Charles Daly

Writer

Category: Reading Lists (page 2 of 3)

What I’ve Been Reading–one Month into my Book Diet

Last month, I started a “reading diet.” The idea comes from Ray Bradbury who recommended that the aspiring read one short story, one poem, and one essay every day, and one novel per week.

I’m reckoning with something I wish I had known a long time ago, that reading is part of your workday as a writer. It’s not laziness or procrastination, it’s not passive, and it’s not optional. You can read more about my first two weeks of this experiment here.

This is  what I read in the second half of March.

What I’m reading

Stories from:

 

 

 

Essays & Non-Fiction:

 

  • “Heroin/e” –Cheryl Strayed

 

 

 

 

 

Poems From:

Novels:

  • I started Proust’s Swann’s Way but swapped it out for John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces after about 20 pages. The former is much harder to read without the snotty English major zeal I had the first time around.

Hemingway Collection at the JFK Library

Ernest Hemingway didn’t travel light. His baggage included a modern art collection, books, drinking accessories, an impressive gun collection, and the heads and pelts of his hunting kills. Always on the move, he schlepped it all through three wars, four marriages, two plane crashes, and many homes. His writing style itself left a tremendous paper-trail as everything he wrote went through dozens of drafts. The last page of A Farewell to Arms was rewritten 49 times. Fortunately for future generations, Hemingway never threw anything away.

“Courage is grace under pressure.” President Kennedy used Hemingway’s definition of courage as the epigraph to his own book Profiles in Courage.

The final home for much of Hemingway’s stuff and 90% of his papers is the JFK Presidential Library in Boston Massachusetts. Some of the collection is on display (at least until December 31st, 2016) in an exhibit, Hemingway Between Two Wars, while the rest is in the Hemingway Collection, a wing of the Library archives.

Last month, I was lucky enough to visit both.

 Check out my visit to the JFK Library’s Hemingway Collection on Medium. 

Elmore Leonard’s Most Important Rule for Writing

Elmore Leonard had one rule that summed up his famous 10 rules of writing:

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

 

 

You can find the other 10 in Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing which includes illustrations and examples of writers who break his rules brilliantly.

Hemingway, Refugees, and Writing with Emotion

In 1922, Hemingway was in Greece reporting for the Toronto Star on the evacuation of Thrace and the refugee crisis that followed. He used some of his memories and notes from the trip as material for In Our Time, his first collection of short stories.

 

Hemingway’s war reporting appears in italics between his stories. These vignettes put his journalistic roots  on display, they show his early attempts to paint with words (he was a big Cezanne guy),  and they remind the reader that his fiction is drawn from life.  

 

For a writer, these scenes give a great example of how to craft emotionally charged prose without heavy, emotional language. Take a look:

 

Minarets stuck up in the rain out of Adrianople across the mud flats. The carts were jammed for thirty miles along the Karagatch road. Water buffalo and cattle were hauling carts through the mud. There was no end and no beginning. Just carts loaded with everything they owned. The old men and women, soaked through, walked along keeping the cattle mov­ing. The Maritza was running yellow almost up to the bridge. Carts were jammed solid on the bridge with camels bobbing along through them. Greek cavalry herded along the procession. The women and children were in the carts, crouched with mattresses, mirrors, sewing machines, bun­dles. There was a woman having a baby with a young girl holding a blanket over her and cry­ing. Scared sick looking at it. It rained all through the evacuation.

 

There’s not an adverb to in sight, and it would be hard to find a word that doesn’t pull its weight here.  He lets the images speak for themselves rather than muting them with emotional redundancy. He doesn’t have to tell us that these  people are hopeless or miserable, he shows us “carts loaded with everything they owned” and “old men and women soaked through. He reminds us of the scale of the tragedy which has “no beginning and no end.”   Instead of saying the  scene was scary or sickening, he gives us the jotted fragment “scared sick looking at it.”

 

That last line–“It rained all through the evacuation”– comes last for a reason. Suppose he had lead with the weather “It was raining as…” or mentioned it in passing “Just carts loaded with everything they owned out in the rain,” it just wouldn’t have the same power. Besides, we kind of already know it’s raining or has been raining: the river is almost up to the bridge, it’s muddy, and the old people are soaked through. By saving this detail for last, he gives it the power to devastate. On top of all the hardship and suffering he describes, as if these people haven’t suffered enough: It’s raining.

Norman Mailer on Trolls and Critics

The Spooky Art, Norman Mailer’s book on the art and business of writing, is a lost classic of the writing advice genre. Like Mailer himself, it’s brilliant, frustrating, and full of fist-fighting analogies.


What’s cool about this title is that it was written for working writers and advanced amateurs. You won’t find much in the way of plotting advice or grammar pointers, but you will learn  how to deal with unreasonable movie execs and how to handle potential pitfalls in the writing life, even outdated ones like Seconal addiction.

 

Mailer has a lot to say about facing criticism. He hated critics and often times the feeling was mutual. However, he accepted that criticism is inevitable in the writing game. As he saw it, the only way to write another book after your last one was eviscerated by the rabble is to develop a thick skin.

“Every good author who manages to forage a long career must be able to build a character that will not be unhinged by a bad reception. That takes art.”

 

The Spooky Art was published in 2003, a few years before internet trolling came into its own. But these lines could apply as easily to a hostile comment as a bad review:

 

“(A writer) Must learn to live with the bruises left by comments on his work.”

 

And if the moral high road isn’t satisfying enough for you, Mailer goes on to offer advice–from personal experience–on how to physically intimidate a reviewer at a book party without actually throwing a punch.

Image: the Daily Mail

 

Autumn Reading: My Massachusetts Bookshelf

Today was perfect reading weather on Cape Cod: Grey and wet with northeast winds and a small craft warning out on the water. It’s good to be home in the fall and surrounded by my books.

Here are my top home-state reads.

Mystic River -Dennis Lehane (fiction)

Mystic-river-dennis-lehane

The movie (more specifically Sean Penn’s back tattoos) helped put working class Boston on the sexy map.

There aren’t too many American cities where you could set a convincing  tale of Dostoevskian evil, guilt, and redemption, but it works in Boston.

 

The Perfect Storm – Sebastian Junger

The-perfect-storm-sebastian-junger-book-cover

If you took out the storm and the epic struggle for survival at sea, this would still be a fascinating read.

Most of us haven’t a clue how a piece of fish gets on our plate. In the case of swordfish, fishermen from the small town of Gloucester travel over a thousand miles in relatively tiny boats to reach their fishing grounds. They fish with 40 mile long lines (called longlines.) They die at rates higher than soldiers in combat.

 

A Death in Belmont – Sebastian Junger

a-death-in-belmont-book-cover-sebastian-junger

An investigation of a rape and murder–in a wealthy Boston suburb in 1963–for which the wrong man may have been convicted. Race, the psychology of killers and jurors, and the mood in Boston in the days following the Kennedy assassination.

 

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace (fiction)

 

Maybe this is how Tokyoites feel about Lost in Translation… I’m not sure I recognized my hometown, but it’s interesting to see it from an outsider’s brilliant brilliant brilliant point of view. Respect.

 

The Friends of Eddie Coyle – George V. Higgins (fiction)

the-friends-of-eddie-coyle

The story of a gun dealer and his lowlife cronies, required reading for writers looking to unfuck their dialogue. Elmore Leonard’s agent gave him this book as a homework assignment to fix the way his characters talk.

Spoiler alert, Eddie Coyle has no friends.

 

Black Mass – Dick Lehr & Gerard O’Neill

black-mass

 

The Departed tried to tell this story. One criticism of the movie from Boston people is that the truth was even crazier.  

Through the 70s, 80s, and 90s Whitey Bulger and his Winter Hill Gang terrorized South Boston. They murdered, mutilated, and extorted, all while enjoying the protection of the FBI.

Same neighborhood as Good Will Hunting, Boston’s a small town.

Off the Leash: a Year at the Dog Park – Matthew Gilbert

off-the-leash-matthew-gilbert

 

One for the dog lovers and anyone who needs something uplifting after Black Mass. Off the Leash is the story of one reluctant dog-person’s initiation into the little world inside of Brookline’s Amory Dog Park.  A story about friendship, and an inside look at Boston’s 4-legged social scene.  This is the book-length debut of Boston Globe TV critic Matthew Gilbert.

Cape Cod – Henry David Thoreau 

cape-cod-henry-david-thoreau

Life, nature, sand dunes. It’s Walden with an ocean instead of a pond.

The links (in the titles and book covers) are all affiliate links. 

Cormac McCarthy: a Reading List

Cormac McCarthy is a mentor I’ve never met. We all have one of those, a teacher who sends us on a quest to seek our teacher’s teacher’s teacher. Here is an ever-growing reading list of my informal study of McCarthy and his influences. I’ll be updating the list on Goodreads.

 

FICTION

The Novels of Cormac McCarthy (Obviously.) If you’re new to him, and squeamish about blood, start with All the Pretty HorsesBlood Meridian can’t be denied, but it’s gruesome.

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Carson McCullers, The heart is a Lonely Hunter

MacKinlay Kantor, Andersonville

James Joyce, Ulysses

Beckett’s Trilogy

Faulkner, lots of Faulkner…

And Shakespeare

Fydor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment & the Brothers Karamazov

Gustav Flaubert, Salammbô

Joseph Conrad, The Heart of Darkness

Flannery O’Conner, Complete Stories

Djuna Barnes, Nightwood

James Fenimore Cooper, The Deerslayer

Oakley Hall, Warlock

NON-FICTION, PHILOSOPHY, & CRITICISM

Plato

Nietzsche

The King James Bible

Lt. Col. David Grossman, On Killing

Harold Bloom, Cormac McCarthy’s ‘The Road’ & Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All the Pretty Horses’ 

Edwin T. Arnold, Border Trilogy Companion & Perspective on Cormac McCarthy

Steven Frye, the Cambridge Companion to Cormac McCarthy 

Georg Guillemin, the Pastoral Vision of Cormac McCarthy

Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: a Brief history of Humankind 

Leslie Harper Worthington, Cormac McCarthy and the Ghost of Huck Finn 

Wallis R. Sanborn, Animals in the Fiction of Cormac McCarthy

POETRY

Homer, The Iliad & The Odyssey

Milton, Paradise Lost 

W.B Yeats, ‘Sailing to Byzantium’

Ted Hughes, CrowThere’s no direct influence I can find here, but Hughes is a perfect complement to McCarthy in terms of  powerful language and haunting description of the natural world.

Friday Roundup

“I like grit, I like love and death, I’m tired of irony.”
― Jim Harrison

Seth Godin on failing ’til you don’t (featuring van Gogh’s Ramsgate.)

The 40-hour workweek is bad for business. 

The art of the pitch parts I & II over at Steven Pressfield’s blog.

On Being tells you Why You Haven’t Written Your Book Yet (hint, ‘you haven’t turned off the damned internet’).

Lessons from Jim Harrison

Last Saturday, we lost Jim Harrison. He was one of America’s literary treasures, and perhaps our greatest craftsman of the novella.  On the page, Harrison was best known for Legends of the Fall. His extracurricular activities included gourmet cooking and eating, raising many dogs,  fly fishing,  and chilling with the likes of Jack Nicholson, Anthony Bourdain, and Jimmy Buffet.

When I was an undergraduate, he was the writer I wanted to be. Here are few things I gleaned from that episode of hero-worship:  

Nobody Wants to Read About Landscapes and Food–Unless they’re Written Brilliantly

Someone said Jim Harrison is to food what Henry Miller is to sex. His details are out of this world. The trick is, he knows when to be sparse and economic, and when to linger on every sensation.

New York is a Distraction 

Harrison was well aware of the advantages of being a non-New York writer–peace and quiet for one. According to his obituary in the Times, he had ‘little but contempt’ for the city, and was not afraid to question New York’s cultural prominence. He told The Paris Review, ‘The Upper East Side of New York was constitutionally the most provincial place I’d ever been.’ Also, he found Hollywood paid much better.

Hemingway and Faulkner didn’t go to College…

Jim Harrison did, but his degree was delayed by frequent road trips and romances. He used college to get his hands on the books he needed to teach himself the craft of novel writing.

Living Well is what Matters

He broke up his writing days with cooking and eating with friends. He collected wine and recipes for woodcock, grouse, and birds I’ve never even heard of.  His  memoir includes strip clubs among his lifelong obsessions.

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I Read 66 Books in 2015, Here are my Favorites

We love to buy books because we think we are buying the time to read them.” —Arthur Schopenhauer

This is the year I finally got on Goodreads (you can add me here.) One year on, my reading has never been so good. Keeping track of what I read has me reading more, holding myself to a book-a-week minimum. And I’m actually spending less on books. Before I started Goodread-ing I would buy just about any book I intended to read someday. My bookshelf was my reading list. Now I keep it in my pocket.

Here are my favorite reads of 2015.

FICTION

BLOOD MERIDIAN — CORMAC McCARTHY

Blood--Meridian--Cormac--McCarthy

David Foster Wallace chose McCarthy’s masterpiece as one of the five most ‘direly underaprieciated’ American novels since 1960. In a rare stroke of brevity Wallace kept his notes on the book to just three words:

‘Don’t even ask.’

Blood Meridian follows a group of ex-soldiers paid to collect Apache scalps in the American West. They start by killing warriors, then women and children, and before long, it’s open season on anyone with brown hair. Think Melville meets Milton in the high desert with plenty of antique riflery jargon. Harold Bloom called it ‘the ultimate Western.’

It’s rumored that McCarthy’s research included making homemade gunpowder from urine and naturally occurring sulfur.

UMBRELLA — WILL SELF

Umbrella--Will--Self

A novel that spans a century, told in a madwoman’s stream of consciousness, scrawled in Will Self’s sesquipedalian prose. Don’t ask me how, but it works. Brilliantly. Will Self’s experiment is a continuation of the modernist novel–Joyce and Woolf are all over Umbrella.

In his critical defense of the book, Self argues that modernism isn’t over and that someone living in any of the great ages before us, say the Renaissance, would laugh at the notion that an era in art could last just a couple of years. His exact words were much more sesquipedalian.

FOREST OF FORTUNE — JIM RULAND

Forest--of--fortune--jim--ruland

Jim Ruland’s debut novel, Forest of Fortune is a new classic of California noir. It’s Raymond Chandler in the age of polyamory, Dashiell Hammett with a novelty coke straw up its nose, or Inherent Vice after the yuppies stormed the beaches and nudged all the freaks east of the 405. The setting, a ‘possibly haunted’ Indian casino, is hysterical, the players are human and heartbreaking.*

*From my interview with Jim Ruland

CRASH — J.G BALLARD

Crash--JG--Ballard

A ghastly exploration of the erotic potential of car crashes. We’re talking classic car crashes, pre-airbags, back when the windscreen and chrome fixtures could flay you alive. If you’re into Fight Club and the lyrics of Joy Division, you’ve come to the right place.

AMERICAN SUBVERSIVE — DAVID GOODWILLIE

American--Subversive--David--Goodwillie

The first writer I’ve encountered who uses social media in his fiction in a way that makes any fucking sense. The people in David Goodwillie’s work are people, not paper dolls caught in the updrafts of National debate. This book beats the clever realists, like Roth and Franzen, at their own game.

Political thrillers aren’t my thing, neither are clever books set in New York, but this one blew me away.

NON-FICTION

KILLING FOR COMPANY — BRIAN MASTERS

Killing--for--company--dennis--nilsen--brian--masters

The creepiest book I’ve ever read. It might be the creepiest book ever written.

Killing for Company tells the true story of the serial killer, Dennis Neilson, AKA ‘Britain’s Jeffrey Dahmer.’ Brian Masters uses a detailed account of the killer’s entire life and family history to make a monster feel frighteningly familiar.

INDEPENDENT ED — ED BURNS

ed--burns--independent--ed

Indispensable advice from the micro-budget film-maker behind The Brothers McMullen, She’s the One, and Entourage. Comes in handy when you hit that slump in the middle of your passion project.

“Sometimes you’ve got to ignore the money and get back to why you got into this business to begin with. In most cases you got bit after seeing something like Nicholson in Chinatown or Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon. I’ve yet to meet an actor, writer, or director who decided to get into the movie business after hearing how much Schwarzenager got paid to do Kindergarten Cop.”

VAGABONDING — ROLF POTTS

Vagabonding--Rolf--Pots

A textbook for extended world travel. If you’re one to say ‘I’ve always wanted to go/do/see ______, Vagabonding might contain the motivation you need to finally take the leap. If you’re already living your adventures, Vagabonding is a refresher on travel basics and a reminder of why you do it.

Justin Alexander, the most interesting man on Instagram, is a big fan.

21 YAKS AND A SPEEDO — LEWIS PUGH

Lewis--Pugh--21--yaks--and--a--speedo

Pure enjoyment when I needed a break from dark, dense, and gruesome titles. 21 Yaks and a Speedo is a collection of life lessons from extreme swimmer and environmental champion Lewis Pugh. The ‘yaks’ are these highly digestible stories that take about five to ten minutes to read. The ‘yaks’ depict the training of a hero and offer inspiration to, as Pugh is so fond of saying, ‘achieve the impossible.’

Achieving the impossible in his case means swimming on Mt. Everest  and at the North Pole in nothing but a speedo.  His TED Talks on those swims are extraordinary.

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What were your good reads in 2015?

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