Shirley Jackson was a prolific writer whose best-known novel was The Haunting of Hill House, which was also made into a popular motion picture. The Library of America published a collection of her best stories, sketches and novels a few years ago and now, fifty years after her death, another collection of her prose, Let Me Tell You, has been issued. Continue reading
“The reader of a novel–by which I mean the critical reader–is himself a novelist; he is the maker of a book which may or may not please his taste when it is finished, but of a book for which he must take his own share of the responsibility.”–Percy Lubbock
Earlier this year I mentioned several books on writing that I turn to when my writing isn’t going well. As it happens, both of my current books are going fine –I have a firm publication date (Dec. 2) for The Nun’s Dowry, and have just passed the 36,000 word mark in Juvenal’s Lament–but I’ve started reading The Craft of Fiction, by Percy Lubbock, anyway. Continue reading
There was a column in our morning paper today by David Brooks, who writes for the New York Times, It was about how the Internet affects our attention spans. Research has shown “that the online life nurtures fluid intelligence and offline life is better at nurturing crystallizing intelligence. Fluid intelligence is a set of skills that exist in the moment . . . that perceive situations and navigate to solutions . . . independent of long experience.” Continue reading
I recently took a trip through the Panama Canal. It is an engineering marvel built a century ago that is about to be duplicated in January when a second set of locks starts moving even larger boats across the 50-mile Isthmus of Panama. During the cruise, I read Abroad, which was written by Paul Fussell in 1980. He says in his Preface that the book is about both “travel” and “travel writing,” and it was the latter that really caught my attention. Continue reading
I’ve just finished reading the autobiography of Anthony Trollope. It’s a delightful memoir told by a man who may have written and published more lines of English prose than anyone before him. It’s instructive in equal parts on the economics of writing in the 19th century (which probably haven’t changed all that much), and the craft of writing itself. I recommend it–it’s a free ebook on Amazon.
When I’m between books (Lucifer’s Promise is now with the publisher and The Nun’s Dowry Is still being (endlessly) revised), I often go back and re-read books about writing, an exercise that refreshes me and reminds me what I’m trying to do. When I first started writing fiction, I read both of John Gardner’s books, The Art of Fiction and On Becoming A Novelist. Both are a little dense, in the sense of a thick or closely packed structure, but worth the while of anyone who wants to write prose fiction. Fiction Writer’s Handbook by Hallie and Whit Burnett (preface by Norman Mailer and epilogue by J.D. Salinger) is easier to digest. Continue reading
A few days ago, I sat in a dentist’s chair reading my Kindle. I always carry the Kindle in order to endure the ritual interval between my appointment time and the actual laying on of hands. When the hygienist appeared, she asked me what I was reading. When I told her, she said something like, “That’s too heavy for me. My job’s stressful enough as it is. I read to relax–James Paterson, Lee Child. I don’t want to think.” I nodded because what else could I do? She had the drill. Continue reading
“No two persons ever read the same book.”–Edmund Wilson
I’m continually surprised by what readers say about my novels. When I’m writing a book, I balance many things in my head, but somewhere along the line–at 60 percent, maybe–I know what I’m trying to say and how I’m going to say it. The final version is my best effort–after constant editing and months of revisions–to do just that. And then, when I have the happy opportunity to talk to a reader or read a review, they never mention the idea I was trying to get across. Continue reading
Back in February, I wrote a post about controversy in the summer reading program at the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC. The book selected by the school, which all incoming freshman were expected to read, was Fun Home, written and drawn in comic book form by Allison Bechdel. Fun Home, according to the Charleston Post & Courier, describes the author’s “childhood with a closeted gay father . . . the trial he faced over his dealings with young boys; his suicide; and her own coming out as a lesbian.” The College said it merely wanted to have a “conversation” about homosexuality (and perhaps pedophilia and suicide as well). The South Carolina legislature, fearing “indoctrination,” docked the school $52,000, the cost of the reading program, and the usual dance began. Continue reading
“It is clear the books owned the shop, rather than the other way about. Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat, breeding and multiplying, and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down.”–Agatha Christie
The shop Dame Agatha describes could be my office. Books occupy virtually all the otherwise open space. A few weeks ago, I resolved to confine my books to their appointed places–shelves, behind the glass front of my secretary, a special few on the built-in cabinet where the computer sits–which required that many of them go to the attic. Things were very tidy for a couple of days, and then the “breeding” began. Continue reading
Several months ago I wrote a post called “The Summer Reading List” in which I suggested that agenda promotion in required reading was unlikely to generate much interest from its target (and captive) audience. Turns out it’s worse than that–it forces the beleaguered college student to wrestle with politicians and the American Civil Liberties Union, too.
The agenda at the College of Charleston (Charleston, SC) for the current academic year–acceptance of “the gay and lesbian lifestyle”–may seem somewhat dated but, hey, things are slow down here. This is where a crowd of planters started the Civil War, and we’re still fighting it. The book chosen to begin the “conversation” (as the College would have it) or “indoctrination” (Republican legislators) is Fun Home, an “illustrated memoir” by Alison Bechdel, also the author of a long-running comic strip called “Dykes to Watch Out For.” As a result, the Budget Committee of the South Carolina legislature, concerned about the callow sensibilities of the College’s freshmen and hoping to forestall similar offerings, docked the school $52,000, the entire cost of its summer reading program. Continue reading