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‘You write as good as you read’

books Updated: Jan 21, 2012 18:16 IST

Antara Das, antara.das@hindustantimes.com
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Ben Okri, Nigerian poet and novelist, is perhaps the most sought after novelist in this raucous lit fest. He took the stage on Saturday afternoon to talk about The Famished Road, his 1991 novel that won him the Booker Prize. He did speak on that book, recited a few of his poems, and yet what stuck was the clarity with which he spoke on ‘the word’: the way it’s read, and the way it’s written.

Economy with words was important, Okri said. The last couple of years have found him occupied with the kind of short, pithy essays that essentially combined poetry and aphorism. “Brevity is one of the most powerful tools in a writer’s hand,” he said.

How important was reading, as part of, and beyond the process of becoming a writer? “We think of reading as an innocent act, and we do not teach the art of reading,” Okri said. If reading was taught as a university course, one would learn to read more intelligently. The first step to be a writer was to be a reader, for “one’s writing can only be as good as one’s reading”.

Neither was reading a singular, one-time act. “The first reading [of a novel] is like cleaning of the [reading] glasses, the polishing of eyes... It is quite a misreading really, for you cannot appreciate the implications. And the start of a novel is precious to Okri. “The beginning contains the secret of a writer’s philosophy,” he said. To ignore it, was to ignore the “portal to experience” that it offered.