Misleading subtitle: “A Romp Through Literature for Writers and Readers.” More accurate: “A Random Assortment of Selections from Barnaby’s Favorite Books, Plays, and Movies for No Particular Audience or Purpose.” I didn’t not-enjoy reading it and I finished it, but the interstitial text is mostly a waste because it’s mostly narration and anecdotes rather than the help to writers it’s trying to be. A compilation that actually contrasted different kinds of scene approaches might actually be useful; this isn’t that.
If I hadn’t read so many books on writing, I might have gotten more out of this. A very quick read–short, pithy sentences like strings of aphorisms–which I’ll barely remember tomorrow. I liked the chapter epigraphs, excellent quotations from various writers, most of which were new to me. And this:
And don’t expect–even in fiction–for written things to be true just because they happened. This is no excuse. They have to happen on the page. With rhythm. With style. With a fierce honesty that is true to experience, not to fact.
All writing is imagination. It creates out of dust. Even what they choose to call nonfiction.
Re-read for the umpteenth time. I go back to these at least every few years, always with enjoyment and various types of annoyance. New or salient thoughts this time around:
- Why oh why did idiotic HarperCollins choose to re-order the series chronologically rather than by publication date? It ruins Lewis’ internal references and makes no sense. I feel sorry for kids today reading them in the wrong order.
- As a writer, I’m always trying to pick up on exactly how Lewis manages to be so freaking economical with words and scenes and still have huge story impact. He is one of the best at making the reader fill in gaps. Notice how little we know about anybody’s physical appearance, although the wonderful Pauline Baynes illustrations fill that in. He does rely heavily on his imaginary creatures having middle-class English lives–Mr. Tumnus with his afternoon tea and crumpets, etc.
- Christian apologetics fascinate me–I find so much to disagree with!–and the particular flaw I noticed this time is how in The Last Battle, the animals are taken in by the fake Aslan specifically because of the whole “he’s not a tame lion”/Abraham-and-Isaac dynamic. Lewis has it both ways–we know Aslan would never command cutting down the Talking Trees, but we’re not supposed to recognize that means we have independent moral judgement.
In 2016 I decided to at least keep a list of all the books I read. Along the way I inserted a few quotes. I’ll add a little info now – rereads, which book club, etc.
- Bridge Across Forever – Richard Bach (reread)
- The Enchanted – Rene Delderfield – for Second Monday book club
- Love in the Time of Climate Change – Brian Adams – for Nature and Environment book club
- War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy – for Great Books club
- She Painted Her Face – Dornford Yates (reread)
- Seven Footprints to Satan – A. A. Merritt (reread)
- White Dawn – James Houston (heavily referenced in The Enchanted, along with Crazy Weather below–I love books that lead to other books!)
- Crazy Weather – Charles McNichols
- The Cat’s Table – Michael Ondjaate – for Second Monday book club
“Mr Fonseka seemed to draw forth an assurance or a calming quality from the books he read… Mr Fonseka would not be a wealthy man. And it would be a spare life he would be certain to lead as a schoolteacher in some urban location. But he had a serenity that came with the choice of the life he wanted to live. And this serenity and certainty I have seen only among those who have the armor of books close by.“
- Silent Spring – Rachel Carson – for Nature and Environment book club
- Lucky Jim – Kingsley Amis (reread)
- This is the Story of a Happy Marriage – Ann Patchett
- Old Man’s War – John Scalzi
- As I Lay Dying – Faulkner – for Great Books club – OMG! can’t un-read the decaying body in the coffin, worse than any Stephen King–but brilliant
- The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson
It’s like she’s pulling Post-it notes out of her hair and lecturing from them, one of my peers once complained about the teaching style of my beloved teacher Mary Ann Caws. I had to agree, this was an apt description of Caws’s style (and hair). But not only did I love this style, I also loved it that no one could tell Caws to teach otherwise. You could abide her or drop her class: the choice was yours. Ditto Eileen Myles, who tells a great story about a student at UC San Diego once complaining that her lecturing style was like “throwing a pizza at us.” My feeling is, you should be so lucky to get a pizza in the face from Eileen Myles, or a Post-it note plucked from the nest of Mary Ann Caws’s hair. (pg 48)
“That’s what we both hate about fiction, or at least crappy fiction–it purports to provide occasions for thinking through complex issues, but really it has predetermined the positions, stuffed a narrative full of false choices, and hooked you on them, rendering you less able to see out, to get out.” (pg 82)
- Redshirts – John Scalzi
- The Julian Chapter – R J Palacio
- Good in Bed – Jennifer Weiner – jeez, hate the protagonist but I ended up staying up all night to finish
- A Sand County Almanac – Aldo Leopold – for Nature and Environment book club
- Analogy of history and saw/wedge/axe
- Chickadees “draw up their white napkins and fall to;” “so small a bundle of large enthusiasms”
- Pines analogy with politics, terms of office…
- ”few educated people realize that the marvelous advances in [agricultural] technique made during recent decades are improvements in the pump, rather than the well”
- The Once and Future King – T.H. White (reread)
- The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion
- Being Mortal – Atul Gawande (Hampshire County Reads)
- The Feast of the Goat – Mario Vargas Llosa – for Great Books club
- Les Bijoux de la Castafiore – Herge (reread)
- The House that Berry Built – Dornford Yates (reread)
- Temple of the Sun – Herge (reread)
- Asterix le Gaulois, Asterix et la Serpe d’Or (reread)
- The Path of Least Resistance – Robert Fritz
- David Copperfield – Charles Dickens (reread) – for Second Monday book club
- The rest of the half-year is a jumble in my recollection of the daily strife and struggle of our lives; of the waning summer and the changing season; of the frosty mornings when we were rung out of bed, and the cold, cold smell of the dark nights when we were rung into bed again; of the evening schoolroom dimly lighted and indifferently warmed, and the morning schoolroom which was nothing but a great shivering-machine; of the alternation of boiled beef with roast beef, and boiled mutton with roast mutton; of clods of bread-and-butter, dog’s-eared lesson-books, cracked slates, tear-blotted copy-books, canings, rulerings, hair-cuttings, rainy Sundays, suet puddings, and a dirty atmosphere of ink surrounding all.
- [Heep’s room] I don’t remember that any individual object had a bare, pinched, spare look; but I do remember that the whole place had.
- [Miss Mowcher] “Take a word of advice, even from three foot nothing. Try not to associate bodily defects with mental, my good friend, except for a solid reason.”
- …Master Micawber, whom I found a promising boy of about twelve or thirteen, very subject to that restlessness of limb which is not an unfrequent phenomenon in youths of his age. … These observations, and indeed the greater part of the observations made that evening, were interrupted by Mrs. Micawber’s discovering that Master Micawber was sitting on his boots, or holding his head on with both arms as if he felt it loose, or accidentally kicking Traddles under the table, or shuffling his feet over one another, or producing them at distances from himself apparently outrageous to nature, or lying sideways with his hair among the wine-glasses, or developing his restlessness of limb in some other form incompatible with the general interests of society.
- Once again, let me pause upon a memorable period of my life. Let me stand aside, to see the phantoms of those days go by me, accompanying the shadow of myself, in dim procession.
- Weeks, months, seasons, pass along. They seem little more than a summer day and a winter evening. Now, the Common where I walk with Dora is all in bloom, a field of bright gold; and now the unseen heather lies in mounds and bunches underneath a covering of snow. In a breath, the river that flows through our Sunday walks is sparkling in the summer sun, is ruffled by the winter wind, or thickened with drifting heaps of ice. Faster than ever river ran towards the sea, it flashes, darkens, and rolls away.
- I had hoped that lighter hands than mine would help to mould her character, and that a baby-smile upon her breast might change my child-wife to a woman. It was not to be. The spirit fluttered for a moment on the threshold of its little prison, and, unconscious of captivity, took wing.
- Early in the morning, I sauntered through the dear old tranquil streets, and again mingled with the shadows of the venerable gateways and churches. The rooks were sailing about the cathedral towers; and the towers themselves, overlooking many a long unaltered mile of the rich country and its pleasant streams, were cutting the bright morning air, as if there were no such thing as change on earth. Yet the bells, when they sounded, told me sorrowfully of change in everything; told me of their own age, and my pretty Dora’s youth; and of the many, never old, who had lived and loved and died, while the reverberations of the bells had hummed through the rusty armour of the Black Prince hanging up within, and, motes upon the deep of Time, had lost themselves in air, as circles do in water.
- Again, Mr. Micawber had a relish in this formal piling up of words, which, however ludicrously displayed in his case, was, I must say, not at all peculiar to him. I have observed it, in the course of my life, in numbers of men. It seems to me to be a general rule. In the taking of legal oaths, for instance, deponents seem to enjoy themselves mightily when they come to several good words in succession, for the expression of one idea; as, that they utterly detest, abominate, and abjure, or so forth; and the old anathemas were made relishing on the same principle. We talk about the tyranny of words, but we like to tyrannise over them too; we are fond of having a large superfluous establishment of words to wait upon us on great occasions; we think it looks important, and sounds well. As we are not particular about the meaning of our liveries on state occasions, if they be but fine and numerous enough, so, the meaning or necessity of our words is a secondary consideration, if there be but a great parade of them. And as individuals get into trouble by making too great a show of liveries, or as slaves when they are too numerous rise against their masters, so I think I could mention a nation that has got into many great difficulties, and will get into many greater, from maintaining too large a retinue of words.
- [Heep] “Or as certain as they used to teach at school (the same school where I picked up so much umbleness), from nine o’clock to eleven, that labor was a curse; and from eleven o’clock to one, that it was a blessing and a cheerfulness, and a dignity, and I don’t know what all, eh?” said he with a sneer.
- The World Without Us – Alan Weisman – for Nature and Environment book club – such a great book, full of fascinating things: Bialowieza Puszcza, Varosha, Cappadocia, Rothamstead Research Archive
- Better – Atul Gawande
- Wonder – R.J. Palacio
- The White Mountains – John Christopher (reread)
- When the Tripods Came – John Christopher (reread)
- Death Comes for the Archbishop – Willa Cather – for Great Books club
- The Illustrated Man – Ray Bradbury (reread)
- [skimmed] Saving the Appearances – Owen Barfield
- The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury (reread)
- The City of Gold and Lead – John Christopher (reread)
- I Curse the River of Time – Per Petterson – for Second Monday book club
- Mao’s poem, “Shaoshan Revisited,” is translated differently into English than in this translation.
- Reference to Tom Kristensen, Havoc
- Sven Lindqvist, The Myth of Wu Tao-Tzu – “is social and economic liberation possible without violence? No. Is it possible with violence? No.”
- …when it came to dying, I was scared. Not of being dead, that I could not comprehend, to be nothing was impossible to grasp and therefore really nothing to be scared of, but the dying itself I could comprehend, the very instant when you know that now comes what you have always feared, and you suddenly realise that every chance of being the person you really wanted to be, is gone for ever, and the one you were, is the one those around you will remember. Then that must feel like someone’s strong hands slowly tightening their grip around your neck until you can breathe no more, and not at all as when a door is slowly pushed open and bright light comes streaming out from the inside and a woman or a man you have always known and always liked, maybe always loved, leans out and gently takes you hand and leads you in to a place of rest, so mild and so fine, from eternity to eternity.
- The Pool of Fire – John Christopher (reread)
- Journey to the Ants – EO Wilson & Hobdobbler – for Nature and Environment book club
- Christopher and Columbus – Elizabeth von Arnim
- Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh – for Great Books club –
- “…to know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom.”
- ‘Is it Good Art?’ [re chapel in Celtic Art Nouveau – https://classicalbookworm.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/brideshead-revisited-the-chapel/]
…”I think it’s a remarkable example of its period. Probably in eighty years it will be greatly admired.’
‘But surely it can’t be good twenty years ago and good in eighty years, and not good now?’
- ‘I always thought people had turned against him.’
‘My dear boy, you are very young. People turn against a handsome, clever, wealthy man like Alex? Never in your life. It is he who has driven them away.”
- “The trouble with modern education is you never know how ignorant people are. With anyone over fifty you can be fairly confident what’s been taught and what’s been left out. But these young people have such an intelligent, knowledgeable surface, and then the crust suddenly breaks and you look down into depths of confusion you didn’t know existed.”
- The Innocence of Father Brown – G.K. Chesterton (reread)
- Charlotte Bronte: A Fiery Heart – Claire Harman
- Thackeray on Bronte: “The poor little woman of genius! The fiery little eager brave tremulous homely-faced creature! I can read a great deal of her life as I fancy in her book, and see that rather than have fame, rather than any other earthly good…she wants some Tomkins or another to love her and be in love with. But you see she is a little bit of a creature without a penny of good looks, thirty years old I should think, buried in the country and eating her own heart up there, and no Tomkins will come…”
- The Gunslinger – Stephen King
- The Drawing of the Three – Stephen King
- Mansfield Park – Jane Austen (reread)
- The Waste Lands – Stephen King
- Changes in the Land – William Cronon – for Nature and Environment book club. Amazing!
- Case for Three Detectives – Leo Bruce. Very very funny parody of Father Brown: Monsignor Smith, who becomes more and more shapeless (compared to a sack of coal) (others Lord Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot)
- Wizard and Glass – Stephen King
- Bridget Jones’ Diary – Helen Fielding (reread) (no making spam by mistake, it’s marmelade; also Daniel seeing the granny panties must be only from the movie?)
- The Kingdom of Carbonel – Barbara Sleigh (reread)
- Etta and Otto and Russell and James – Emma Hooper – for Second Monday book club
- Six Degrees – Mark Lynas (Queensland Wet Tropics; tepuis in Venezuela; how close the End Permian came to extinguishing life in general (nightmare conditions on the earth)) – for Nature and Environment book club
- The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham
- Reflections in a Golden Eye – Carson McCullers – for Great Books club
- The obstacle is the way : the timeless art of turning trials into triumph – Ryan Holiday
- Titus Awakes – Maeve Gilmore
- Jamaica Inn – Daphne Du Maurier
- Fire Below – Dornford Yates (reread)
- The Dead Zone – Stephen King (reread)
- A Little Princess – Frances Hodgson Burnett (reread)
- The Turn of the Screw – Henry James (reread)
- The Children Act – Ian McEwen – for Second Monday book club
“…children doomed to see their fathers once or twice a month, or never, as the most purposeful men vanished into the smithy of a hot new marriage to forge new offspring.”
- The Outermost House – Henry Beston – for Nature and Environment book club
- A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula LeGuin (reread)
- Podkayne of Mars – Robert Heinlein (reread)
- Siddhartha – Herman Hesse – for Great Books club
- Have Spacesuit, Will Travel – Robert Heinlein (reread) – character “the Mother Thing”
- Adrift: Seventy-Six Days at Sea – Steven Callahan (reread)
- At the Back of the North Wind – George MacDonald (reread)
- The Tombs of Atuan – Ursula LeGuin (reread)
- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Jack Thorne & John Tiffany
- The Farthest Shore – Ursula LeGuin (reread)
- Tehanu – Ursula LeGuin (reread)
- Tales of Earthsea – Ursula LeGuin (reread)
- The Other Wind – Ursula LeGuin (reread)
- Nora Webster – Colm Toibin – for Second Monday book club
- Botany of Desire – Michael Pollan – for Nature and Environment book club
- The Time Travel Megapack (anthology)
- Pickwick Papers – Charles Dickens – for Great Books club
- The Prince of Central Park – Evan Rhodes (reread)
- A Tale of Two Castles – Gail Carson Levine
- The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald (reread) – for Second Monday book club
- All Mary – Gwynedd Rae (reread)
- Mostly Mary – Gwynedd Rae (reread)
- Jill’s Gymkhana – Ruby Ferguson (reread)
- Les Malheurs de Sophie – Contesse de Segur (reread)
- Field Notes from a Catastrophe – Elizabeth Kolbert – for Nature and Environment book club
- Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe – for Great Books club – SO good, Shakespeare and traditional African society combined
- Biography of Hugh Walpole
- A Wrinkle in Time – Madeline L’Engle (reread)
- All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr – for Second Monday book club
- Round the Bend – Nevil Shute (reread)
- A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute (reread)
- World War Z – Max Brooks
- The Ascent of Rum Doodle – W. E. Bowman (reread)
- The King in Yellow – Robert Chambers
- Angel Island – Inez Haynes Gillmore
- Junket, the Dog Who Liked Things Just So – Anne Hitchcock
- 20,000 Leagues under the Sea – Jules Verne
- Angle of Repose – Wallace Stegner – for Great Books club
- Murder in Pastiche – Marion Mainwaring
- The Andromeda Strain – Michael Crichton (reread)
- My Family and Other Animals – Gerald Durrell (reread)
- Citizen of the Galaxy – Robert Heinlein (reread)
- Farmer in the Sky – Robert Heinlein (reread)
- Beasts and Other Relatives – Gerald Durrell (reread)
- Arabella – Georgette Heyer (reread)
- Dubliners – James Joyce (reread) – for Second Monday book club
- A Country Year – Sue Hubbell (reread) – for Nature and Environment book club
- Stranger in a Strange Land – Robert Heinlein (reread)
- The Plumed Serpent – D.H. Lawrence – for Great Books club – OMG so terrible, really regret we picked it
- Better than Before – Gretchen Rubin
- A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens (reread)
I joined a bunch of book clubs as soon as we moved to Northampton – the Forbes Library has oodles – and it’s weird to pick up this blog again with a title from one of them, the Great Books group (which I coordinate). The meeting is tonight, so we haven’t discussed it yet, and maybe in future I’ll wait until after (unless this is the last post ever!) I’d heard so much praise of this novel about Gettysburg that my expectations were probably too high. In some ways it feels like a tour-de-force, but it kind of feels too one-note, too tightly focused on the battle, to be a great novel. I’ve been to the National Military Park twice, once in conjunction with Susquehanna County Reads The Red Badge of Courage and once independently, and I do wish I’d read this as well ahead of time–it would really make it come to life.
I flag a bunch of passages for book club; some on themes I want to discuss, but here are a few I’d like to remember:
- Lee’s heart disease: “The great cold message had come in the spring… that endless, breathless, inconsolable alarm: there is not much time, beware, prepare.”
- Longstreet: “‘Honor without intelligence is a disaster.'”
- Chamberlain on Little Round Top, morning of July 3: “…the odor of death was very slight, just that one pale yellow scent, a memory in the silent air. The odor of coffee was stronger.”
- “Lee said, ‘Well, we have left nothing undone. It is all in the hand of God.’
Longstreet thought: it isn’t God that is sending those men up that hill. But he said nothing.”
- Pickett’s Charge ending: “there was no line anymore, just men moving forward at different speeds, stopping to fire, stopping to die, drifting back like leaves blown from the fire ahead.”
- Chamberlain: “In the presence of real tragedy you feel neither pain nor joy nor hatred, only a sense of enormous space and time suspended, the great doors open to black eternity, the rising across the terrible field of that last enormous, unanswerable question.”
My three blogs have been dormant forever – trapped in limbo between Blogger pre-FTP bug and a switch to multi WordPress half a decade ago – but I’m determined to get them up again. Fingers crossed.
Today’s goal is to get all 3 up, with relative links working, in an updated WP interface.
- This book blog was the closest; I don’t even remember how I migrated it, alas, so that work will need to be redone for the others. New URL is www.salticid.com/bookblog and I installed the Daniela theme, which looks pretty nice. Somehow the transition brought in the Unicode replacement character � which I need to purge from the data because it prevents WP from editing the post.
- Marathon blog – no updates, just an archive from my first in 2004. I ran another marathon in Rochester NY in 2014, and my brother and I have a deal to do one in 2020.
- “Keep on going” blog
yay, all done except for the replacement character and deleting the old/outdated stuff!