Saturday, June 8, 2013

Soup and Salad: Book Riot podcast, New covers for old books, 10 Reasons Not to Be a Writer, Write what you don't know, Reading Raymond Carver in Safeway, Kevin Powers at Powell's, Searching for Norman Maclean's rivers, Henry Miller's 11 Commandments, "I thought I was Dickens!"

On today's menu:

1.  Need some quick-witted, up-to-the-minute book chatter to listen to during your commute, or on your lunch break, or while you're lounging on the beach in Cancun sipping a cocktail out of a coconut?  I've got just the thing for your ears!  My Book Riot pals Jeff O'Neal and Rebecca Schinsky have started a new podcast and it's pretty damn fantastic.  They're only four episodes deep, but I'm already hooked.  Book Riot's podcast now joins Brad Listi's Other People as my regular must-listen during the daily commute.  Jeff and Rebecca banter about everything from Dan Brown's Inferno to the trailer for the upcoming movie adaptation of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying.  Click here to subscribe to the podcast at iTunes, or you can listen to the episodes here.

2.  We've all seen it: the bland or just plain wrong cover design to a treasured classic novel:

One of my favorite novels about Take Your Kitty to Work Day
Creative Action Network is trying to turn the tide of WTF?! covers with its crowd-sourced Recovering the Classics project.  Readers can buy the classics with their favorite cover design and a portion of the proceeds go to the designer.  Some of the covers are better than the others, of course.  Here are two of my favorites:

2a.  Speaking of book covers, there's this (which I grabbed off Paige Kellerman's Facebook page):

3.  Novelist Matt Haig gives us 10 Reasons Not to Be a Writer.  Here's Reason #2:
They are depressed. Writers are miserable. Think of some of the saddest people in history--Woolf, Plath, Hemingway, Sexton, Poe, Tom Clancy--and ninety per cent of them are writers. They write because they are depressed. Even Dan Brown is depressed. Every single person you pass in the street has happier brain chemistry than Dan Brown. Probably. That's why he has to hang upside down like Bruce Wayne between paragraphs. Possibly. And why he believes life is a kind of Countdown Conundrum designed by Dante or Da Vinci or albino priests. Possibly. And look, US website says that writing is one of the top 10 professions most likely to lead to depression. So be jealous of happier people, like undertakers and debt collectors. Being a writer is deciding to live your whole life as if it was soundtracked by Radiohead.
This makes me sad.  But you know what would make me happy?  If you were to buy Matt's new novel, The Humans, out next month from Simon & Schuster.  It's all about aliens secretly observing the human race and taking notes on what they find--including, I assume, the puzzle of depressed writers.

4.  It would also make me very, very happy if you bought Katey Schultz' new short story collection Flashes of War.  (Let's face it, if you buy any of the books I recommend here on the blog, I'll be a contented man.)  This debut collection is a series of flash fictions centering around the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I haven't had a chance to read the whole book, but I've skimmed a few of the stories and they're pretty remarkable for someone who has never donned a military uniform.  At The Story Prize blog, Schultz talked about that old adage "Write what you know."
"[W]rite what you know" is, in fact, a very limiting piece of advice and I don't suggest anyone follow it beyond getting a basic starting point every once in a while. My collection, Flashes of War, features characters in and around the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the stories are written in first person, from the point of view of soldiers or civilians. I've never served in the military, don't know anyone currently serving, don't know any Iraqi or Afghan citizens, and have never been to the Middle East. But I felt compelled to write the stories in that book, and I was able to research and imagine with enough precision to pull it off. More than writing what I know, the exercise of writing what I don't know stretched me to become a more precise, conscious, dedicated writer, and I'm better off for it.

5.  I love this photo of Tess Gallagher reciting Raymond Carver's poetry through a bullhorn while standing in the middle of Safeway.  She was there to promote her late husband's work as part of the inaugural Raymond Carver Festival in Port Angeles, Washington.  Trust me, if I had more vacation days at my Day Job, I would have hopped in the car and driven 11 hours to the coast just to be part of this tribute to Ray, one of the seminal writers (if not the seminal) in my life.  The festival flash mob traveled to several locations in the area, starting at Morse Creek where Carver used to fish, and ending at Ocean View Cemetery where participants ate pie at his gravesite.

6.  Meanwhile, a little farther south, Kevin Powers visited Powell's.  Intrepid reporter Diane Prokop was there and, as always, filed a dispatch which put blog-readers in the front row of the event as Kevin talked about his debut novel The Yellow Birds.

7.  Here in Montana, anglers search for the elusive waters of A River Runs Through It.  They are still haunted.

8.  At the 49 Writers blog, Andromeda Romano-Lax is stopped short by Henry Miller's 11 Commandments while she's at a writing retreat in Virginia:
Three of the eleven commandments all boil down to this same rule: that one must stay focused and true to a single project, and give it one's fullest attention. On this particular trip, I had days upon days of glorious solitude, including lots of driving time: a 10-hour drive from Akron, Ohio down into rural Virginia, via small, winding roads, past horse farms and plantation houses and wooded hillsides. An evening drive through foggy Appalachian country. And the days that followed: more drives past vineyards and lavender farms and the past the James River and up mountains to wonderful trailheads (good hiking and trail-running country, in addition to good writing country). All those drives gave me lots of happy time to think, and when I'm happy, book ideas multiply. On the 10-hour drive to Virginia alone, my brain was so occupied dreaming about two separate new book ideas and one new idea for an abandoned-novel revision that I had to keep forcibly harnessing my mind and pulling it back to the novel I am currently working on, the one I had come to Virginia to write. (Once I was at my desk at the retreat, it was blessedly easy to focus. It was only once I hit those winding roads again that my polygamous brain wanted to start new relationships with more new book ideas.)
Like Andromeda, my brain has a hard time being quiet.  For instance, if you were to hook a seismograph to my frontal lobe right now, these are the things which would send the needle flying: three short stories, a novella, a one-act play, half a dozen blog posts, and Dubble (my novel which is still a work in progress).  So much activity can't be good for me.  I need to find my zen of writing.  Right after I finish this blog post.

9.  It was a very bleak house indeed when burglar Russell Bibby got done with it.  After nipping a wee bit too much of the bottle at a wedding reception, the 34-year-old left the party, went to a nearby 600-year-old home, and thoroughly trashed it.  When police arrived, Bibby fled the scene, running across rooftops until he was eventually caught.  He told his captors: "I thought I was in Victorian London, mate.  I was running across the roofs.  I thought I was Dickens!"


  1. Nice, relaxing blog, compared to the political ones I sometimes frequent. Your site came up when I Googled "Hugh Walpole." I discovered him when I came across "The Silver Thorn" at an antique store. I'd been experiencing serious "reader's block," unable to focus on any book long enough to finish it, and this excellent set of short stories was the book that helped me get back into reading regularly again. I'd never heard of Mr. Hugh Walpole until then and was disappointed to find out that a writer I enjoyed so much was considered mediocre. After having read your blog entry from 3 years ago and the subsequent replies, I feel vindicated.

    Good luck with your writing career.

  2. Well, Shite. Now I AM depressed! I thought I was Dickens!