This summer, one may find oneself reading a great deal of Virginia Woolf, as one might do when it is very hot and blank outside. One’s thoughts might then turn and swoop like a kingfisher across sun-burnished water; or lay damply like the red carnation Esmond Threwton places in dear old Lady B__’s aristocratically veined hands; aren’t young people so fine, so fresh, she thinks, in their heedless lovable tumble; but oh, she thinks, really it was so fine–this carnation just like the ones her nephew used to bring home before the war; all so fine and so fresh, her nephew’s carnations before the war…
Don’t stop reading! I’ll quit! After a few doldrums-ish weeks in the Forum, the pace has picked up, I am glad to say. This is mainly due to the release of a certain book everyone in the American-speaking world plans to immediately either read and talk about OR not read and talk about. Whatever its particular literary failures, triumphs, or disappointments, it is the rare book that commands this sort of enthusiastic pre-dismissal. Is that it? Preemptive disenchantment? I don’t know. I thought the very idea of a Ted Cruz memoir was ridiculous in the first place! But what do I know?
What a lark! What a plunge!
After many years of honing my craft at various workshops, classes, retreats, and MFA sweat lodges, I have heard the same writing axioms repeated over and over: Show don’t tell. Write what you know. Is this supposed to be English?
Frankly, these are no longer working for me. Do you have any other suggestions, rules, tips, etc., for a jaded writer?
Workshopped to Death
Some people contend that reducing the craft of writing to all-purpose, one-size-fits-all rules or laws (my preference) somehow robs it of vitality and provokes anxiety and/or terminal second-guessing in its would-be practitioners. The Wordsmith disagrees! Conventions and rules exist to give you (and your writing, of course) structure, purpose, and clarity. Don’t you want a little more structure, purpose, and clarity in your life and work? An employee handbook, as it were? As a very wise someone once said to the Wordsmith, “It’s just not that complicated. What exactly is your deal?”
#1 Pick: Circling the Sun: A Novel, by Paula McLain
(Ballantine Books, 9780345534187, $28)
“Reading Circling the Sun reminded me of the deep pleasure of solid storytelling: the vast landscape of colonial Kenya, complicated and compelling historical characters, love, suffering, and adventure combine to create a captivating narrative. McLain imagines the African childhood and early adulthood of real-life horse trainer and pioneering female aviator Beryl Markham, as well as her social milieu, which included Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who, as Isak Dinesen, wrote Out of Africa. Markham lived a fascinating and uncompromising life filled with danger, ill-fated romance, and stunning bravery, and McLain does justice to her memory with this sensitive and beautifully written portrayal.” —Rhianna Walton, Powell’s Books, Portland, OR
Kitchens of the Great Midwest: A Novel, by J. Ryan Stradal
(Pamela Dorman Books/Viking, 9780525429142, $27.95)
“In the story of Midwestern chef savant Eva Thorvald and the people — and foods — that touch her life, Stradal has created a picture of the American foodie revolution of the past 25 years and of its intersections with class, economics, family, and culture. Along with irresistible characters and stories, this is a novel about the potential that food and cooking offer for joy and empowerment, for snobbery and shame, and for identity and reinvention. Beautifully structured and affectionately and hilariously written, this is a novel that — like Thorvald’s exclusive pop-up supper club — everyone is going to be talking about!” —Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY
Fishbowl: A Novel, by Bradley Somer
(St. Martin’s Press, 9781250057808, $24.99)
“Somer uses the unusual device of a goldfish plunging off of a high-rise balcony to tie together the disparate stories of the building’s inhabitants. As our hero, Ian, plummets past floor after floor, he glimpses the lives of the residents — witnessing birth, heartbreak, new love, and all of the pathos and wonder that comprise human existence. Although Ian has only a goldfish’s seconds-long capacity for memory, readers will find themselves returning to the essential truths of Somer’s characters again and again.” —Jill Miner, Saturn Booksellers, Gaylord, MI
Find the complete list at the American Booksellers Association website.
In this period of torpor and patriotism, I firmly believe (this firm belief is best expressed by what I like to think of as a classic Gallic shrug) that what you’re NOT doing is just as important as what you ARE doing. I think this is also in Plato somewhere—maybe that less-famous dialogue when he absentmindedly said “closet” instead of “cave” and a modern business empire was born.
Here is a list of some things you can NOT do, that I think are just as valuable, if not more so, than their counterparts:
- Publish a pretentious blog post on summer thunderstorms.
Well, that’s the whole list. I think we can all agree it is comprehensive. Keep cool, people, and read a book or something!
Announcement: In anticipation of Kate Walbert’s visit to BookBalloon later this year to discuss her new book, THE SUNKEN CATHEDRAL, we have TWO copies of The Sunken Cathedral to give away! See the Feedback thread in the Forum for details on how to sign up for the drawing to be held on July 6.
Coming Spring 1963—Enjoy a sample now!
Linger Not Long / A NEW Inspector Quirk Mystery
by Britain’s Best-Selling
Queen of Crime
Available soon at booksellers, stationers, and news agents
from Sowerby & Prang
I like to don some cool and fluidly draped linen pants, into which I tuck my father’s old seersucker shirt, then slip on some vintage Persols and some espadrilles from Cap d’Antibes, and clap on a Panama hat with a hand-rolled brim after spraying some of that saltwater stuff in my hair. Then I mix up one of those pretty (until you take a sip and they just turn pinky-beige) sort of layered juice (and sometimes maybe a little cava for sparkle) drinks in a glass made from a 1920s-era Mexican santo candle and settle in a gracefully mindful and Frances Mayes-like manner into the most sunlit terra-cotta and Tuscan corner of the couch (after I wrest if from the dog’s control) to watch Real Housewives repeats and read Twitter on my phone until I’m ashamed of myself.
Fresh and breezy! Nantucket! Hot child in the city!
But amongst all the idylls and estivations, I noticed people nevertheless found time to read and talk about reading and other stuff, and just generally clink about like ice cubes in a sweaty glass. Check out the Reading List at the end of this post if you’re too hot and lazy to come up with some ideas on your own.
- One thing virtually all writers share, regardless of genre, style, and opinions on tweed jackets (Harris tweed with suede elbow patches—RIDE OR DIE): Reading. Writers love to read and need to read. They read for information and inspiration, for pleasure and wonder. They talk about books all the time.
- And also, ALSO: all this book loving and longing and gabbing and pushing pretty much comprises the mission statement of BookBalloon.
Which leads me to:
- It should come as no surprise that amongst the BookBalloon Forum’s avid readers are plenty of writers. They write fiction, non-fiction, biography, reviews, and blog posts. They interview, research, aggregate, and curate. They submit and self-publish, they market and hustle. They teach and edit and study. They retreat and workshop. They write for love and for a living.
BookBalloon’s Writers & Writing threads offer community, support, and discussion for writers at any stage of the game. And all for the low, low price of absolutely nothing!
#1 Pick: The Oregon Trail: A New American Journey, by Rinker Buck
(Simon & Schuster, 9781451659160, $28)
“Inspired by a family trip in a covered wagon in the 1950s, Rinker Buck and his brother Nick set out by wagon to discover what remains of the Oregon Trail between Missouri and Oregon. Along the way, readers learn about wagon design, mule heritage, and what pioneers needed to endure traveling west in the 19th century. This is also a moving personal story of brotherhood, endurance, and the kindness of strangers. Buck weaves fact, action, and reflection together into a page-turning delight that history buffs and fans of contemporary nonfiction will not want to miss.” —Dick Hermans, Oblong Books & Music, Millerton, NY
The Book of Speculation: A Novel by Erika Swyler
(St. Martin’s Press, 9781250054807, $26.99)
“Hauntingly beautiful, The Book of Speculation weaves a spectacular multigenerational story of magic, love, betrayal, and redemption. The story follows Simon, a young librarian and the descendant of circus mermaids, whose family is steeped in loss. Alongside his story is woven another’s: Amos, a mute boy from the 1700s with a special gift. As histories are unveiled and unlikely connections are discovered, Simon is sent a mysterious book with a sinister message. Can he discover the secret that haunts his family in time? Fantastical history, engaging characters, and a love of the written word combine in this compelling novel.” —Jax Caldwell-Dunn, Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA
The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel, by Nina George
(Crown, 9780553418774, $25)
“Everyone should have access to a ‘literary pharmacist’ to prescribe the perfect book for what ails them. Bookstore owner Jean Perdu is the victim of a long-ago heartache. While he can cure others, he is unable to quench his own grief. When Perdu’s life collides with a reluctant celebrity author, a chef, a neighbor with her own lovelorn past, and an unopened letter, he finds himself on a journey to reawaken his life before it is too late. George’s novel is a love song to literature and its curative powers. Launch yourself on a trip with Jean Perdu and company. Reading The Little Paris Bookshop is definitely a journey worth taking.” —Pamela Klinger-Horn, Excelsior Bay Books, Excelsior, MN
Find the complete list at the American Booksellers Association website.
- Look Homeward, Pork Chop
- God’s Little Taco
- Other Voices, Other Rumaki
- A Frittata of Dunces
- Bok Choy in the Attic
- A Caesar Salad for Emily
- Wise Blood Sausages
- The Biscuits of Discipline
- All the King’s Meatloaf
- Delta Dawn (What’s that asparagus you have on?)
- Casserole, Casserole!
- Reflections in a Golden Eye of Round
- To Kill a Boneless Skinless Chicken Breast
- The Night of the Hunter Sauce
- A Feast of Steaks
- The Heart is a Lonely Pound Cake
- A Streetcar Named Soufflé
- A Good Tarte Tatin is Hard to Find
- Flannery O’Cupcakes