By Intan Paramaditha
The Jakarta Post (Nov 10, 2014) interviewed me about my favorite books and reading habits via email for their “Bookworm” column. My answers are condensed in the following article (please click image):
Below I am sharing some unedited answers from the longer Q&A list.
Q: What are the three most influential books in your life, and why?
A: I omitted many influential books as I came up with this list:
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
I had been a fan of dark stories (Poe, especially) when I first encountered Frankenstein at 19, but it was the first book that inspired me to read – and later, write – horror with a feminist perspective. It deploys the myth of Prometheus to critique the notion of creation, technology, and patriarchal society. The themes of women and horror in the short story collection Sihir Perempuan were influenced by this book as well as other works by women writers such as Margaret Atwood and Anne Sexton.
Plays by William Shakespeare
I always love Shakespeare’s evil women (Lady Macbeth, Goneril, Gertrude, Sycorax)– and don’t we all have a bit of Shylock and Iago in ourselves? Tragedies aside, A Midsummer Night’s Dream was the first play I read in high school; it was the reason why I studied English Literature as an undergraduate and became an avid reader of plays. Shakespeare, O’Neill, Williams, Ibsen, Strindberg, and Motinggo Boesye’s Malam Jahanam have for years influenced my aesthetic preferences and – to some extent — my approach to writing, including in the process of writing the play Goyang Penasaran.
Orang-orang Bloomington by Budi Darma
I dismissed OOB as a teenager and rediscovered it in my early 30s. I did a close reading of the book with my boyfriend as mature readers and writers. Today I treasure the book as the best Indonesian short story collection I’ve read. I am inspired by its perverse characters, anti-romantic cosmopolitan worldview, subtle but sadistic storytelling. Budi Darma is a mischievous Jane Austen.
Q: What do you consider when you decide to buy books?
Is it the cover, the reviews, or the author?
A: It’s never random. I always have a “must-read” list for the purpose of writing.
I curate my own reading cautiously because I don’t have time to read everything. I still read popular books that everyone talks about (e.g. some saccharine-sweet best selling Indonesian novels) just to keep me updated, but many times I don’t finish them because I need to save my time for more challenging books. I am not apologetic about being highly selective because I am not getting any younger. I don’t have time to read for the sake of killing time. I once told my creative writing students: soon you need to start taking into account the questions of what you are reading, why, and how.
Q: What are you currently reading?
A: I am rereading Publics and Counterpublics, a book by social theorist Michael Warner. After completing my Ph.D dissertation on film, activism, and sexual politics in Indonesia, I feel that I should really go back to the question of “what is a public” in Indonesian context.
Q: What makes you like reading?
A: I read because I don’t want to feel secure of what I know. Comfort zones are dangerous. Feeling that your knowledge is adequate or that your ideas and style are original (without tracing the genealogy of things) is bad for critical thinking and creative processes.
Great books challenge my assumptions and boundaries, my sense of security. And as Hecate, goddess of witchcraft, says in Macbeth, “Security is mortals’ chiefest enemy.”