Fourteen Pounds of Books and Gift Receipts

A few weeks ago, I order ordered books from Powell’s. 

When the box arrived on Monday, it weighed 14 pounds.

Saul Bellow, D.H. Lawrence, and Joseph Conrad top the list.  Some things I’ve read before but had not previously owned, and other things that will be new to me.

Reading as a writer, that is, reading to uncover craft, is a much more pleasurable thing to me than what we sometimes mean when we self-consciously say we’re reading for pleasure.

A side note: My used copy of Sons and Lovers has a gift receipt from a Barnes & Noble in Costa Mesa, California from December 19, 2004 inside the cover and a remnant bit of Christmas paper still Scotch-taped to the back.  It was processed into the Powell’s system last January.  Where else has it been?  How did the receipt and the wrapping paper stay connected to this edition for 14 years?  Did someone unwrap it, like it, keep it, and then get rid of it last year?  Or has it been in circulation longer?  The mind already reels, and we haven’t even made it to the Table of Contents or the Timeline of the World of D.H. Lawrence.

I don’t know if that’s of any help to you this Black Friday, but I do recommend buying books.

Opening Lines: Victory by Joseph Conrad

There is, as every schoolboy knows in this scientific age, a very close chemical relation between coal and diamonds. It is the reason, I believe, why some people allude to coal as “black diamonds.” Both these commodities represent wealth; but coal is a much less portable form of property. There is, from that point of view, a deplorable lack of concentration in coal. Now, if a coal-mine could be put into one’s waistcoat pocket–but it can’t! At the same time, there is a fascination in coal, the supreme commodity of the age in which we are camped like bewildered travelers in a garish, unrestful hotel. And I suppose those two considerations, the practical and the mystical, prevented Heyst – Axel Heyst – from going away.

Joseph Conrad, Victory, 1915.  page 1.


Writing and Revising with Ann Hood and Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad

When I was in my MFA program, I felt like the luckiest person in the world.  My classmates were amazing, my teachers brilliant.  My job in that course of study was to learn, as best I could, how to build a story.  Ann Hood told us that whatever our latent talent, we were there to learn how fiction works, and how and why it doesn’t.  She taught us to be merciless with the things we thought we’d been so clever about, and, in short, to blow them up.

Joseph Conrad reminds us that revision literally means to see anew.  Ann might say that revision isn’t a necessary evil but a necessary good.  Someone else said “anyone can write, but only a writer can revise.”   Most honest writers will tell you that the story is really written in the revision.

Beginning writers sometimes feel so beholden to their initial muse that they mystify everything and end up producing very little.  Writing is a craft.  Yes, it requires inspiration.  There are days when I stare at the page or the screen and do very little with my hands.  Then there are days when the ideas and language flow.  I can’t control which day is which, but I can do by best, on the slow days, to prepare myself for the fast ones.  The later are more thrilling, for sure.  But they don’t come without the former.  Feeling stuck?  Read a book.  Watch a well-written show.  Listen to a song that keeps raising the narrative stakes.