Why “Are You a Writer?” Is a Bad Question

Some people consider themselves a writer but, when asked, never admit as much. They are the shy and modest ones, I hear you saying. They are the realistic ones, I hear the other saying. Some people consider themselves a writer and, when asked, explain at great length. They are the outgoing and confident ones, I …

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Billy Collins, Animated

Billy Collins, one of the most recognized among American poets, did a wise thing years ago. He harnessed the power of video to many of his poems. This not only helped poet-writers with the art of imagery, it also gave reluctant poet-readers (often known as "students") a door into the not-so-bad-after-all genre of poetry. Given …

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“You Have Spent Vast Amounts of Your Life as Someone Else…”

In the final essay of her book, The Faraway Nearby, Rebecca Solnit proposes, sensibly enough, that we are not ourselves. The pronoun "I" is suspect, in other words, but for a reason most of us wouldn't consider: stories. I'll let Solnit speak for herself with a few relevant paragraphs: "Listen: you are not yourself, you …

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Rebecca Solnit on the “Astonishing Wealth” Called “Writing”

Montaigne would be proud. This week I have been reading more essays, specifically Rebecca Solnit's in her 2013 collection, The Faraway Nearby. In an essay called "Flight," she devotes a few paragraphs to the act of writing and, as is only necessary, reading (because what's one without the other?). I thought it was interesting. Maybe …

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“Catching Grain Through Spread Fingers”

You may think it strange that I annotate magazines, but sometimes, thumbing through them afterwards, I enjoy revisiting certain lines. The sentences and paragraphs I choose are not necessarily pithy like an adage or purposeful like a sage. Sometimes they just strike me and the reason is, as the French say, je ne sais quoi. …

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“Fiction Isn’t Machinery, It’s Alchemy.”

Before I say a reluctant goodbye to Peter Orner's book, Am I Alone Here?, that has been such good company these past three days, I thought I'd share a few final quotes I marked in the book. Six are from Orner himself, and three are ones he fished from Frank O'Connor's book, The Lonely Voice (and …

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The Humbling Beauty in Reading-About-Reading Books

Every writer is a reader, and every reader indulges himself now and then in a good "reading about reading" book. This is where I'm at now as I amble through Peter Orner's Am I Alone Here? (The answer is, Clearly not, P.O.!) The thing about reading-about-reading books is how expensive they can be. No, I don't …

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Reading the New York Times’ “By the Book” Feature

One Sunday ritual I enjoy is reading The Book Review in the New York Times, where I can reliably find a feature called "By the Book." In this column, famous people (mostly authors, but sometimes actors, singers, artists, etc.) answer pre-submitted questions about their reading habits, prejudices, and insights. For me, "By the Book" is …

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