This is a quote from the essay Notes on Camp by Susan Sontag.
Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!
Notes on Camp – Summary
Here is the book summary:
‘The ultimate Camp statement: it’s good because it’s awful.’
These two classic essays were the first works of criticism to break down the boundaries between ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture, and made Susan Sontag a literary sensation.
Penguin Modern: fifty new books celebrating the pioneering spirit of the iconic Penguin Modern Classics series, with each one offering a concentrated hit of its contemporary, international flavour. Here are authors ranging from Kathy Acker to James Baldwin, Truman Capote to Stanislaw Lem and George Orwell to Stevie Smith; essays radical and inspiring; poems moving and disturbing; stories surreal and fabulous; taking us from the deep South to modern Japan, New York’s underground scene to the farthest reaches of outerspace.
The month of May is often an opportunity to celebrate Asian and Pacific Islander people and their heritage. In America the month is called Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month and in Canada it’s called Asian Heritage Month. For this month, I’ll be sharing books by Asian authors.
Have you ever wanted to visit India? Here’s your chance to visit India through reading!
As long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to visit India. I haven’t had the chance yet, but I know one day I will end up going. But until that time I will continue reading books from India to learn more about the country and it’s culture.
Interestingly, English is the second official language of India, with Hindi being the first official language. There are also an additional 22 scheduled languages considered official languages for use in government proceedings. These 22 languages are either widely spoken or considered an official language at a state-level.
India has a very diverse language landscape. There are 122 major languages, with an additional 1,599 used in India. In the 2018 census, there was a total of 19,569 unique mother tongues listed on the census. But a vast majority, 96.71%, of the population have one of the scheduled languages as their mother tongue (Source).
Since there are so many languages used within India, you’ll notice that Indian literature spans many languages. Many Indian authors also write books in English. You’ll see a similar diversity in the books listed below.
I believe this also poses unique accessibility barriers for Indian literature. Books written in English are easily accessible to the rest of the English speaking world, but often times the lesser known languages may have difficulty getting translated.
Five books from Indian authors
Here’s a list of five books with Indian authors.
The Crooked Line: Terhi Lakir by Ismat Chughtai (1944) – translated from Urdu
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (1997) – written in English
Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh (2008) – written in English
Tomb of Sand by Geetanjali Shree (2018) – translated from Hindi
Burnt Sugar by Avni Doshi (2019) – written in English
They are listed in order of when they were published. Keep reading to find out more about each one.
The Crooked Line: Terhi Lakir (1944)
by Ismat Chughtai, translated from Urdu by Tahira Naqvi
Importance: An influential work of Urdu fiction from a feminist writer of that time
In India’s colonial past, in a time of political and social revolution, Ismat Chughtai masterfully unfolds her magna opus, The Crooked Line: the semi-autobiographical tale of a fiery-spirited, middle-class Muslim girl bent on exploring the shape and nature of consuming desire. Writing with the same honesty and passion as her scandalous short-story, “The Quilt,” Chughtai exposes the complex relationships developed between women living and working in relative seclusion, and the intellectual and emotional contradictions lying in the heart of a rebellious country on the brink of independence from the British Raj and ultimately Partition.
Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, historical, literary, emotional, reflective, sad, slow-paced
Importance: Winner of the Booker Prize in 1997, and the Dublin Literary Award Nominee in 1999
Compared favorably to the works of Faulkner and Dickens, Arundhati Roy’s debut novel is a modern classic that has been read and loved worldwide. Equal parts powerful family saga, forbidden love story, and piercing political drama, it is the story of an affluent Indian family forever changed by one fateful day in 1969. The seven-year-old twins Estha and Rahel see their world shaken irrevokably by the arrival of their beautiful young cousin, Sophie. It is an event that will lead to an illicit liaison and tragedies accidental and intentional, exposing “big things [that] lurk unsaid” in a country drifting dangerously toward unrest. Lush, lyrical, and unnerving, The God of Small Things is an award-winning landmark that started for its author an esteemed career of fiction and political commentary that continues unabated.
Importance: Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2008
Part of the Ibis trilogy
At the heart of this vibrant saga is a vast ship, the Ibis. Her destiny is a tumultuous voyage across the Indian Ocean shortly before the outbreak of the Opium Wars in China. In a time of colonial upheaval, fate has thrown together a diverse cast of Indians and Westerners on board, from a bankrupt raja to a widowed tribeswoman, from a mulatto American freedman to a free-spirited French orphan. As their old family ties are washed away, they, like their historical counterparts, come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais, or ship-brothers. The vast sweep of this historical adventure spans the lush poppy fields of the Ganges, the rolling high seas, and the exotic backstreets of Canton.
Importance: Winner of International Book Prize in 2022
An eighty-year-old woman slips into a deep depression at the death of her husband, then resurfaces to gain a new lease on life. Her determination to fly in the face of convention – including striking up a friendship with a hijra (trans) woman – confuses her bohemian daughter, who is used to thinking of herself as the more ‘modern’ of the two.
At the older woman’s insistence they travel back to Pakistan, simultaneously confronting the unresolved trauma of her teenage experiences of Partition, and re-evaluating what it means to be a mother, a daughter, a woman, a feminist.
Rather than respond to tragedy with seriousness, Geetanjali Shree’s playful tone and exuberant wordplay results in a book that is engaging, funny, and utterly original, at the same time as being an urgent and timely protest against the destructive impact of borders and boundaries, whether between religions, countries, or genders.
Originally published in India under the title Girl in White Cotton
In her youth, Tara was wild. She abandoned her loveless marriage to join an ashram, endured a brief stint as a beggar (mostly to spite her affluent parents), and spent years chasing after a dishevelled, homeless ‘artist’ – all with her young child in tow. Now she is forgetting things, mixing up her maid’s wages and leaving the gas on all night, and her grown-up daughter is faced with the task of caring for a woman who never cared for her.
This is a love story and a story about betrayal. But not between lovers – between mother and daughter. Sharp as a blade and laced with caustic wit, Burnt Sugar unpicks the slippery, choking cord of memory and myth that binds two women together, making and unmaking them endlessly.
Do you want to read more poetry but not sure where to start?
For April, poetry month, I’ll be sharing various poetry recommendations to help you read more poetry.
For this week, I wanted to share five women poets that are considered classics. I tried to give a range of options from around the world and from across the centuries.
All five of the women poets discussed below lived before the 20th century (so in the 1800’s or earlier).
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more women poets, each week moving closer to present day.
Five classic women poets
Here’s a list of five women poets that lived before the 20th century.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I’ve listed them in order of when they lived. Keep reading to find out more about each one.
Sappho (620 BCE–550 BCE)
620 BCE–550 BCE
Archaic Greek Poet
Counted among the greatest of poets in Greek Antiquity
Very little is known about Sappho, a well-renown poet from Greek antiquity. Details of her life are often inconsistently reported or are simply unknown.
Additionally, most of her poems have been lost over time, and what has remained are mostly just fragments of poems. Her poem “Ode to Aphrodite” is one of the only complete poems that remain.
But in antiquity Sappho was considered among the greatest of poets. Just as Homer was called “the Poet”, she was called “the Poetess”, and Plato considered her the “tenth Muse”.
She is from the island of Lesbos, and is considered a symbol of love and desire between women as many of her love poems were about women. Due to this, the words lesbian and sapphic were inspired by her.
You can access her poems for free on Project Gutenberg here.
Hindu mystic poet and devotee of Krishna
Mīrābāī was a 16th century mystic poet, with most of her poems and songs about Krishna (the Hindu God of Protection, Compassion, Tenderness, and Love). She considered Krishna to be her best friend, lover and husband.
Millions of hymns are attributed to Mīrābāī, but only a few hundred are considered to be authentically written by her. The rest are likely written by others who admired her. Also, many of her compositions continue to be sung today in India, with one of her most popular compositions being “Payoji maine Ram Ratan dhan payo” (पायो जी मैंने राम रतन धन पायो।, “I have been given the richness of Lord’s name blessing”).
She is also the subject of many legends and folk tales, but with very inconsistent details across them. However, one consistent aspect is that most legends discuss her fearless disregard for social and familial conventions.
Former slave, and first Black American woman to publish poetry
Key book: Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral
Phillis Wheatley was born in West Africa, but was then kidnapped and sold to the Wheatley family of Boston when she was seven or eight. In addition to her domestic obligations, the Wheatley family did provide her with an extensive education and encouraged her to pursue writing. However, she was not emancipated/manumitted (set free) from the family until after she published her book of poetry.
Phillis Wheatley was the first Black American woman to publish poetry, and considered the first to make a living from her writing. Even after she was interviewed by 18 prominent men in Boston to prove that she wrote her own poetry, no one in the Americas was willing to publish her poetry. She was finally able to publish this collection of poetry in London in 1773.
Despite international recognition, she was unable to find anyone to publish any further volumes of poetry. She was able to publish some poetry in pamphlets and newspapers, but only in limited amounts.
Unfortunately, she ended up dying in abject poverty, with many of her poems lost due to lack of support.
You can access her poems for free on Project Gutenberg here.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806–1861)
English poet of the Victorian era
One of the most respected poets of the Victorian era
Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most respected poets of the Victorian Era. She started writing poetry at a very young age and was primarily self taught in the areas of literature and the languages of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew.
She published her first collection of poems as an adult in 1838, and then wrote prolifically through 1841-1844. Her volume Poems published in 1844 was very successful and caught the attention of her future husband Robert Browning.
She was successful and quite popular in the UK and the United States. She heavily influenced both Emily Dickinson and Edgar Allen Poe.
Elizabeth held strong liberal values, especially for that era, and actively campaigned against slavery and in favour of children’s rights (against child labour).
One of her most famous poems is Number 43.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and Ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise;
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith;
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life!—and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
You can access her poems for free on Project Gutenberg here.
Emily Dickinson (1830–1886)
Amherst, Massachusetts, USA
One of the most important American poets
Emily Dickinson is regarded as one of the most important and original American poets, but was little-known during her life and lived most of her life in isolation.
She was a prolific writer, but only 10 of her poems were published in her lifetime. Her sister discovered her extensive poetry collection after Emily’s death, and her poems were later published by her acquaintances.
Many of her poems were heavily edited before her acquaintances published them, especially with regards to her dedications and references to Susan (her sister-in-law Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson). Scholars often interprete this relationship as romantic, but edits were often done to hide the true nature of their relationship.