A while back I shared some favorite quotations about writing, literature, and art that I’ve kept posted in my office for decades. I’ve printed and laminated these snippets whenever I find them since high school, and keep them taped to my desk drawers and file cabinets alongside a few pithy cartoons and family photos. Here I’ll share a few more favorites that have inspired, delighted, and consoled me over the years.
6/4/16 – YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN: VISITING WRITERS’ HOMES
Touring Thomas Wolfe’s childhood home in Asheville, NC recently, I saw, like many others before me, how his childhood translated into his novels. I also saw how growing up here had in many ways been perfect soil for a budding writer.
A kid separated from his siblings to grow up in a boardinghouse, share bedrooms with guests, and help his enterprising mama serve up stews would have plenty of material to ponder, and time to ponder it. Having a maverick but grief-stricken mother and the temper and passion of his father on hand didn’t hurt either. I wondered whether I might find equally conductive conditions in the childhood homes of other writers.
5/4/16 – WRITING ACROSS GENERATIONS
Nothing is quite so thrilling as seeing your writing come alive—except perhaps bringing it to life with the help of your own offspring. In my case, the thrill came from seeing a play I had abandoned decades ago reborn when my composer son offered to write music for it. By writing across generations, we created something far better than anything I could have imagined on my own.
4-04-2016 – IF YOU LOVE BOOKS, DON’T READ THIS
As a writer who spends endless hours alone glued to a computer, I’m well aware of the lure of Facebook, Twitter, and other digital distractions. And yet the more diatribes I read about social media addiction destroying civility and civilization, the more I am reminded of many age-old critiques of book-reading. So, at risk of incurring the wrath of book lovers everywhere, I have to ask: are books and social media all that different in their potential to distract us from our friends, family, and even ourselves?
3-04-2016 – WHERE GO THE BOOKS?
No one was more surprised than me—a self-confessed book hoarder—when I let stack upon stack of books go free from my home. It all started when my 20-something daughter, packing up her childhood room, confronted me with a hallway of books that had lost their shelving status. My chance for redemption had at last arrived.
I just finished reading Sarah Ruden’s acclaimed translation of The Golden Ass, a 2nd century AD, a classic and wonderfully ridiculous work that has been called the world’s first novel. And then it dawned on me: just recently I had read (and blogged about) a couple of other first novels of sorts, The Tale of Genji and Don Quixote. I started wondering: just how many novels have claimed this title?
Flipping through The New York Review of Books the other day, I realized my reading habits had changed drastically. Once upon a time I read every page from cover-to-cover – even the personal ads (in fact, I met my husband by answering one of them). What had changed wasn’t the The New York Review of Books. What had changed was me.
12/04/15 – HATE REWRITING? GIVE IT TIME
Writing is rewriting. Like most writers, I do my best to apply this old adage, even though redrafting, revising, and “killing my darlings” often means a bruising battle with my ego. However, I recently discovered a pain-free way to rewrite: time. Time not only heals all wounds; it also anesthetizes the ego.
11/04/15 – WORDS TO WRITE BY
I knew a boy in high school who kept laminated copies of favorite quotations in his wallet. Impressed, I started collecting favorite quotes about writing and art and life myself, and pinned them near my desk as inspiration. I still have them. And, yeah, I realize I could just Google any and every quote on writing or anything else these days. But these are my own private curated collection, and before the paper yellows much more, I want to share a few words of wisdom I’ve kept at my side for a lifetime.
My book club is reading Don Quixote – and they’re hating it. This is an erudite group. They have plowed their way through ponderous and elusive authors like Faulkner and Jane Austen. They’ve devoted long hours to devouring All the King’s Men and The Tale of Genji. But Don Quixote is killing the best of them. And I think I know why. They’re all listening to, not reading, the book.
Called a “fresh voice in Latin American literature” by the New York Times for her debut novel TheTree of Red Stars, Tessa Bridal is about to enter new territory with a second novel, River of Painted Birds. Slated for release in mid-October in both English and Spanish language versions, this new novel follows the adventures of an 18th century Irish woman who marries an abusive husband at fifteen and boards a ship westward-bound ship after accidentally killing him six years later. Rather than landing in Boston as expected, she ends up in the country known today as Uruguay where she joins forces with a wealthy half-Indian smuggler and a renegade priest determined to save the native people from slavery.
08/04/15 – TO SLEEP, PERCHANCE TO WRITE
When I’m not writing, I spend much of my time as a sleep evangelist, leading a nonprofit (Start School Later) dedicated to school hours in sync with sleep needs. In that role, I’m always looking for ways to persuade people to value sleep—and it struck me that I could almost certainly call on the writers of the world for some pithy, poignant, and mellifluous thoughts on the subject.
Prizewinning poet Peter M. Gordon, our August 1 Guest Blogger, offers five tips for marketing your poetry in the August 1 version of Late Last Night Books. His poems have appeared in Slipstream, 34th Parallel, the Provo Canyon Review, 5-2 Crime Poetry, Cultural Weekly, and several other magazines and websites. He’s President of the Orlando Area Poets and teaches in Full Sail University’s Film Production MFA program. His collection, Two Car Garage, was published by CHB Media and is available on Amazon.com and other bookselling sites.
When I was growing up, I wanted only two things in a future house: a swimming pool and a library. I never thought much about style, size, decor, or even location, location, location. I just wanted a pool so I could swim daily laps and a library like the one Professor Henry Higgins had in My Fair Lady.
06/04/15 – TO SAVE OR NOT TO SAVE?
My 83-year-old mother has always been a tosser, so it surprised me when she told me she had spent the past week reading her collection of old letters and short stories she had written in college. I was even more surprised when she offered to feed my hoarder habit by giving my grandparents’ love letters to me. She thought I might someday work them into a novel.
5/04/15 – THE RELUCTANT HEDGEHOG
“Too many books, too little time” is a truism that has plagued me for decades. It has forced me into the painful position of having to decide whether to be a fox or a hedgehog, either tasting a little of all the literary world has to offer, or focusing closely a small subset of it. For most of my life, the fox won out: there is simply too much to sample to dig myself into a hedgehog hole.
4/04/2015 – ENDINGS: MUSINGS ON STATION ELEVEN
As I pulled into the last paragraph of Emily St. John Mandel’s post-apocalyptic novel Station Eleven, I flipped to the last page to confirm I was nearing the end, trying to concentrate on every word and how it felt to read it because everything was about to change. I often play this game when nearing the end of an engrossing novel, superimposing my awareness of the impending close over the experience of still being in the story, doing whatever I can to prolong the moment and appreciate the incompletion. I know that yet another world is about to end for me, and I want to savor every remaining moment before I am shut out forever.
3/04/2015 – REIMAGINING THE MOMENT
I’ve just finished reading two novels that re-envision a few days out of history, one about a famous battle, the other an obscure murder. Both novels include meticulously researched historical details, stretched here and there to fit the arc of a story and perhaps highlight a deeper truth, but still leaving readers with a fresh sense of worlds long vanished. More than that, though, both novels reminded me of the infinite richness in the smallness, shortest of moments, something all writers should remember.
2/04/2014 – ON ADDING TO THE WORLD’S BABBLE
It is easy to throw words down on the page. But how much more difficult it is to choose which of these words are worth keeping, worth sculpting, worth sharing.
1/04/2015 – LOST – AND FOUND – IN TRANSLATION
One of the great joys of literature is a chance to enter the world of another person, particularly one who would otherwise be completely inaccessible. So I was excited about reading Lady Murasaki’s classic novel The Tale of Genji, and immersing myself in the world of high courtiers during early 11th century Japan. Instead I ended up wondering if I should simply stop reading anything translated from another language.