Not just a bunch of
Reading is an infinite activity. Our government, through its agent, The Library of Congress, ensures this. In the Library of Congress, books are everywhere and new ones are coming in all the time. The shelves are sagging with books of all sorts — from He Doesn’t Know I Care to A Modest History of the Universe. Comic books to encyclopedias, books written by dedicated men and women of literature, compulsive egoists, celebrity Bar-B-Que masters, and people who didn’t even realize they were writing a book.
Imagine how large this library must be. Curiosity trembles at the thought of this much information. Eyelids grow heavy and breathing slows. The mind can not encompass the existence of this many books. This is why we must read them one at a time.
Reading is an activity that can help keep our feet on the ground, while at the same time, it takes us to places faraway. It expands our vision. If you live in Minnesota, reading can give you a sense of Texas or Tasmania. And, if you live in Texas or Tasmania, you can learn the difference between Minneapolis and Saint Paul and other fascinating things, which you had no idea could make a difference. Outer Space is just pages away and you can come back any time you want. The past exists in the present and you can be a part of it. The opportunities are limitless.
Reading calms us down. Although it can be done, reading while walking or driving is not recommended. It is a reflective act. And reflecting at stoplights or on sharp curves can be dangerous. When we read, we are (most of us) sitting down. This, in itself, is beneficial. It keeps us from constantly doing errands. We leave behind the world as we know it and travel instantly to places we have never been and to places that may never have existed. This saves not only time, but also airfare. If you get lost, you can just go back a few pages and orient yourself. Unlike Television, which is anything but reflective, we can travel at our own pace and to wherever we want. On the way, we need not worry about hamburgers or our cars or whether we’re on the correct data plan.
Reading is a cooperative act. As a reader, you and the author, together, design new buildings, create hairdos, and resolve conflict. You can toy with affections, fly an airplane, and outwit the enemy. You can help bake a cake, bait a hook, or beat the system. It’s endless. Just when things seem to be falling into that ditch called Routine, you can revive yourself with a new adventure, a new skill, a new direction.
One of the few things from school that made a lasting impression on me was summer vacation. And, when summer vacation was approaching, we would be presented with a reading list that contained suggestions of books of all sorts. This was the kind of homework assignment I could understand. No pressure – just suggestions. No tests. No reports. Just the pursuit of knowledge and happiness.
Teachers, freed from the daily restraints of the school system and the need for discipline, seemed to finally relax. They included books that they liked. Old favorites. Books that were important to them as people, not just as teachers. Reading the list excited me. All those possibilities.
Any list of books can only be a partial list. The ones that come to mind at the moment. The ones that have made themselves known. The ones that have jumped off the shelf this afternoon.
Remember – No pressure, no tests, and no reports.
Books About Writing
Becoming a Writer – Dorothea Brande – Gets to the heart and soul of it.
Aspects of the Novel – E. M. Forster – Characters, plot, and pattern, the whole ball of wax.
Elements of Style – Strunk And White – Also available online, click here.
The Sounds of Poetry – Robert Pinsky – How to hear better.
Women Writers at Work, Beat Writers at Work – The editors of the Paris Review
Writing in General and the Short Story in Particular – Rust Hills – How did he get that name?
A Poetry Handbook – Mary Oliver – Reveals the foundations.
Woe Is I – Patricia O’Connor – Whoa! An entertaining book about grammar.
The Deluxe Transitive Vampire
The New Well-Tempered Sentence
Paris Out of Hand
The Disheveled Dictionary – Karen Elizabeth Gordon – Yes, grammar can be fun. And, sometimes, necessary. The Paris book is not about grammar, but about a Paris of the imagination.
The Writer’s Digest Guide to Good Writing – Writing advice from the past eight decades.
The Triggering Town – Richard Hugo
Writing For Your Life – Deena Metzger – She goes deep and puts into words the healing aspects and possibilities of writing.
Writing Down the Bones
Long Quiet Highway – Natalie Goldberg – Great, wise, and generous words.
Bird by Bird – Anne Lamott
Writing Shapely Fiction – Jerome Stern
Books for Fun
Cosmicomics – Italo Calvino – Recreates the world.
The Little Sister
The Big Sleep
The Simple Art of Murder – Raymond Chandler – The master of simile.
3 Plays – Thornton Wilder
A Moveable Feast – Ernest Hemingway – Mais oui!
Harold and the Purple Crayon – Crockett Johnson
A Prayer For Owen Meany – John Irving
Alba – Delacorta – Hip mystery. Lean, but mean prose.
Sixty Stories – Donald Barthelme – Master of form and formless.
Up in the Old Hotel
Joe Gould’s Secret – Joseph Mitchell – Brilliant reporting by an elusive artist.
Wise Children – Angela Carter
Transit of Venus – Shirley Hazzard – A beautifully written book about fate and coincidence.
Charlotte’s Web – E. B. White – Mr. E. B. and his kind heart.
The Horse’s Mouth
Herself Surprised – Joyce Cary – The artist’s passion and humor rises above a world too busy to really notice.
Weather Central – Ted Kooser
Sex, Death, and Fly-Fishing – John Gierach – Like Mark Twain, but on smaller, more intimate rivers.
The Mezzanine – Nicholson Baker – The king of Specific Detail beguiles us with language and lunch.
My Family and Other Animals – Gerald Durrell
Rosencrantz and Guilderstern are Dead
The Coast of Utopia
Arcadia – Tom Stoppard – The greatest living playwright plays with our minds.
Understanding Comics – Scott McCloud
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest
Sometimes A Great Notion – Ken Kesey – A real American hero who can also tell a great story.
Pigs Have Wings – P. G. Wodehouse – Laugh out loud and disturb the neighbors.
A Story Like The Wind
A Far-off Place – Laurens van der Post – Africa, a boy, and his dog.
Mysteries and Manners – Flannery O’Connor – The best chicken in literature.
Collected Poems – Kenneth Patchen – Beautiful dreamer.
The Incredible Voyage
Adrift, and others. – Tristan Jones – The incredible Mr. Jones drags his sailboat through the Amazon jungle, is trapped with his ship on an iceberg off Greenland for months, and sails the sea with his three-legged dog. True stories.
Ellis Island, Winter’s Tale
A Soldier of the Great War – Mark Helprin
The Thin Man, etc. – Dashiell Hammett – He means business and he means red as in blood.
So Long, See you Tomorrow
Time Will Darken It – William Maxwell
Crossing To Safety
Angle of Repose – Wallace Stegner
Crow With No Mouth – Ikkyu
Questions About Angels
The Art of Drowning
The Best Cigarette, etc. – Billy Collins
With any author you like, it’s usually worthwhile to check out his other books. Like those above and those below.
Hendrik Van Loon
J. D. Salinger
Robert Anton Wilson
Robert B. Parker
Paco Ignacio Taibo II
Laurens van der Post
Eric KraftJames Thurber
E. B. White