Shirley is a frequent political commentator of the conservative Republican stripe (a biographer of both Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich), but he’ll be puzzling to many ordinary human beings in that regard, since unlike virtually all publicly visible Republicans these days, he isn’t stupid, he isn’t vicious, and he isn’t patently, observably insane. Certainly in terms of his historical writing, at least, he’s the very last thing most Republicans currently are: responsible.

After suggesting [that young writers] look into The Writer’s Chapbook I recommend they keep a diary, at least a page a day, and faithfully, and also to get into the habit of letter writing to other writers. The advantages that come with doing this seem obvious—both are exercises which hone the communicative skills.

GEORGE PLIMPTON

Alfred-Kazin/Journals/book

“We moved today to 415 Central Park West. Enormous business of packing and unpacking my books, which I have been carrying on my back for so many years. Lord, how I would like to get free of all these things sometime. I date my maturity from the day I realized there were books I could get along without.”


Alfred-Kazin/Journals/book

Winterson on the importance of books

I heard today that one in three kids in the UK does not own a book. I would be dead if I had never found books. So I wouldn’t call them a luxury or a leisure item. I’d call them allies in the life and death struggle.

My old Jewish friend Mona Howard – nearly 90 and totally aware, says that we go through life carrying 2 bags: Time and Money. The Life and Death Struggle. When we are confronted, with difficulties or when we have personal problems, we have to know which bag to go to. Is it Time and Money, or is it more central to the core of who we are?

Books have always been central to the core of me. Fiction and poetry made me who I am; inevitable that I would start making the books in return.

Do dialogue-let’s say-between a hobo and a high-class hooker, then between an am­bulance chaser and a guy who sells scorecards at the ballpark-let’s say-about the meaning of money. Between pints, get the arch of the dart down pat. Shoot foul shots day in and rim out. Pick a sentence at random from a randomly selected book, and another from another volume also chosen by chance; then write a paragraph which will be a reasonable bridge between them. And it does get easier to do what you have done, sing what you’ve so often sung; it gets so easy, sometimes, that what was once a challenge passes over into thoughtless routine. So the bar must be raised a few notches, one’s handicap increased, the stakes trebled, tie both hands behind your back. Refuse the blindfold, refuse the final cigarette, refuse the proffered pizza. Do dialogue in dialect: a Welshman and a Scot arguing about an onion. Hardest of all: start over.

WILLIAM H. GASS

richardsala:

~ Originally published by Drawn & Quarterly in 1990(!) in their self-titled anthology.  Later reprinted in my collection Black Cat Crossing.  

richardsala:

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Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know of grammar is its infinite power. To shift the structure of a sentence alters the meaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as the position of a camera alters the meaning of the object being photographed. Many people know about camera angles now, but not so many know about sentences. The arrangement of words matters, and the arrangement you want can be found in the picture in you mind. The picture dictates the arrangement. The picture dictates whether this will be a sentence with or without clauses, a sentence that ends hard or a dying-fall sentence, long or short, active or passive. The picture tells you how to arrange words and the arrangement of the words tells you, or tells me, what’s going on in the picture. Nota bene.*

It tells you.

You don’t tell it.

JOAN DIDION

*“Note well.”

Other parts of Again to Carthage offer a bit of marathon training advice: focus on building endurance, stamina, and speed by targeted workouts, not arbitrary long runs. And perhaps most movingly, there’s the observation that what really counts is not the climax, the Big Event — it’s all the work to get there. From Chapter 36:

“What I mean is that someone sees a race, and they think that’s what you do. They sort of know you had to train, but they weren’t watching then, so they don’t understand how incredibly much of it there is. But to us, it’s almost the whole thing. Racing is just this little tiny ritual we go through after everything else has been done. It’s a hood ornament.”

And then the hero and his trainer-coach-friend agree that, whatever happens, “Everything else is icing now. It’ll be okay. I’ll be okay.” — echoing some of elite ultra runner Eric Clifton’s remarks. The treasure is there, every moment.

In an essay written last year for the SMiLE tour booklet, Van Dyke professes still not to know what “Over and over … ” means. That’s indeed a respectable position for a poet to take. John Ashbery, whom many readers would consider the greatest living American poet, has said that he has no idea what it is he’s doing when he writes. The work of making and the work of noticing and explaining are two different things. I tend to distrust poets who are willing to explicate their work, and I cringe a little when someone asks “What did you mean by that?” It’s for the reader to make something of what he or she reads, and that’s what I’ve been doing here.

“Your complete literary man writes all the time. It wakes him in the morning to write, it exercises him to write, it rests him to write. Writing is to him a visit from a friend, a cup of tea, a game of cards, a walk in the country, a warm bath, an after-dinner nap, a hot Scotch before bed, and the sleep that follows it. Your complete literary chap is a writing animal; and when he dies he leaves a cocoon as large as a haystack, in which every breath he has drawn is recorded in writing.”

— John Jay Chapman “Greek Genius,” in Greek Genius and Other Essays (New York: Moffat, Yard & Company, 1915), 280. view on Google Books

“For years, far too many years, I fell into the dangerous trap of being determined to finish a book despite having reached the conclusion half way through—or at the very least having become deeply suspicious—that in all probability this would not give me pleasure or profit. Yet essentially I am an optimist, and therefore, I suppose, when faced with undeniable evidence that a novel in which I am immersed is, for example, a bleak and depressing saga of frustrated sexual longing and entirely populated by characters of scarcely conceivable dullness, part of me hopes that twenty pages hence there awaits bright flashes of comic genius that may yet salvage the experience. Optimistic though I continue to be, from the vantage point of comfortable middle age I can now say that this is never true and that certainly the healthiest, most sensible, and efficient strategy is to abandon ship.”

—Angus Trumble, “Well-Read Lovers; Constant Rejection,” Ask the Paris Review, November 18, 2011.