Appreciating the beauty of fine writing

By J.R. Labbe

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

When a Nobel Prize winner in literature compiles a book of essays about writing, writers and readers should take note.

V.S. Naipaul's latest gift to the reading and writing public, "Literary Occasions," offers thoughtful tips to budding authors and ink-stained veterans while also providing a glimpse into Naipaul's personal journey from the 11-year-old who wished to be a writer to the adult who is world-renowned for his literature.

For those who have never opened a Naipaul book (he has published more than 20 in his 71 years), don't be intimidated at the thought of delving into the mind of this internationally acclaimed Nobel laureate. "Literary Occasions" is a sampler platter of previously published works, an ideal place to make one's first acquaintance with Naipaul's literary universe of colonies and empires, race and class struggles, travels far from home, and especially the father who was never far from his heart.


Each of the 11 pieces here offers delicious, spicy bits of Naipaul's talent, with a delicious dessert in the form of a postscript: Naipaul's 2001 Nobel lecture.

There is some redundancy in "Literary Occasions." Stories about the author's family's relocation to Trinidad from East India because of his grandfather's status as an indentured servant and of his father's struggle with mental illness are constant topics. But we begin by joining Naipaul in his 11th year, when he first determines that he will be a writer, even though there has been no indication of writing talent on the youngster's part.

That tale is told via Naipaul's foreword to his much-praised 1983 work, "A House for Mr. Biswas." It will bring comfort to every aspiring writer -- even those who long ago passed the tender age of 11.

After his self-educated father wills himself to become a writer -- and eventually works off and on as a journalist at the "Trinidad Guardian" -- Naipaul decides that writing is a noble profession.

"I had no gift," he confesses. "At least, I was aware of none. I had no precocious way with words, no talents for fantasy or story-telling."

From "no gift" to the 2001 Nobel Prize for lifetime achievement in literature -- quite a journey.

Naipaul draws deeply on his ability to observe the world and everything in it -- even his own family -- as an outsider.

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