“Exploring My Bookshelves” is a weekly meme created by Victoria at Addlepates and Book Nerds. Since Victoria was on summer vacation, Shannon at For the Love of Words created her own topics, which I followed along with. Now they will both host the meme in alternating months. Visit either blog for the list of topics.
I was first introduced to William Zinsser in my college’s Art of the Essay course. One of the many books we were required to purchase was the popular On Writing Well, a book that is recommended by many writing instructors. It is this book, which has sold more than 1.5-million copies and is often paired with Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style, that made Zinsser’s name a popular one. It’s unfortunate that he has passed.
I’ve wanted this book ever since I first read an excerpt from it in the New Yorker. I thought it was a book I had to have since I want to be a copy editor and I thought this book could provide me with some insight into the profession. Mary Norris is a copy editor at the New Yorker magazine and she has written various articles about her work there, most of which have been included in Between You & Me, thus this book is a memoir of sorts. As Mary Norris discusses the nuances of the English language, its grammar and punctuation, she also recounts certain events from her life like her early years working at the New Yorker, her road trips to odd museums, and her reaction to her brother’s sex change. No matter what she discusses, she ties it all back to grammar and punctuation.
Me? I wake up and get dressed while listening to NPR then dash out the door to race up the street to catch the bus (I’m usually running late). Then I read or play a game (Lumosity to improve my memory) while riding the bus to the train. Once on the train, I read or catch up on any vestiges of sleep I missed when I jumped out my bed at the ring of my fifth alarm.
I grab breakfast on my way to work (bagel and hot chocolate, or, if I’m in the mood to be nice to myself, French toast) and eat while working. Break for lunch at 2 or 3, read while eating, then back to work. The afternoons are for pleasing myself, which may consist of hanging with a friend, visiting a bookstore or museum, walking and musing to myself, or more reading while travelling. My nights are spent trolling the internet or bingeing on Netflix before turning in to bed.
The weekends aren’t much different the exception being that I don’t move around as much. I wake late, read in bed, and binge on Netflix all day. I may take a walk/hike or call a friend and, if the inspiration hits, write. Otherwise I spend the day prone with my eyes glued to my laptop, numbing my brain.
A quarter of the year has passed and I am a third of the way through my Goodreads Reading Challenge. I proposed to read 30 books this year, which I think is a manageable goal, and so far I’ve read 10 of the 30 books.
I’ve read The Element by Sir Ken Robinson, an insightful read; Jinxby Sage Blackwood, a fun one; Native Son by Richard Wright, which will leave you either seething or in deep contemplation; The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le Guin, an uneventful but thoughtful read; Mythologyby Edith Hamilton, great for myth lovers and novices to the subject; I Feel Bad About My Neck and I Remember Nothing both by Nora Ephron and both filled with chuckles; The Writing Life by Annie Dillard, in which you will find great advice if you are patient; A Wizard of Earthsea also by Ursula Le Guin, a truly imaginative read; and The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chobsky, a totally un-put-down-able book. I was not bored by any of these titles, even when I read Dillard’s book. They were all eye-openers in their own ways and all offered insights and advice that I hope I can remember.
Out of this portion of books, my favorite is A Wizard of Earthsea. A Wizard of Earthsea is great because of the thought and creativity given to form the story. Le Guin is truly a great author. I can see why J.K. Rowling loves her stories. Le Guin takes her time building the world of Earthsea, mapping it out for us all while taking us through Ged Sparrowhawk’s life. There is much to learn in this story and words of advice that can be applied to life are sprinkled throughout. I especially like the afterword where Le Guin discusses her thought process in creating Ged and the world of Earthsea. It’s an enthralling read.
Dillard is a great writer, but I did not have the patience to enjoy or appreciate her little book on writing. I snatched Dillard’s book from the Barnes & Noble shelves because I heard of her before and I wanted to know what she had to say on writing.
I was excited to begin Dillard’s book since I’m often told how great she is. I thought that she would share some tips on how she got to be considered great. She does this, kind of, by using little anecdotes that highlight a certain quality that writers should have, or to give advice on the writing life. This is great but I would appreciate it more if I wasn’t impatient while reading.
I could not tolerate Dillard’s slow tread to get to the point. To me, some of the anecdotes go around in circles, like the loops Dave Rahm makes in his air show, before finally getting to the message. This pissed me off. By the way, I simply do not get why so many pages were spent discussing Dave Rahm. Of course, I liked it when Dillard got to the point straight away – “Write as if you were dying” – and then explain what she means or give the anecdote after stating the point.
I also couldn’t stand the weather in this book. It’s cold. Most of the book is spent discussing Dillard’s experience writing in a cold cabin in some woods. I have no idea how she made it through that. I abhor the cold though I live in a cold place and I cannot fathom writing while I froze. The weather turned me off.
Still, a part of me appreciates this book and has fallen in love with Dillard’s style and her descriptions of things and the way she sews the lesson into the seam of the anecdotes. It’s a small part of me but it greatly influences the rest of myself so I did not dash aside the book when impatience slowly tried to rule.
I will read this book again at a time when I can relax and appreciate the way Dillard crafted it. At a time when I can truly appreciate Dillard’s use of language and will not be put off by the pages spent discussing Dave Rahm. I will understand why she spent such a long time discussing him when I’m not trying to rush through the book,.
This one is not for a novice: someone who’s just entering the battle. This is for those who’ve been there a bit and need some insight or guidance. Dillard does make some great points and is funny in a dry sort of way.
Seeking inspiration to start writing? Then pick up Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. Goldberg encourages her readers to begin writing and stop planning to write, stop complaining that they can’t write, and stop procrastinating on their writing task. To become a writer, to be able to write, one must first begin to write.
Of course, this is easier said than done. Goldberg helps her readers buckle down and start writing by offering tips and some tricks to get started. She also quotes words of wisdom that she picked up from her Zen master, Katagiri Roshi, and applies them to the art and life of writing.
You can’t help getting swept up in this book and lifted by Goldberg’s inspiring words. By the end of it, you will immediately want to pick up a pen and begin to scribble away. Like Dorothea Brande, Goldberg makes you believe that writing is possible. All it takes is for you to get started.
I especially recommend this book for beginning writers. Goldberg makes you want to start writing and keep writing. Here are a few words of advice that stood out to me:
I have an annoying habit of immersing myself in books on literature and writing when I want to make myself commit to writing. It’s a trap I always fall into since I hardly notice when it occurs. It sneaks up on me and gradually distracts me from my self-appointed assignment until I totally give up on it and instead gorge on literature and writing books. Such was the case recently when I decided to read Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott, A Journey through American Literature by Kevin J. Hayes, and Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande.
The way this habit of mine begins is by whispering to me that since I need to improve my talent before attempting to write, I must first do some research. After all, research always helps to point a person in the right direction. I find this statement to be true so I go along with the suggestion. I began with Lamott’s Bird by Bird.
“Not enough!” my devilish habit exclaimed. So I went ahead and began reading Hayes’ A Journey through American Literature. My habit was appeased for the moment.
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is the first Stephen King book I’ve ever read. I’ve watched many of his movies on SyFy since I was a little girl and they scared the shit out of me so I decided not to read his books. If the movies are scary, then the books would be worse. My imagination would haunt me, I feared. Because I want to be a writer, and since I’ve heard and read great reviews about this book, I decided to give it a try.
King said that he would keep this one short and to the point. He did. He opened with a short memoir of his life, touching on those events that contributed to his writing and his development as a writer. He then included a brief section on developing a “writer’s toolbox,” which led to another section that discusses writing – how to start, continue, and develop your writing.
King’s answer to these questions is to write, and keep writing, and to read.
Great advice. I find it a bit intimidating. I always go into my scheduled writing sessions intimidated and clam up. I sit and stare at a blank page or screen because I can think of nothing good to write. But the important thing to do is write. So now, after reading this book, I’ve decided to write until something good comes out. If I don’t think it’s good today, it’s possible that I might think it’s great tomorrow.
In my short lifetime of 23 or 24 years, I’ve read various grammar books and booklets but this is the first that I’ve encountered one that is easy to read, understand, and even enjoy. Style: The Basics of Clarity and Grace by Joseph M. Williams was a joy to read. I could hardly put it down at times. The language was clear and his examples and explanations were easy to follow and comprehend. The only problem that I encountered while reading this booklet was a personal one, which was trying to commit all the tips to memory and employ them in my own writing. But such a thing is difficult to do and requires practice.
It takes a lot of practice to be a great writer. According to Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, a person becomes an expert at their selected art/study when she has worked at it for 10 years (I forgot the total hours that equals to). I guess that’s why academia requires of us to spend 10 years dedicated to the study of our chosen field in order to be considered a master (doctorate, whatever): 4 years of undergrad, 2 years of graduate studies (sometimes), 2 years of practice in the field, 2 years for postdoctorate studies (something like that). Since I’ve been reading, writing, and editing consistently from I was a wee lass, and have spent 4 years studying English as my major, I do believe that my moment of genius in the field is right around the corner, despite whatever errors in grammar I might or might not make while writing these blogs. Not once have I faltered on my daily regimen of reading and writing. I am, therefore, a literary genius in the making.
Big smile 😀
Williams’ little book is not only for writers, but for readers as well. I am a believer that readers will gain as much insight as writers if they should read a grammar book and Style proved this to be true. In Style, Williams takes us through various lessons by using the technique of “close reading”: reading between the lines; considering what is implied by what the author does or doesn’t say. Also, a grammar book helps readers by causing them to consider the language the author uses and how he employs it in his work.
All around, Style is a great grammar book that all (students, writers, readers, and children of the technology-era) should read.