Reading Corner with Fatima Bhutto

Fatima Bhutto is the author of Songs of Blood and Sword and The Shadow of the Crescent Moon, among others. 

How and when did you develop an interest in reading?  What is the importance of this habit in your life?

When I was very young, almost as soon I could read. My father took me to the library, I must have been in the first grade, and I remember the awe I felt at entering this room filled with books. He checked out a few books for me and we would read them together. It was a passion he passed on to me, he loved books and reading. And I think it must have been in the third grade, around ten years old, when I realised this was a universe that I could share with others and that I could keep all to myself.

When it comes to genere, which one do you prefer reading the most? Reason for this preference?

I love fiction but of course it varies. There are periods I read a lot of history or essays and others when its short stories.

Recall an Aha moment(s) you had while reading. How has that changed your perspective to life?

I have these every ten minutes. It’s made me open to the world, you never know when something inspires you, when you learn you’re wrong, when you observe something you never had the patience to notice before.

If you were to re-write a book that you have read, which one would you? Why would you change it?

I would never to do that. It’s horribly intrusive and violating. I find it really troubling the way everything is supposed to be personalised now – you can’t capture an image unless you’re in it.  In the selfie era, you have to be in everything – have an opinion and a personal stamp on all ideas and property. It’s so self-important and boring.

Do you have an emotional bond with any specific books? What caused that bond?

Many. I love Hector Abad’s Oblivion because it’s a book that I empathised with hugely. I just read Hisham Matar’s The Return and Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk and I felt the same about both because they are beautiful elegies to loss.

  • Sunjeev Sahota’s two novels and Junot Diaz’s books are stunningly written.
  • The Lowlands by Jhumpa Lahiri.
  • The Good Doctor by Damon Galgut.
  • Sharon and my mother in law is a fantastic book of essays from Palestine.
  • The Great Gatsby was the first novel I ever loved.
  • Slow Lightening by Eduardo Coral, Agha Shahid Ali’s collections and Ocean Vuong’s book of poems I return to all the time.

Do you keep going back to any book(s)? Why? Any book(s) you have not been able to finish? Why?

I have started to re-read books – poetry I always return to. But lately I go back and re-read things I loved, I always get something new from revisiting books but mainly it’s the happiness that comes from re-reading something beautiful.

Books I haven’t been able to finish… I try my best but if I don’t like a book, I don’t have any guilt about putting it down. Life is too short to read bad books. I also go back and read books I have put down years later and happily find in many cases that I was wrong – that’s great to discover. I put Bel Canto down when I read it years ago (God knows why) but I picked it up this fall and inhaled it – I loved it and I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t loved it when I tried reading it the first time.

Who are your favourite writers? Any writer(s) you think are under rated? Your favourite Pakistani writer(s)?

All the writers I mentioned above are certainly favourites. A.A Gill was a favourite of mine long before I knew him. I have only read two of her books but I like Deborah Levy, she’s so searing. Joan Didion, Pankaj Mishra, Jonathan Franzen, Forrough Farrokhzad, Naipaul (more his non-fiction than his fiction though I like that too), Salman Rushdie’s early novels, I like so many books it’s difficult to say this is a favourite and this is not. Jennifer Egan’s Look at Me is a superb novel.

All the writers coming out of Pakistan are brilliant – so funny and powerful and brave. But my favourite are the poets – Faiz, Habib Jalib, Mir.

Any short stories or essays that you would like to recommend to our readers?

Read all of A.A Gill’s essays, Vivian Gornick’s Fierce Attachment is a great essay, Ta Nahesi Coates Between the World and Me is incredible… Tania James Aerogrammes, Krys Lee’s book of short stories is wondrous, Once the Shore by Paul Moon is a great collection of stories too. Share books, that’s what I recommend to your readers. I try to make it a point to leave books around, on planes, in cars, in coffee places for strangers to find – what better surprise is there to walk into a place and see a book sitting there, alone, just waiting for you?

Interview By Fatima Arif 


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