I know how to stir myself to write something original. Read, read everything, read a lot. Garbage in, garbage out. Last week I came up with three ideas to write into new separate novels.
Most of this year has been devoted to advancing manuscripts toward publication. Concentrating on previous efforts of originality has presented a problem: Will I ever write anything new and original again?
If I can’t write, my life is over. I may as well die. That thinking didn’t get far. I went to library booksales and bag sales at the end. A dollar for all the books that would fit into a grocery bag. Three cents a piece for each book was fantastic.
What to do with that bag of books, plus 20 others purchased and unread over the year? From October to today, I’ve read, sampled and surveyed texts. Here’s a list, out of order:
Ghandi, William L. Shirer, not compelling but of interest.
History of the Ottoman Empire, vol 1, Shaw, very interesting passages – Shia/Sunni sects, the Ottoman Empire suffered greatly from a complex, fixed social structure, explained in 50 pages of detail. I skipped over most of that.
The Sleepwalkers, Clark, a fantastic book about the 20 years in Europe leading up to World War One. I recommend it strongly.
A Short History of Medieval Philosophy, Weinberg, looked good but I’m no longer interested.
Trafalgar, Rene Maine, read another history, not this one, about that navel battle.
Brighton Rock, Graham Greene, It is readable, but not as interesting as the promos on the back cover.
Force and Freedom, Jacob Burckhardt, I know Burckhardt wrote an excellent book about the Renaissance, but this book is heavy wood and labored.
Galapagos, Michael Jackson, technical, detailed – why feathers on this bird vary from feathers of birds on nearby islands – the sorts of thing Darwin saw plus more. If I were going to those islands, I’d take the time to read it, but I’ll never make it.
Old Rail Fence Corners, compiled ancedotes, tales from early Minnesota. I had hoped for a bunch of Lincolnesque stories. There wasn’t much that was funny about any of them.
West Coast Journeys, Carolyn Leighton, young woman travels from east coast to west coast in the 1860s. The volume tells of her experiences, few of which are engaging or interesting.
The Fist in the Wilderness, David Lavender, excellent book well worth reading. About the fur trade among and between the French, Indians, British, Spanish and Americans on the North American continent.
The Atlantic Essays, compiled essays from the Atlantic magazine from 1930-1950s. Like any compilation there are a lot of duds and a few beauties.
The Composite of Acting, Jerry Blount. I knew the author. I like the book and recommend it.
The Quiet American, Graham Greene. I read this long ago. It is the best novel about Vietnam although it was written 10 years before American became engulfed in that country.
Wartime, Paul Fussell, excellent book, well worth reading about the home fronts in Britain and the US.
The Mexican War, 1846-1848, excellent book about that war. I recommend it, and the earlier book it disagrees with. I read this book some time ago and bought it for my library.
The Economy of Early Renaissance Europe, 1300-1460, Miskimin, a good economic survey of the Europe before the age of discovery expanded the European wealth.
Selected Short Stories, Hawthorne, read the short ones. The long ones are difficult because Hawthorne’s nineteenth century style puts many, many words on a line in this Fawcett Premier edition.
Australian Short Stories, Penguin, the dialects are difficult to fathom. I read some and looked at many stories but I gave up.
The Rights of Man, Tom Paine, very readable political science. It affirmed my impression that Paine is the second best writer from the American Revolution. The best writer is Franklin; third best Jefferson.
The Ancient Civilization of Anghor, Christopher Pym, well presented, somewhat dated (1968) and certainly out of my areas of historical familiarity.
The River and I, John Neihardt, not very good. 1908 journey down the Missouri. I had a grandfather canoe down the Wisconsin a few years later. There isn’t much detail; historical decryption is lacking.
The Maltese Falcon, Hammett, see the 1941 movie of the same title.
The Good Soldier, Ford Maddox Ford, I got to page three and wondered why I was reading the same points that were on the first page. I stopped.
The Other Californians, Heizer/Almquist, excellent book about Native Californians and their slaughter – Spanish, Mexicans and mostly in the Central Valley and inland area, Americans. It was heartbreaking.
Houdini On Magic, Edited, picked up at three cents and after reflection I realized I won’t read it.
The Gnostic Gospels, Elaine Pagels, does not give much text from those gospels, but the interpretation of the author. I wanted to see the text.
J.S. Bach, vol 2, Albert Schweitzer, thought I was interested but no.
Civil War Stories, Ambrose Bierce, recommend. Some of the stories edge toward horror.
The French Navy in World War Two, Auphan/Mordal, a 50 cent book that is offered for sale on Amazon for $10-15.
Blockade Runners of the Confedercy, Cochran, Somewhat of interest, but not for the library. It has a story of a Union navel officer falling in love with a captured Confederate spy, female on a blockade runner. He died in 1865, so it wasn’t a long romance and a shorter marriage.
The Devil In France, Feuchtwanger, excellent book about a prominent novelist who fled Hitler and Germany being put into a French Concentration Camp during the first year of World War Two. The French realize they have imprisoned many opponents of Nazism and try to make amends, but author and wife still have to elude the police and escape to America.
Power in the Blood, Sabean, about deviancy in Renaissance Germany. It details a very complicated social structure of those times. I got half way through and stopped.
The Experience of Defeat, Christopher Hill, what happened to the Puritans in England after the Restoration of 1660? This book categorizes the Puritans and tells their stories. For the modern reader it does not say what the experience of defeat was, but it explains that experience from the view of the seventeenth century.
The Sixties Unplugged, Degroot, like all books about the Sixties its story is incomplete but it contains many salient tales and historical points.
Orlando, Virginia Woolf, another novel from this mentally ill author which I cannot read.
A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains, Bird, something bought on vacation and mildly interesting but not a keeper.
Honky, Conley, from a library sale, UC Press, I believed it was set in California. I was wrong. I didn’t want to read it.
Democracy During the American Civil War, DP Crook, excellent book detailing the relationships between the British and Americans during that war. The larger, longer book by the same author on the same topic is not that much better.
Above are the books currently in my possession, in my rooms, to be moved. There are others I don’t remember. I won’t read so devotedly for a while because I’ll write the three stories that have come to me.