November 13, 2011



What I find discouraging, as a writer, is that the shelves of my local library are filled with self-help, "humor", celebrity biographies, and "romance"--and I literally sometimes cannot find a single Dickens, Trollope, or Baldwin.


If one could see a list of books that a great writer had rejected - dumped, given away, stowed in the attic - that would be more revealing.

Paul Lamb

I've had the same experience as Shelley has had with my local library. While my county library is well funded and diverse, certain branches are known for their tighter collections: the more rural one is full of romance and espionage novels while the more affluent one is strong with audio books (it's a car culture community). I think the public library can say a lot about the nature of the community it serves just as a personal library can of its owner.


The Fort Bragg library is marvelous. Not world class, necessarily, but it has more than I could ever want in my local public library. I was elated last year when I checked out the Twain autobiography on its release date.

I have no qualms about my end tables & coffee table, casually decorated as they are with the latest issues of Cosmopolitan, Free Inquiry, & Harper's, juxtaposed with works by Amis, Ashbery, Blake, Hitchens, and Spillane. Hmm. I suppose I could do better to represent female writers in my home library's Conspicuously Visible section.

An enlightening exercise might be to copy & paste to a Word document or Facebook note everything one reads online in a day or a week. One might easily consume articles & essays online, but sometimes it can be impressive to one's friends to advertise the sheer volume of literature & journalism one consumes in a short period.

This could be an update of the stale "Have you read any good books lately?" dinner party fodder.


“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”

Big Mac and Coke, so, guess my readings ;)

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  • The Elegant Variation is "Fowler’s (1926, 1965) term for the inept writer’s overstrained efforts at freshness or vividness of expression. Prose guilty of elegant variation calls attention to itself and doesn’t permit its ideas to seem naturally clear. It typically seeks fancy new words for familiar things, and it scrambles for synonyms in order to avoid at all costs repeating a word, even though repetition might be the natural, normal thing to do: The audience had a certain bovine placidity, instead of The audience was as placid as cows. Elegant variation is often the rock, and a stereotype, a cliché, or a tired metaphor the hard place between which inexperienced or foolish writers come to grief. The familiar middle ground in treating these homely topics is almost always the safest. In untrained or unrestrained hands, a thesaurus can be dangerous."


  • The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald


    Penelope Fitzgerald's second novel is the tale of Florence Green, a widow who seeks, in the late 1950s, to bring a bookstore to an isolated British town, encountering all manner of obstacles, including incompetent builders, vindictive gentry, small minded bankers, an irritable poltergeist, but, above all, a town that might not, in fact, want a bookshop. Fitzgerald's prose is spare but evocative – there's no wasted effort and her work reminds one of Hemingway's dictum that every word should fight for its right to be on the page. Florence is an engaging creation, stubbornly committed to her plan even as uncertainty regarding the wisdom of the enterprise gnaws at her. But The Bookshop concerns itself, finally, with the astonishing vindictiveness of which provincials are capable, and, as so much English fiction must, it grapples with the inevitabilities of class. It's a dense marvel at 123 pages, a book you won't want to – or be able to – rush through.
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbe


    Tim Krabbé's superb 1978 memoir-cum-novel is the single best book we've read about cycling, a book that will come closer to bringing you inside a grueling road race than anything else out there. A kilometer-by-kilometer look at just what is required to endure some of the most grueling terrain in the world, Krabbé explains the tactics, the choices and – above all – the grinding, endless, excruciating pain that every cyclist faces and makes it heart-pounding rather than expository or tedious. No writer has better captured both the agony and the determination to ride through the agony. He's an elegant stylist (ably served by Sam Garrett's fine translation) and The Rider manages to be that rarest hybrid – an authentic, accurate book about cycling that's a pleasure to read. "Non-racers," he writes. "The emptiness of those lives shocks me."