Poll in the Literary Court

How does reading about Barack Obama’s father shape world literature? Is the literary world a conglomerate that follows trends or patterns? Then, does it not oppose the very idea of creativity?

In a poll conducted by the international writing magazine Wasafiri 25 writers were asked about the books that have shaped world literature, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude topped the list. This book even in its translated version is older than 25 years. There is no doubt that it remains a delight in the magic realist genre and is fabulously nuanced and loaded with symbolism.

One of the primary reasons mentioned for its choice is, "Apart from the fact that it's an amazing book, it taught western readers tolerance for other perspectives."

Are we assuming that the West must decide? Have there been no literary efforts in other languages precluding English? Not all of the writers polled are considered huge names. Therefore, this sort of survey is obviously the opinion of 25 people. Is it any better than a random reader poll?

These are essentially reviewer type pat choices. Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita has been chosen for its “astonishing virtuoso performance, which has never been excelled". Never according to whom? One writer. Is literature a performance? How do we measure excellence? And if it has not been bettered then how has it influenced world literature at all? Aren’t creative efforts about growth, even if – better if – it is tangential?

Is Raymond Carver’s work important because, "Thousands of young writers have been taught to pare their work to the bone”? Are we talking about literature as an editing course?

Ted Hughes's Birthday Letters was chosen for "a new form of intimate poetry, quite different from Robert Lowell's confessional verse". Is poor Lowell the only one into confessional verse? And what is intimate poetry? Writing about intimate things or getting the reader to get intimately involved in the process of such work and its thoughts and metaphors?

Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and Satanic Verses figure as well. I was curious about the latter. How would this book qualify as one that influenced the literary world? Are we talking about writing, pushing the envelope or inviting controversy? What was Rushdie’s literary topography to begin with? A religious book. Would he agree that he was influenced by it and therefore his effect on literature is a reflection of the effect of the Quran? Has his work seminally induced a genre of parodist writing? I am not too sure. Those who took on religious ideas did so from different perspectives – there was the modernist view, the alterative sexuality view, the view from the reverent side. And there have been several forms of irreverent writing before Verses.

I am quite amazed that in 25 years the Obama memoir, Dreams from My Father, made it. The reason: It is "definitely the most influential book historically, but … also a work of literature too, beautifully written, and the product of deep, open-hearted reflection".

Most influential historically? I do not think it is because he traces his father’s life. It is because he is the President of America and a product from a certain background. I cannot comprehend this obsession with the ‘difference’ being highlighted continually.

I suspect some books and literary figures get chosen because writers are sometimes not willing to take the onus of their own ideas.

Creativity is a lonely hunter and you may not find the big kill but, wait – can you feel the adrenaline rush? That is inspiration and perspiration enough.


  1. Thanks for letting me know that none of the important books you mentioned i had read .Rushdie did not keep my interest and others did not make it to me.

    Thanks for discussing this subject .I would like you to write about the books you liked and would recomend .
    thanks again
    you add to my education.
    kul bhushan

  2. It was good to read this. It took me to my days of Marquez. Difficult to read but later it was great. I have not read all those mentioned but Greene is omitted.

    Can you explain this to a non literary person like me............

    >I suspect some books and literary figures get chosen because writers are sometimes not willing to take the onus of their own ideas.

  3. Kul Bhushan:

    I believe one should read what one finds appealing while at the same time keeping options open that challenge us.

    I do not go by authors...it is usually the subject and th way it is written. Give me some time to think about some books that have made me sit up and think.

    As I said once before, when I am writing I get educated too. Thank you.


    These are specific choices by writers and there are omissions that you and I and others would have liked.

    Re. your query about this statement:

    I suspect some books and literary figures get chosen because writers are sometimes not willing to take the onus of their own ideas.

    Since these were books chosen by writers, and it happens often, those who aren't quite as big names tend to make safe choices, big names...it keeps them from pushing themselves to further limits of exploration. If nothing excels Nabokov's 'Lolita', then you can just sit back and work through familiar territory. Understand?


    Yes, I get that way by the mention of it. But honestly, before I read that book I would always say I don't really have a one favorite book. But after I read it, I say that 100 Years of Solitude is my favorite book from 1-10 and the other books I like start from 11th place. I could go on about how much I like it and what all I like about it...it was so smooth to read...

    My girlfriend gifted me a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera. Unfortunately I haven't read it (or anything else in a long time) due to time constraints. All I can treat myself to are snippets of a Cross Connection.

  5. Hmmm...CC khush hua...


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