for Sanskritized Hindi.

Abhaya feels that this book is  especially relevant today , “ It is a book that shows us, paraphrasing Sheldon Pollock, a way of being that is increasingly alien to us. It offers us brief glimpses into the culture that produced people like Bismillah Khan.”

Another book Abhaya read was Mai by Geetanjali Shree. The story is about three generations of women (grandmother, mother and daughter) as narrated by the daughter. “Set in an old Zamindar family in small town Uttar Pradesh in north India, the book started pretty strong but lost its grip mid way. To some extent, the writing reminded me of That Long Silence by Shashi Deshpande in how the narrative weaves across time boundaries and goes back and forth.” Abhaya feels that this is a promising book, the sort that you could enjoy while reading a second time.

Next week we will look at what Jaya has been reading.


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Visual Friday: What Writers Do

What Writers Do

Re-posted from our archives.

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By InstaScribe