Booking Through Thursday: Collectibles

  • Hardcover? Or paperback?
  • Illustrations? Or just text?
  • First editions? Or you don’t care?
  • Signed by the author? Or not?

I used to try to get hardcover copies of all my books, especially classics, but now I really prefer the trade paperback versions of books. Just much easier to move when it comes time to move.

I have some of my grandmother’s old books, a set of Mark Twain with illustrations and those are nice. I think most novels used to be illustrated. But unless the book is older, I don’t generally like illustrations.

I have a few signed first editions, one of which — Robert Olen Butler’s Had a Good Time — I bought at the Texas Book Festival. I like getting my books signed at the festival when I go, but I don’t actively seek first editions or signed copies.

One of my favorite signed books is a battered copy of Rick Bragg’s Somebody Told Me, a collection of Bragg’s newspaper stories. I took the book to the Texas Book Festival when Bragg was a presenter, before Bragg had his troubles at The New York Times.

He inscribed the book “For Todd, From one writer to another” after I told him I was at the time a newspaper reporter. He was one of the nicest writers I’ve met in person, and I had a feeling that if we weren’t holding up the line he might’ve had a conversation with me.

I learned a lot about feature writing studying Bragg’s stories. Nobody told me at the time I could appropriate an unpaid stringer’s work into my own without crediting it. Nobody apparently told Bragg such a practice was looked down upon, but that’s what he supposedly did.

I’ve written about my disappointment with Bragg in another post. I still have ambivalent feelings about him and his writing. His feature stories are wonderful examples of the form, and yet, reading them makes you wonder how much of the work was his own.


100 Novels: The Once and Future Dud

The Once and Future King The Once and Future King by T.H. White

My review

rating: 2 of 5 stars
The first thing I ever read relating to the Arthurian mythos was Hal Foster’s Sunday newspaper comic strip Prince Valiant. Years later was the movie Excalibur. And in college I read Sir Gawaine and the Green Knight. Recently I began reading The Once and Future King, and about halfway in decided to set it aside. It’s considered a classic, and the first section of the novel inspired the Disney movie the Sword in the Stone. The novel is epic in scope, following King Arthur’s life from young boy who yanks Excalibur from the stone to become king to the decline of the round table and Camelot and the death of Arthur. Curiously, White narrates the novel as he’s a museum guide, and it abounds in anachronisms. The device is intriguing, and lends to comic effect. But, overall the novel lost me. It doesn’t seem to hold up, especially its “war is bad” preachiness — the first sections of the novel were published as World War Two was beginning. Anyhow, it wasn’t an engrossing novel. Excalibur is a much better treatment of the Arthurian story.

View all my reviews.

How’re You Coming on That Novel?

I haven’t published a book . . . yet. But that’s my ultimate goal as a writer, and I’m not that sort of person who says he’s writing a book, but never does any writing. My inner Stewie badgers me enough to keep writing.

I do have a book, a novel, or rather a second/third draft — I’ve lost count of the revision. I’ve been working on the novel since 2005, when I began writing it. I finished a second draft, a full rewrite in 2007.

Since then, I had a beta reader read the manuscript, not a professional editor, but someone who might actually read the novel if it were published. She loved it, so I married her.

My next next step in the process — submitting the novel to an editing service — seems to get delayed every year for some reason or another (lack of money for various reasons the main culprit).

Anyhow, I did submit the first few pages for a free sample to one editing service recently, after I corresponded with debut novelist Karen Harrington about the value of using an editing service.

Even just that sample edit has given me valuable insights into the novel, and I’ve begun a third revision, restructuring the novel. Diving back into the process of writing, as I restructure, I’ve developed new insights into the characters, the plot, the whole narrative.

Taking the plunge into the writing process again has, in turn, revived my imagination, my whole drive to write, a drive that had begun to wane almost to nothing last year.

Now my goal is to finish this latest revision, and I want to finish it by April. After that, I hope I can afford to submit the novel to an editing service. From there, I hope to start submitting it to publishers.

Brief Update

I’ve been silent for a few days. I’ve been offline for various reasons and I may be off line for some time; I may be off line quite a bit over the next few days or weeks, given that  my access to the Internet is limited. Hope to see you real soon, reader.

Booking Through Thursday: Author Blogs

Here is this week’s Booking Through Thursday question:

Do you read any author’s blogs? If so, are you looking for information on their next project? On the author personally? Something else?

Yes, I do read author’s blogs.

Sometimes I’m looking for information about their next project, or links to other pieces they’ve written or that have been written about them.

But more often than not, it’s to get to know the writer better, or at least their online personality. With blogs, you get the writer doing what he or she does best — write.

At the same time you get to know more about the writer, who they are what they’re doing, and get to enjoy the snippets of insight or humor or voice that you enjoy from their books or articles, as I did this morning when I read Nick Hornby’s post about swimming at the gym. That short post delivers a bite of Hornby’s humor, a taste of what you might get in his novels or essays.

You get to see their concerns, and find that you share similar concerns, as I did when I read Joe O’Connell’s post about potential ax-dropping at the Austin American-Statesman.

As a former newspaper writer who still loves reading newspapers, I hate seeing good writers potentially getting the ax, as it does seem as if papers are chopping their noses off to spite their faces. I believe that readers do (or did) follow particular writers (and maybe that’s the real problem with newspapers, magazines, publishing, writers, etc. — maybe we’re all delusional; maybe no one is interested in good writing; maybe they just want quick information, sound bites, links and coffee-quick fixes; maybe reading for pleasure and enjoyment or engagement or even edification really is dead.)

Enough of such a pessimistic aside. So yes, I do read writer’s blogs, for the same reason I read blogs, newspapers, magazines, books, etc. — for the pleasure of reading, for the one-to-one engagement with another person, with language, with all that high-minded stuff.

Sunday Salon: Le Mot Juste

Adjectives get a bad rap from writers.  Like morphine, they’re good in small doses. They become a bad habit with increased doses.

Mark Twain wrote in a letter:

When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them — then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.

I’ve been reading Tim O’Brien’s July, July, and O’Brien knows how to use adjectives judiciously. They make rare appearances in his prose, but when they do, they are le mot juste, the perfect word,  as here when wounded Vietnam veteran David Todd is lying in a hospital bed dosed on morphine:

Over the next three and a half weeks, off and on, a number of meditative, glutinous-sounding voices discussed the possibility of another amputation, the pros and cons.

What a perfect description of being under morphine and hearing voices, real and imagined — “glutinous-sounding”. Anyone who has ever been under morphine, or any other painkiller, knows that sensation.

And “glutinous-sounding” fits with the liquid, water motif O’Brien has been constructing throughout the novel. In a couple of spots, he uses “liquid” as an adjective. There are a lot of images of water, including a drowning, and David Todd’s wounding by the Song Tra Ky river in Vietnam.

The novel covers the stories of a set of classmates at a college reunion, the class of ’69 of Darton Hall College in Minnesota. It seems to me the motif of liquid conveys the sense of uncertainty these representatives of the Sixties feel, nothing congeals, nothing solidifies, neither love nor politics, past nor present.

Whatever thematic functions the adjectives serve, O’Brien certainly knows how to select them, to give his sentences strength when the adjectives are wide apart. Good sentences for writers to study.


Editor’s Note: This post has been written as part of Sunday Salon.

Booking Through Thursday: Too Much Information

This week’s Booking Through Thursday question:

Have you ever been put off an author’s books after reading a biography of them? Or the reverse – a biography has made you love an author more?

No. I’ve never been put off a writer’s works after reading a biography. Quite the opposite has been the case: most of the biographies I’ve read have intrigued me enough to read more of the writer’s work.

That’s especially true about Ernest Hemingway. I had never read Hemingway until reading “Hills Like White Elephants” my freshman year in college. I was intrigued right off by the style, the seemingly simple sentences, but also by the brief bio my instructor presented before we read the story (or was the bio in our text? Memory fuzzes 22 years later).

I wanted to know more about Hemingway because of the brief bio, and began reading A Farewell to Arms, and then For Whom the Bell Tolls. Later, I discovered Kenneth Lynn’s Hemingway (Simon and Schuster, 1987), an excellent biography that delves extensively into Hemingway’s psychosexual history and how that history figures into Hemingway’s writing: hair fetishism, gender-bending, etc.

Outside of the Freudian analysis of Hemingway’s personality, Lynn also details Hemingway’s development as a writer, from early high school efforts to his work as a journalist at the Kansas City Star and  later at the Toronto Star to his literary and writing education in Paris.

At about the time I was reading the biography, my own yearnings to be a writer were surfacing. So the biography provided a blueprint of a writer’s development, sort of perfect for someone who had no idea how to start.

Of course, Hemingway’s life was appealing to someone who had grown up in a small town, hadn’t traveled, hadn’t really done much of anything except complete his freshman semester at a c0mmunity college. I couldn’t help but imagine myself becoming a journalist, traveling, going to Paris to learn to write.