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Nose In A Book

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The past few weeks have been prime reading time for me. I think it might be due to a combination of cold weather, great coffee, and a rich stash of books. I’m also finding that requesting titles from the Falmouth Library means that they do show up unexpectedly and have due dates—so they get bumped to the top of the list.

Good Prose, The Art of Non Fiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd is one of those titles that came recommended somewhere on the internet.This is a rewarding book that keeps delivering treasures in every chapter. The two authors have written stories and advice from a lifetime of writing and editing. It reveals “wordsmithing” as a way of life—and a very enjoyable one. It’s writing well about good writing.

Each author peppers his paragraphs with references to pieces of literature I actually am familiar with, and I am able to make the connections to their arguments. Their text is fully amplified, engaging and rich. My usually complaint about non-fiction is that a typical 300 page book could/should be reduced to a three page magazine article and be done with it. That is not the case with this book. Each chapter explores a topic of interest about writing, and I kept wanting more. Many nights, lights went out on David’s side of the bed and I found myself saying, “just one more chapter and I’ll hit the sack”.  Potato chip reading… ahhhh!

So what makes this book so engaging and delicious? It’s an honest, authentic look at non-fiction writing, and it is full of useful advice. Both Kidder and Todd reveal the truth in the adage, “Writing is Rewriting.” I love the F. Scott Fitzgerald quotation and wish I had it on hand when I was teaching writing: “Rewrite from principle. Don’t just push the same old stuff around. Throw it away and start over.”

It’s also clear that writing is hard work and requires self-editing as well as an editor’s sharp, critical eye. The literary relationship that evolves between Tracy and Todd is a good story in itself…they’re exploring better ways to tell a story. So there are levels and layers of wordy goodness between these covers. If you like to read or like to write, you’ll love this book.

Good Prose also offers a voyeur’s peek into the business of publishing. How shocking to learn that 80% of the books published lose money. Kidder shares that it usually requires ten or more completed drafts and more than a year before one of his publishable books is born.

The reader witnesses the evolution of Kidder as a writer and the role that errors, gross and small play in his work. He pulls back the curtain and let’s us see the story behind the story and how does writing “happen”. Over the years, I have enjoyed Kidder’s other books, and this one helps me figure out why. It also gives me fodder to think about my own writing… and that’s always worthwhile.

There are a few more books that I devoured lately. The first is The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball. It’s a memoir of her experience farming in Essex, NY, the town next to where I spent my summers on Lake Champlain as a kid. This well educated, NYC girl falls in love with her soul mate who happens to be a devoted, persistent, tenacious farmer who lives his beliefs as he works the soil from daybreak to dark. He’s not all talk; he’s all action. The love story here is really about the love of the land and the community that supports this noble effort.

This memoir certainly takes away the shiny façade of “Isn’t farming fun”. The hard work and constant barrage of uncontrollable events often seems like the life of Job. Days are never ending. “To do” lists have to do with survival, not frivolities. The most significant lesson I learned from their experience is that the hardships of rigorous labor, loss, and self-doubt encountered are seen as the counterbalance to the joy, satisfaction, and appreciation of what is simple and good. It’s all part of a cycle.

Last, but not least is The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje. This novel put me on an oceanic liner for a 21 day journey from Ceylon to England along with three young, unsupervised boys. It is Huck Finn with an international, contemporary twist, complete with coming of age revelations that are golden. Ondaatje recreates the perspective seen by children and allows the reader to make connections. I love this book; I thought about the characters after I put the book down each night and wondered what they were doing while I was asleep.

His writing is artful; I re-read many sentences just to hear them again. The author explores the consequences of adults behaving poorly, loneliness, the excitement of risk, love and camaraderie. We feel what it is like to be the outcast as well as in the “in crowd”. He captures it for us and puts it on a page.

I’m in the middle of two other books that could be game changers for me: More or Less by Jeff Shinabarger further pushes the boundaries of living with less and giving more away. It’s straightforward, not preachy and comes complete with “assignments” to put these words into action.

Eat to Live by Joel Fuhrman, MD is yet another healthy diet book. It came highly recommended by one of my favorite students, so I dove in. So far it looks like a diet of practically no meat, a ton of vegetables and fruits, a lot of beans and no processed foods.

The author recommends abiding by the rules or six weeks before giving up. Not sure about this one…

Let me know what you’re reading. I love having my nose in a book.




About yarnsista

I am a wordsmith, a fiber artist, a yogi, and a high energy, ball of fire. My glass is always half full, and I always have fifteen tasks ongoing simultaneously. Authority figures are not my friends, and I seldom color within the lines. I tend to “nest” in my cocoon-like home.

11 responses »

  1. This will be shorter and briefer than intended by necessity. There is nothing I would rather be doing than have my nose in a book. I think I might need Readers Anonymous.
    Thanks for the recommendations.
    If you liked the The Dirty Life, you would love The Snow Child, by Eyown Ivey, if you have read it yet.
    I am looking forward to reading The Cat’s Table.
    Hmmm, Eat to Live. Must see documentaries are Forks over Knives (free on HULU) and Food, Inc. (I got both at my library) As well as a must read, The Face on your Plate. This is a whole other discussion. But I am eating more consciously than ever.
    I started reading Ruth Rendell writing as Barbara Vine, her newest novel, The Child’s Child. Now quite a while ago, I enjoyed her novels. But I read to page 35 (thinking of you, get at least to page 30) and decided it was just too stuffy for me and hard to relate. And so far the plot had not been well developed. And also as the topic was about the history of unwed mothers. There were many references to early literature, so you might enjoy it, but I was just coming down from a very edgy The Girl Who Played With Fire (not as good as The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo, but still…) and it made me restless. Then onto Tana French, The Likeness. Nope too similar a theme to TGWPWFire, plus there is a first novel I should read first…
    So I checked out Jane Smiley, Ten Days in the Hills. We’ll see. I have also loved her novels in the past, so am only waiting to be engaged, without my thoughts drifting around. You know, kind of like when you see typical Hollywood star playing a great role, but your mind keep wondering about the acting?
    Have you read Malcolm Gladwell? I can’t remember. Such a character! If you haven’t read the Outliers, it is a phenomenal work of social investigation.
    So thank you for the lovely blogs, and the stimulation provided!!

    • Hi Mary, Great to hear from you and know that you, too, have your nose in a book.

      I absolutely LOVED The Snow Child and can’t wait for her to write another novel. My daughter Molly got us a copy of Forks over Knives and we have to watch it as well as read The China Studies… both are on my list. I haven’t read anything by Barbara Vine, but it doesn’t sound like a winner from your description. The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo was over the top for me. I taught it in a literature class and found it unnecessarily gross and abusive towards women. I really had a hard time with. The two other books in that series are sitting on my shelf untouched. Jane Smiley– I remember reading something by her ages ago and loving it. Let me know how you like Ten days in the HIlls. I read Malcolm Gladwell– Outliers and Tipping Point. Some good ideas, but both would serve us better as three page magazine articles, in my humble opinion!

      I love talking books with you!! Stay well. d

  2. I’ll problably give the cat book a miss, but asked my library to find “Good Prose.” I’d also reccomend William Zinsser’s book “On Writing Well.” Plus Ed Mather, Gail Sauer, and George Smith!

    • Andy- You’ll love Good Prose…. I love Zinsser’s books too. Gail Sauer and George Smith— it doesn’t get any better than that!!!!

      • don’t forget Coach Ed- while Mrs Sauer / Mr Smith taught iambic pentameter and all the things that make a good writer better, it was Ed who would motivate the 9th graders to make them want to write in the first place. One of the most motivating people I’ve ever met!

      • I had Ed Mather only for a short speed reading class, not for English. That’s why he didn’t make my list!!!

  3. Ruth Rendell (sometimes writing as Barbara Vine) is a prolific writer and has won many awards as a mystery writer. I am not discounting her at all. Just couldn’t get into this particular novel.
    Now, I vaguely possibly remember your previous review re The Girl… ? Au Contraire, I do not believe that Stieg Larsson was sexist, not at all. I see a brilliant, unorthodox, anti social young woman that endured many instances of oppression and violence. And manages to not only survive, but gets the better of the nasty sexist violent men every time. Due to her own talents and guile. No, I did not find Lisbeth Salander a victim (although technically she was abused in ways that are more typical of young people and others than can be imagined), but rather, she was able to manage to get revenge for her abuse and her perpetrators in surprising ways. No, I don’t find her a victim at all. I see the women in this series as being self assured and confident. After all the novel ended with her stealing billions of kroners from a corrupt billionaire. By leveraging a loan from Mikael Blomkvist. Lisbeth is very young, bear in mind, and she matured somewhat in #2. And more of her personal history comes to light.
    Also re The Outliers. Personally I found the stories about athletes, the Beatles, Bill Gates to be fascinating. His other books I found to be good, but, as you noted could be condensed. But I keep coming back to the ‘10,000 hours’. And can’t help but think about that every time I hear a Beatles song.

    Is this the same Mr Smith also known as zipperhead? If so, I had him as a freshman, we couldn’t get beyond our immaturity for the most part.
    I did have Mrs. Sauer, advanced English. I always thought that her name was Gay Sour, which struck me as funny, because she was a sourpuss. Probably going through the change. But one of the best teachers I ever had. Ed Mather? No. Didn’t have him as a teacher. Great person, though. Bugged me to go out for track and field. Which in retrospect, I should have done instead of going to the coffee shops after school with my girlfriends.

    • Hi Mary, The troubles I had with The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo was with the excessive violence and abuse throughout the novel. I loved that the main character was a female outlier– but couldn’t stomach a lot of the graphic stuff. It’s ironic that while teaching that novel to a class of 25 college students, half of them loved it and read the rest of the triology and the other half found it disturbing. Maybe I should go ahead and try the second book….. what do you think?

      I think 10,000 hours is one of the best essays I’ve read. I, too, go back to it and several others in that book.

      I read A Judgement in Stone by Ruth Rendell so long ago that I forget what it’s about or whether or not I liked it!

      Back to BHS, you’ve got Mr. Smith (head of the English Dept., taught Senior English) confused with Mr. Montgomery who I remember having our freshman year. Sophomore year I had Mrs. Penny (Carpenter) Jones; I think she got married the summer before we had her in class.

      Ok- back to putting my nose in a book and turning off the computer.

      • Diane, no. I wouldn’t advise the second novel. I don’t like gratuitous violence myself, and avoid watching violent movies. Even though I know on some level that Quentin Tarantino is an artist, I just don’t want to see gory stuff.
        Mystery novels have always been a secret pleasure for me. So to me, these are things that can typically happen in that genre. As I read the Millineum trilogy, the violence is just not anywhere near as shocking as watching anything in 2D. And I find it interesting that Steig Larsson is exposing a sordid underworld side of Sweden that people there had to begin to face after the mass shootings a while back. The girl who plays with fire somewhat concerns the underworld sex trade, on the peripheral.
        Having said that, I am about to watch the Sweedish version of The Girl Who Played With Fire. We’ll see…..

  4. I remember Mrs Sauer calling my mother and complaining that Peter Horton, Richard Englebrecht and I laughed and snickered at the dirty parts of “Canterbury Tales, to which my mother replied “why wouldn’t they? It’s dirty and they’re teens!”

  5. I think you must read in your sleep too …..


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