101 Best Scenes Ever Written – Barnaby Conrad, 2007

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.

Letters to a Young Writer – Colum McCann, 2017

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.

Chronicles of Narnia — C.S. Lewis, 1950-1956

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.

The Killer Angels – Michael Shaara, 1974

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.”

A reboot?

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Keep on going” blog

yay, all done except for the replacement character and deleting the old/outdated stuff!