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Why don't you write something I might read?

Suresh Menon

Published : Saturday, 14 May, 2022 at 12:00 AM  Count : 135
Reviewed by Uma Mahadevan - Dasgupta

Crisp, engaging, unhurried essays on reading and writingÖ
Why don't you write something I might read?

Why don't you write something I might read?

What is it that sparks a lifelong reading habit? According to Suresh Menon: "To start reading at an early age, some conditions appear necessary: a childhood that is lonely and bereft of entertainment, a house filled with siblings where the youngest is too young or the oldest too old, an absent parent or two, an encouraging parent or two ( My father made me read Mexican history: Carlos Fuentes), early illness leading to hours alone in bed ( I was greatly blessed by asthma: A.S. Byatt), a love for lively fictional characters rather than towards the living, a view of books as an escape route ( Burrowing in mystery novels for the secret passageway out, the path of avoidance and vindication: John Updike)."
Though Suresh is widely known as a cricket writer, he has also read widely and written extensively about books. In his new collection of essays  Why don't you write something I might read? there is a refreshing crispness, with short sentences, the occasional single-line paragraph, and an unhurried style - almost like that of a spectator sitting in the shade, watching a leisurely match play out on the greens, with a book lying open before him, so that he can dip into it during a break.

Advice from Naipaul
Suresh shares some fascinating anecdotes - such as V.S. Naipaul advising the young journalist never to look down on his profession: "Some great novelists would make terrible journalists." Or that bit about Cervantes, who was such a compulsive reader that he read bits of torn paper he found in the street; Ved Mehta who once said of Muriel Spark that "she went through people like pieces of Kleenex"; and the Soviet dissident who, in prison, was only allowed a collection of Martin Gardner's logical puzzles, which he used to outwit his interrogators.
The most engaging essays in the collection are those on sport. Suresh shares that for a long time, the sports section of a newspaper was called the Toy Department - the place for oddballs and misfits. He tells of George Plimpton's Small Ball Theory of writing about sport, in which Plimpton argues that smaller the ball, greater the literature was likely to be. And he writes about the first cricket writer in prose, with match details - a woman, Mary Russell Mitford, who wrote, "I doubt whether there be any scene in the world more delightful than a cricket match."
Suresh writes that in those days, ghostwriting was seen as part of the work of a sportswriter. He once ghost-wrote a newspaper column for Tiger Pataudi, who was happy to let him write it without discussion or signoff: "Enjoy yourself, he said, but don't get me into trouble."
As a sports editor, he got Pico Iyer to write an essay on cricket: "The great open space between the trees is a perfect elegance of green and white. You can smell the fresh-cut grass. The pavilion in one corner, now empty, speaks for a near-vanished world of clapping and tea."
He writes about Mike Marqusee's last essay on cricket for a collection that Suresh was editing: "Cricket offers all the pleasures of sport in general, plus a highly distinctive appeal of its own, to which many elements contribute. One of the chief of these is the way it treats time and space. It keeps its own archaic kind of time... Cricket is a game with a determined centre and an indeterminate periphery."

This is an engaging collection of essays about reading and writing, and so much in between.

Courtesy: THE HINDU

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