A good book on writing needs to do a couple of things.
First, and most books get this right, is to instruct. It should teach you something about the craft of writing. It should tell you things you didn’t know before, or make the invisible visible.
Elements of Style is a great old stand-by of this type, and probably one of the first writing books you read. ‘Omit needless words’ still rings in my head every time I try to edit something.
The second, and this is harder, is inspire, to actually make you want to write.
I always looked at Zen and the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury as a shining example of inspiration. It’s really, really hard to read it and not want to write with gusto. It’s less successful in instruction, but that’s not what he’s going for, really. Ray Bradbury let all his subconscious do the work; we mortals need to know how to build houses before we burn them down.
The book Starve Better: Surviving the Endless Horror of the Writing Life by Nick Mamatas is one of the few that does a good job of both. It’s an excellent book, well worth the time of any writer interested in writing things so other people will read them. Continue reading
The door has no lock
It is warm to the touch
Warm and kempt and polished with hand-oil
The books sip dusklight
And drink heavy from the lamps
They are ready for a banquet
That makes tables groan in protest
There are breaths
As loud as engines
Bells, as loud as shot
Furious, a ticking clock
Is small and slow here
Its arms heavy with perfume
The smoke of old dreams
Turning into something else
A shop-worn place
Of well-used lives
Weeded of vanity
By a librarian that knows his work.
On the shelves of any library, if it’s big enough, you’ll find things called jeremiads.
This term comes from the biblical Book of Jeremiah. In it, the titular prophet lamented the state of Israelite society, and warned of its imminent downfall.
Today, a jeremiad is a prolonged lamentation, or complaint about society, the literary version of an old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn. Such writings rarely have anything useful to say. They can say the same thing, over and over, and people will read them because they confirm their biases. Rarely are they clever, teach anything, or make you reflect.
One style of jeremiad that all librarians seem to ascribe is the profound observation that ‘people don’t read anymore.’ It’s not just the librarians that say this either. Social commentators of all stripes seem to think that Americans are becoming stupider simply because of the fact that people are too dumb, lazy, or screen obsessed to actually read something. Continue reading