We spoke to Sreeraj whose taste in books covers fiction, poetry and translations.
There were always a lot of books and magazines in the house, in both English and Malayalam, as everyone in my family read. Some magazines I remember are Mathrubhumi, Manorajyam, Kumkumam. My favorite author at that point was the detective story writer, Kottayam Pushpanath, and I especially liked his detective character, Pushparaj.
As I grew older, a writer who really influenced me was literary critic, M. Krishnan Nair. His weekly column Sahitya Varaphalam introduced me and many readers back in the 1970s and 80s to world literature. He suggested many rare authors and this kind of curation in pre-internet days was beneficial to learn about unknown books from foreign countries. I was a regular library goer and I still enjoy visiting the British Council, which has a huge collection of Commonwealth literature.
How has reading books synced with your career?
I’ve worked as an editor and right now am in the technical writing space. What I’ve learned from books is that to write well you need to read really good fiction and poetry. Writers like Ruth Padel and W.G Sebald have changed the way I think and write — so much depth and beauty in their writing.
How do you discover the writers you want to read these days?
Well, this is the time of Instapoets and Goodreads. I prefer to trust the judgment of reviewers in literary journals like TLS. I gravitate toward European literature a bit more but I must confess my love for Faulkner.
Faulkner’s prose is stellar. What advice do you have to give people who are attempting to read his work for the first time?
Well, no matter whose work it is –Faulkner, Kundera or Kafka– I prefer to close read the book first and then put it into context. Google is the best to dig deep. Identifying which books to read is far harder than reading itself. Social media offers many choices but sometimes visiting curated sites like Words Without Borders throws open to you a wealth of translations that will enrich your reading experience. Non-fiction titles may be popular but if, for instance, you want to understand psychology, reading short stories and novels by Henry James is more effective.
Preferences- eBooks or print books or audiobooks?
Print books, hands down, though I have noticed that the paper quality of books seems to be compromised these days. I’ve never been able to read an eBook that runs into hundreds of pages. Too much trouble. I’ve noticed that when poets read their poems aloud, it is far more impactful.