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No.7 of #52Stories: A Helping Hand

28 February 2017
Posted in: 52 stories, Books, Social issues, Writing | No Comments

52 Stories 2017Back in 2015, I was asked by Vidya Mani if I’d like to do a book on the theme of fitting in for the StoryWeaver open-source repository of stories. She was commissioning a set of books on the broad subject of emotional intelligence. Of course, the answer was yes.

The result was A Helping Hand, a story about a reluctant ‘mentor’ who slowly thaws towards the new girl in his class.

There’s a new girl in class and our teacher has asked me to be her friend and show her around. But I’m not sure I want to – she’s… not like the rest of us!

Vidya is an exacting editor, and refused to give up as the story went through a few “meh” drafts. The final result is what you see on StoryWeaver, illustrated wonderfully by Vartika Sharma. I loved how Vartika gave her own interpretation to the epistolary format of the story. It was interesting also that I imagined the protagonist as a boy (though chose not to give him a name) and she saw her as a girl. Such surprises are what make up a truly collaborative work. Vartika’s style and the silhouette-y nature of the figures are what keep the story from being just a collection of boring, childish notes.

You can read the whole story here right now:

A Helping Hand has since been translated many times—into Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Odia, Tamil, Telugu, Konkani and even Indonesian. Since it’s a StoryWeaver publication, it is available under a Creative Commons licence, open to being downloaded, read, read aloud, printed, translated, re-illustrated and more. So feel free to read it, share it, download it, and pass it around.

~PD

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No.6 of #52Stories: Gul in Space

24 February 2017
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52 Stories 2017In 2016, I worked with Pratham Books’ Storyweaver project to commission a set of STEM books. The aim was to create fun, engaging picture books and illustrated books on various technology and engineering themes that could be used as supplementary to textbooks at the elementary level.

Since Pratham works with children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, the challenge was to create books that were inclusive and not too urban-centred, and keeping in mind that the text would be translated to many languages. I eventually commissioned four books, the first of which is just out: Richa Jha’s Gul in Space

This is a story in verse about young Gul, who, as a birthday treat, goes for a spin in a rocket, headed to the International Space Station. And, you guessed it, weightlessness strikes! To idea behind the book was to talk about space and zero-gravity environments through Richa Jha’s fun poetry and Lavanya Karthik’s vibrant art work. Take a look at it in full glory:

The book is going to be out in print form soon, but for now is available online at StoryWeaver. For the uninitiated, StoryWeaver is an open-source resource for stories in multiple languages. The stories on the site are available for reading, downloading, printing, translating, illustrating and re-levelling.

All stories and illustrations on StoryWeaver are available under open licenses. Which means we give people the right to share, use or even build upon the creative work that is available here. All tools for translation and formatting are absolutely free. The stories created here are actively shaped and nurtured into being delightful invitations for participation and collaboration – without the chains of restrictive copyright licenses. To read is to free the imagination, to discover new thoughts and ideas.

~PD

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No.4 of #52Stories: Shatter Me

11 February 2017
Posted in: 52 stories, Books | No Comments

[NOTE: I feel a little bad roasting this book here, mainly because if you can’t find even one good thing to say, then should you say anything at all? But I’ve run out of patience ploughing through it, so here goes…]

52 Stories 2017That hypothetical fine line between the sublime and the ridiculous? There’s a reason one is advised to navigate it with caution. Because sometimes you step out on the wrong side.

Shatter Me hooked me with its glowing ratings (4-star-plus in Goodreads), but had I cared to read the actual reviews, I’d certainly have given Tahereh Mafi’s trilogy opener a miss. To be fair, it has an interesting premise—a girl whose touch is lethal escapes her confinement at the hands of people who want to use her as a torture device. The storyline, though, follows a predictable path, and every single YA dystopia stereotype and plot device that you could think of is ticked off here.

I’m not going to tax my brain writing about the book. Here’s what the blurb says:

I have a curse
I have a gift

I am a monster
I’m more than human

My touch is lethal
My touch is power

I am their weapon
I will fight back

Juliette hasn’t touched anyone in exactly 264 days.

The last time she did, it was an accident, but The Reestablishment locked her up for murder. No one knows why Juliette’s touch is fatal. As long as she doesn’t hurt anyone else, no one really cares. The world is too busy crumbling to pieces to pay attention to a 17-year-old girl. Diseases are destroying the population, food is hard to find, birds don’t fly anymore, and the clouds are the wrong color.

The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war—and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she’s exactly what they need right now.

Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.

I would argue that there’s hardly any original plot in fantasy and the only thing distinguishing the good YA dystopias from the bad ones is the quality of writing. Which is where Shatter Me trips up. The style of writing can best be summed up as “purple prose”, where every second sentence is a metaphor. In fact, the narrative in many parts comprises run-on, punctuation-less, inane analogies that makes you wonder if Harper is suddenly short of editors. Some of the metaphors don’t even make sense and the narrator’s habit of crossing out (sanitizing?) her thoughts gets old very fast. Samples:

Every organ in my body falls to the floor.

He’s a hot bath, a short breath, 5 days of summer pressed into 5 fingers writing stories on my body.

His eyes are tight and his forehead pinched, his lips his lips his lips are 2 pieces of frustration forged together. I step backward and 10,000 tiny particles shatter between us.

I catch the rose petals as they fall from my cheeks, as they float around the frame of my body, as they cover me in something that feels like the absence of courage.

As one Goodreads reviewer aptly summed up, “Shatter Me, otherwise known as: When Creative Writing Class Goes Wrong.” Truly, it does seem like attempted artistic writing gone terribly horribly wrong.

It also includes some YA tropes that I find incredibly off-putting, such as the instant attraction between Juliette and Adam, so much so, that despite having been in solitary confinement for almost a year, the only thoughts Juliette can have when Adam comes close to her are about how hot he is and how she wants to melt like hot butter against his body (yes, really, though I couldn’t find the page for the actual quote). And how, when they’re running for their lives, they must stop for a make-out session.

Adam on his part has also secretly lusted after been in love with Juliette for yonks. That’s not all—Juliette, of course, thinks she’s hideous herself, but in reality she’s “beautiful”, as she’s told by one of the boys. But what is perhaps worst is not even the perfectly predictable story line and flimsy world building, but the fact that Juliette is also a perfect little Mary Sue. Somewhere, it’s clear that she’s imagined as a “good” person with a “terrible” power, but she’ll never harm anyone and she’ll bend but not break. However, what comes across is a damsel in distress who goes weak-kneed in the presence of her “beloved”.

It isn’t really fair to write about a book before you finish reading it, but I couldn’t help myself in this case. I admit that taste is subjective, and one woman’s tripe is another’s artistic wizardy. So I continue to read, and remain in hope of a shattering (pun accidental) twist that will make it all worth it.

~PD

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