RIP Challenge - life is now worth living

Remember that semi-awful Elton John song, Someone Saved My Life Tonight? Well, I feel that way about Carl V. over at Stainless Steel Droppings. Just when a stupid-ass work e-mail made me want to drink a bottle of Vitameatvegemin before ramming my head through my computer screen, Carl invented the RIP (Readers Imbibing Peril) challenge. Any daredevil readers willing to take up the gauntlet pick 5 books of chills and thrills to read from this weekend through Halloween. Irresistible!

My one dilemma is that I am committed already to Proust Vol 2 and three Middle East books, plus Henry James, before year's end. Still, I'm with Carl V. -- I never can pass up at least one spinetingler in autumn. I was going to make do with Virginia Woolf's The Haunted House, but this is too tempting. (Sorry, Marcel, I'm a fickle kitten.) So, I negelected my work e-mails temporarily, and drooled over countless titles before arriving at my selections: a little offbeat, very literary, with a smidgeon of humor. A lot like moi.

Now I can take up memos and brochures and PowerPoint slides for the rest of the day.
Thanks, Carl, for giving me something to live for.

LK's RIP Selections

  • The Turn of the Screw, Henry James (okay, it'll count for my James book at least)
  • Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Washington Irving (this is totally revisiting my childhood)
  • A Haunted House, Virginia Woolf (is it a horror story? the title counts doesn't it?)
  • The Ghost Stories of Edith Wharton (love Edith Wharton, love the fact that she couldn't sleep in a room with a ghost book even in it but managed to churn out some tales of her own)


  • Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen (a spoof on gothics by Jane Austen? if I can't squeeze it in this year, this is one I will definitely get to at some point)
  • Dragonwyck, Anya Seaton (the dark horse, and fairly lengthy given my crunched circumstances, but in the spirit of the event [bad pun intended], I wanted to branch out into new territory)

Thoughts for Thursday - ramblin'

This week I woke up in the middle of the night with a complete blog entry formed in my mind. First thing next morning, I fired up the computer and typed it all in. And then I read it and thought, The only thing to save this from sounding completely moronic would be for CNN's Anderson Cooper to read it live from Bourbon Street. So all I have is this rambling post, powered by the final caffeinated fumes from my brain....So, does anybody really believe GW read The Stranger--at least, the version without pictures? I, for one, don't believe he's ever finished My Pet Goat. He said he was reading about "the battle of New Orleans," which I Googled. Apparently, he's referring to a book by John McPhee, The Control of Nature. Read more here. If you're ever looking for an engrossing book about the Mississippi and how it affected New Orleans and other cities, read John M. Barry's Rising Tide. I learned about Eads and his Bridge (I'm from St. Louis originally, so that was a revelation) and dredging the River and all sorts of terribly interesting, arcane facts about the Old Miss....I am loving In the Eye of the Sun by Ahdad Soueif. The reader in me, who just wants to enjoy the story, is battling the critic in me, which keeps asking WHY I'm enjoying the story. Hell, the reader is winning. Maybe I'll get a post in here replete with in-depth analysis about the book, but right now, I eagerly anticipate my nightly before-bed pages....Okay, back to the grind.


Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006)

Naguib Mahfouz was not only one of the best Arab writers, certainly, but also one of the best writers of the 20th century.

I'm currently reading fiction of the Middle East, as a way of understanding what is happening there. In addition to 'In the Eye of the Sun' and 'Beirut Blues,' I am adding to the list Mahfouz's 'Children of Gebelawi,' in honor of his passing.

Rest in peace. Thank you for your wonderful books.


Hurricane Katrina

On this anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I was wracking my brain for New Orleans or Gulf Coast literature to quote, and then I came across this in a book I’m reading. It seems mysteriously apropos.

Listen, my heart, and bewail the fortune of thy land. Weep, O Heart, alone; for there is none to comfort you. Look, my heart, at the sun which is neither rising nor setting but hidden by clouds. Look at Egypt’s Nile, its waters shrinking. Look at the cattle roaming without a shepherd, and the ships no longer speed to the Phoenician shore. The scales of justice have been thrown out on the road to be trodden under the heel of every passer-by. Nothing remains of justice but the name, and in that name crimes are committed. The ululations of weddings have died down and in their place are wails and screams to be heard.

Is this not the land of Ra? When will the Good Shepherd rise to its rescue? He whose heart knows no desolation, He who spends His day gathering His stray cattle and leading them to water? When will he come to tear out evil by the root? To annihilate the seed of evil even before it takes root? Where is He? Where is He today?

Ab-U-Or (2030 BC)


Books on writing

I used to be a sucker for books on writing. Every time I’d see one in a bookstore, free box or bargain bin, I snapped it up, hoping I would come across that magical nugget of advice that will make writing easier than it usually is. And maybe more enjoyable in the process.

Most writers must be tortured in this way; otherwise, there would be no market for “how-to” books on writing.

Francine Prose apparently has tossed her hat into the books-on-writing ring. She offers “Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them.” (What is it about books on writing that makes the authors choose lengthy titles? It’s as if they have to clarify what they are trying to write about. Funny.) Emily Barton reviewed this for the New York Times. (Do read Conversational Reading's perceptive skewer on this review, plus the recommendations for books on writing.)

Barton says: “At the start of her new book on writing, Francine Prose dispatches with The Question — the five words that inevitably confront writers who teach, writers who don’t teach, and possibly even nonwriters who do neither: “Can creative writing be taught?”

To me, that is not only an arrogant question for Prose to pose (how’s that for lousy alliteration?), but it misses the mark entirely. I really do not think anyone who is serious enough about writing to pick up the book believes for one second that it will teach the craft. Writers just want some reassurance that yes, writing is as horribly difficult for everyone else as it is for them, and that yes, the horrors can be overcome, even if only temporarily, by completing a silly exercise, practicing hypnosis, starting a journal, placing green apples on your desk, or downing a bottle of Scotch every morning.

Beyond the smug attitude Prose seemingly adopts in this book, carefully distancing herself from any suggestion that creative writing could possibly be a taught skill like forging anvils or building car chassis, she does have a point here, as Barton explains:

Prose also recommends savoring books rather than racing through them, a strategy that “may require some rewiring, unhooking the connection that makes you think you have to have an opinion about the book and reconnecting that wire to whatever terminal lets you see reading as something that might move or delight you.”

Reading for delight: This is ultimately the reason I gave up reading about writing, and moved to reading for reading’s sake and writing for the hope of connection. It’s a lesson struggling writers tend to forget. If you want to love to write, you must love to read.

Here are some of the many books on writing in my collection, in no particular order. I do like dipping into them now and again for inspiration, reminders, compassion and wit. Any favorites you would like to share?
Dorothea Brand, Becoming a Writer: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit
Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write
Oakley Hall, The Art and Craft of Novel Writing
Gail Sher, One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers
Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones
Anne Lamotte, Bird by Bird
Stephen King, On Writing
David Bayles, Ted Orland, Art and Fear (not strictly about writing, but the same principles apply)
John Gardner, Art of Fiction
E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel
Ursula LeGuin, Steering the Craft
Eudora Welty, On Writing and One Writer’s Beginnings