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?

The Most Helpful Book I Haven’t Read

One of the most helpful books on time management and organization is Julie Morgenstern’s Never Check Your Email in the Morning. I haven’t read it and I don’t plan to, but the title has changed the way I start my day.

Going straight to your inbox is reactive. I’d even call it desperate. You’re letting the world in during those fragile hours that set the tone for the rest of the day. You’re giving everybody else time before you’ve given yourself any. You’re telling yourself that whatever they want/ expect from you is more important than your own needs.

Not checking your email first thing is about more than breaking a habit and saving time, it’s about a shift in attitude. It’s about making your purpose a priority. This is a small step you can take (tomorrow morning) towards living your bucket list, writing a novel, running a marathon.

You have the rest of the day to put out fires.

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Speaking of email, I have a new subscription service with MailChimp I’m really excited about. It’s easier to use and looks a less like you’re registering for some kind of watch list for reformed felons than the one I had before. Subscribe today for thrice weekly tips and tough love for working writers and creators of all stripes.

Matisse’s Ulysses Sketches

Happy Bloomsday. To celebrate ‘the world’s foremost holiday of talking about books you haven’t read,‘ Brain Pickings has shared Herni Matisse’s sketches from his 1935 collaboration with James Joyce. Brain Pickings author, Maria Papova is the proud owner of one of the few leather bound editions of the illustrated Ulysses. Jealous. 

Matisse--Ulysses--ilustration

If you haven’t read it, or your one of those who says you have, maybe this is your year. Joyce’s readership is active online and there are more resources than ever to help you along the way:

James Joyce Quarterly is your Facebook hub (or ombligo) for all things Joyce. It’s blowing up at the moment.  

The best key to Ulysses is still The Bloomsday Book. The print edition is crazy expensive for some reason, the Kindle version is not. Either way it’s worth picking up, I know I couldn’t have made it to ‘yes’ without it. 

For one reader’s experience check out author Stephen Mcgrath’s post: Yes, I have. Yes. (a Postmortem on James Joyce’s Ulysses)

The National Library of Ireland has made Joyce’s papers available online.

Daly Prose guest, Jim Ruland covered Bloomsday celebrations in Dublin for the Believer in a piece titled ‘Dogsbody Does Dublin.’    

Vintage has put out Ulysses with a witty new cover that will make you want to be seen reading it more than ever. Anyone who’s read it will get the cover.

James--Joyce--Ulysses--Vintage--paperback


Apparently, Joyce is big in China these days, where the impregnable Finnegan’s Wake is a bestseller. In his lifetime, the author enjoyed a more modest readership in China. He once boasted of an order of ‘ten copies to Peking!’ 

The Enemy is Noise

“The enemy is noise. By noise I mean not simply the noise of technology, the noise of money or advertising and promotion, the noise of the media, the noise of miseducation, but the terrible excitement and distraction generated by the crises of modern life.” – Saul Bellow, ‘Starting Out in Chicago’ 

There Is Simply Too Much To Think About, Saul Bellow’s Collected non-fiction, out now.