What I read

What I Read & Wrote & Published in January 2022 (Hitler’s Vienna; Edwin Drood; Cat On A Hot Tin Roof; The Glass Menagerie; A Streetcar Named Desire)

Read: Nonfiction & a novel & drama & some short stories.

Wrote & published: mostly short fiction.

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What I Read:

Hitler’s Vienna (1999). Brigitte Hamann. This 500-page tome is a work of dense scholarship. I’ve been reading this book for months, making extensive notes – Hamann has so much to say, & says it so succinctly, I find myself making notes on almost every para. Hitler’s Vienna documents the Vienna Hitler knew when he migrated from Linz, Austria to the Habsburg capital, where he spent his late teens and early twenties. Vienna had a monumental formative influence on Hitler: an orphan, a school dropout, a prospectless homeless young man. To my astonishment, almost every part of Hitler’s later worldview was drawn from strands of existing thought. Antisemitism, mysticism, obsession with Aryanism, hatred of the Austro-Hungarian multiethnic empire, pan-German nationalism, and socialism are just some of the keystones in Hitler’s ideology whose genesis in turn-of-the-century Vienna Hamann traces meticulously. Hitler himself, wishing to present the illusion that he had cobbled together his weltanschauung all by himself, often took great pains to hide his sources. Unprecedented as Hitler’s deeds were, Hitler’s Vienna shows us that his thinking was not at all original. And that to me is the tragedy. Numerous thinkers and laypeople, popular movements, ethnic strife, and failures of parliamentary government systematically paved the way for Hitler. It’s never just one man. So let us beware ourselves.

Edwin Drood (1870). Charles Dickens. Dickens’s last novel. He died almost exactly halfway through publishing it in serial format. Dickens liked things to be obvious, so the central ‘mystery’ won’t befuddle any reader. But Dickens is still at his peak – it’s tragic that he died at just 56. His characterisation is excellent: in Rosa Bud we have a pretty, amiable domestic woman who nevertheless turns out cleverer and more mature than her lover, and takes her fate in her own hands. Dickens has thus turned on its head the dichotomy of pretty, good, silly or demure woman vs. evil, clever, independent woman (Think Lucie Manette vs. Madame Defarge) — which he made some headway with in earlier novels. Dickens remains daring with his content: Drood opens in an opium den. His language is as sparkling as ever, and his humour has gentled away from the biting irony of his earlier work. Don’t let the fact that this novel is half-finished stop you. You’ll solve the mystery without trouble and enjoy a damn good Dickens.

Good Old Neon (2001). David Foster Wallace. I’m writing a short story collection, & I ought to read much more short fiction, so I’ve decided to list here any notable short fiction I read. A friend and critique partner got me to read this novelette. I find DFW a bit of a chore, but I’m glad I read this dark, funny story about a man with impostor syndrome. Earlier I’d read DFW’s short story about a depressed person. What’s striking and true about both stories is how mental illness makes a person self-centred. DFW captures this with relentless clarity. Less to my taste are the convoluted sentences: meant to capture the onionlike layers of self-consciousness, and the infinitude contained in every living moment.

A Streetcar Named Desire (1947). Tennessee Williams. Watched a few clips from the Vivien Leigh film, and decided to read the play. Have been wanting to get back to reading drama. I enjoyed reading the play, which differs from the film in several ways. First, the film, being Code-era, could not show Blanche’s rape – which the play hints at much more strongly. Second, the play’s Stella is much more conforming than the film’s Stella. In the film, Blanche gets some way towards persuading her sister to leave her kiss-me-then-kick-me husband. In the play, Stella never intends to leave him: she’s blindly in lust with him, which makes her to me an unsympathetic character. In contrast Stanley is both a strong man & a thinking man, in both play & film. All three main characters are interesting and unexpected, though in the play Stella less so than the other two. Blanche’s beau is less brutish than in the film, which makes his duping more pathetic. I realised while reading this that, of course, Blue Jasmine was inspired by Blanche DuBois.

Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (1955). Tennessee Williams. Having enjoyed Desire, I read two other Williams plays. Tin Roof, too, has a gay character (or two, depending on your interpretation) repressing his homosexuality. The ‘cat’ is Margaret, who’s married to one of the possibly gay men, and whose life is falling apart as the patriarch of the vast Mississippi plantation they live on faces a terminal cancer diagnosis. Margaret is childless, unloved, and catty – and acknowledges herself so. The hot tin roof on which she’s dancing around consists of a husband whom she loves but who can’t stand her, and who’s drinking himself to death; of the network of lies on which the fabric of their lives is built; and the tricks she must play to claw on to existence. Beautiful portraits of a woman driven by exigency to hard merriment, and of Big Daddy, Big Mamma, and Brick’s friendship with Skipper.

The Glass Menagerie (1944). Tennessee Williams. My favourite play of these three. Amanda is a middle-aged woman, formerly a southern belle from a wealthy planter’s family, now living narrowly in the city. An ill-advised marriage has left Amanda the single parent of two shiftless adult children. Amanda tries desperately to keep things together, and to restore the family’s former glory. She’s valiantly blind in the face of shoddy reality. Her efforts to keep up appearances are both noble and insane. She nags her son Tom to the brink of insanity or violence, and tortures her disabled daughter Laura with the prospect of love. This portrait of a woman desperate for glory, haranguing her children ceaselessly & uselessly, is uncomfortably recognisable.

Also read some short stories on Electric Lit, & reread the heartbreaking short story “Flowers for Algernon.”

What I Wrote:

Drafted “Night” and “Evening.” These were originally microstories (<500 words) from a linked set. With feedback from critique partners, I developed these two into short stories. Both short stories have received critiques and are now in revision. I also drafted “Forgive” and “While I Was Shitting,” [sic] two short stories <2k each. I drafted “Waiting,” a micro/flash story that has been critiqued & is now in revision. I also did some work drafting chapters for my novel Mirror, though I didn’t work on Mirror as much this month. Am reviewing the novel now. It’s a big project & I review it occasionally to course-correct.

I edited “Last Day of Freedom,” a 6k which I will be submitting to lit mags next week.

I worked a bit on rewrites for some other recent short stories and novelettes: “How I Learnt About Cars,” “Free,” and “The Chance.” Will rewrite these in February.

I planned a novelette called “The Flat,” which years ago began as a short story then became an abandoned novel and then a novella. I will make it work somehow: I’m thinking 10k might work. Maybe I’ll draft this in February too. I’m very bad at estimating how long anything will take me, & therefore how much I can get done in a day or a year.

Most of these stories will go into the collection, which is about women’s lives in contemporary India.

What I Published:

Sledgehammer published my flash story “School Trip.”

The Black Fork Review published my short story “Rush.”

I reviewed proofs for my flash story “Fish” forthcoming in Bandit Fiction. (“Fish” was previously published in Kelp, where it won last year’s Summer Fiction Award. Bandit Fiction has previously published my flash story “They Told My Friend,” which will be republished by The Scarlet Leaf Review this September. The Scarlet Leaf Review has previously published my short story “Excuses.”) “The Why & the How” has been through two rounds of critiques on, as well as outside, IWW.

Bewildering Stories accepted my short story “The Why & the How” for publication. This will be out in March. Bewildering Stories has previously serialised my novelette “Zeus & His Things.”


By Amita Basu

I'm a writer based in Bangalore, India.

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