During the youth of my writing, I warmly remember the place W. Somerset Maugham’s short stories played in my education as a fledgling writer. I Googled his name recently, searching for one of his short stories that was going to be the meat of this blog’s nut. The story itself wasn’t that important to me. In fact, I don’t recall the storyline. Only an incident tucked away in it stayed aloft in my memory over a span of fifty years, leaving the rest to evaporate.
The short story is entitled, “The Book Bag.” and the exact quote that inspired my mind to carry its baggaged idea for lo those fifty years I’ve transcribed below:
“Some people read for instruction, which is praiseworthy, and some for pleasure, which is innocent, but not a few read from habit, and I suppose that this is neither innocent or praiseworthy. Of that lamentable company am I. Conversation after a time bores me, games tire me and my own thoughts, which we are told are the unfailing resource of a sensible man, have a tendency to run dry. Then I fly to my book as the opium-smoker to his pipe.”
Mr. Maugham was a world traveler, and as that fragment of his short story went on to explain, whatever the book he flew to, he plucked it from his bookbag.
He was never without it.
I picture Mr. Maugham, waiting for his cab while poring over the books he would take with him on this particular journey. He had to choose thoughtfully, based on his journey’s length, his current interest, his mood.
Like Mr. Maugham, we all have our bookbags … in a matter of speaking. Likewise, we all have our journeys, at least in the lovely world of metaphor.
And that is the subject of this blog.
I’LL SHOW YOU MINE IF YOU SHOW ME YOURS ….
I’ve got my bookbag of favorites I’d love to share with you, and my hope is you will share yours with me in your comments. (Later, I shall compile them in another post.)
First a little housekeeping. I’m struck immediately by the difference between my bookbag and Mr. Maugham’s. I’m speaking of the physical conveyor of the books, the bag itself.
If our peripatetic 19th century author somehow journeyed into our generation, he likely would carry his entire library with him. Unless he was one of those purists living among us (God Love ‘em, one and all!), who has an emotional connection with the physicality of the book in his/her lap, who would orgasm over the sight of a well-constructed book’s spine … Mr. Maugham would own a Kindle.
Personally, I haven’t purchased a dog-ear-able, loanable-when-finished, book in years, unless it was not available in electronic print.
I love my Kindle. I especially love my Kindle For PC, since I have no life on the other side of my computer. (But that’s a story for another post.)
One last bit of housekeeping before I compile my list for you: I believe, if Mr. Maugham lived among us, his Kindle library would be a couple of thousand books. Before he would even climb into his taxi-cab, he’d have called the Kindle representative, asking for an electronic method to organize his books, so he could pluck perhaps ten from the thousands to keep separate in—well, in his electronic bookbag, if you will, on his Kindle.
There should be such a system in Kindle. Dear reader, if you know of one, please save me a call to my Kindle representative in the Philippines. I need to know.
MY FEARLESS TRIFECTA.
And now, the contents of my bookbag. (My mind’s drawn to Dylan Thomas’ lines from his short story, A Child’s Christmas in Wales: “… I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.”)
As Dylan plunged his hand in the snow, I plunge mine into my bookbag, and out comes “The William Saroyan Reader.”
NOTE TO SELF: TO USE SOLELY AS A TONIC, A PICK-ME-UP
A novelist, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, and a short story writer of the finest caliber, William Saroyan is one whose words jolt you like the first cup of coffee in the morning. I go to him when my own writing has become insipid and contrived.
As A Word of Warning … One can get lost in the flow of Saroyan’s sentences, the rhythm of his often-convoluted syntax—and therein lies his danger to me. I can so steep myself in his charm that, for days afterwards, my writing reads like a second-rate Saroyan. I remind myself to use him only as a tonic. Ah, but just a few of his paragraphs—what a tasty libation tossed against my dry palate.
A VALUABLE INVESTMENT FOR THE WRITER.
This next book, I can announce with utter confidence, should be in EVERY WRITER’S bookbag. I’ve read it, cover-to-cover, three times since I bought it, a year-and-a-half ago.
Dang git! Already, you caught me in a lie. I haven’t read it. Even once. You see, along with the download from Amazon, I purchased the Audio-Book version. Every morning during my one-hour exercise on my Gazelle (think elliptical), I listened to “The Art of X-ray Reading,” by Roy Peter Clark. His rambling subtitle is “How the Secret of 25 Great works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing.”
At the end of each chapter, Mr. Clark inserts a summary of the major points, called “Writing Lessons.”
If you were my ward, I would grab you by the scruff of your neck, and in my gruffest Clint Eastwood whisper urge, “YOU MUST get this book.” (In my own voice, I would suggest the Audio, as well). If you’re still not convinced, sample the written version on Amazon. Glance at the table of contents, read what few pages they allow you.
SHUTTING THE FREAKING CRITIC’S MOUTH
If you’re like me, you always have the critic, leering over your shoulder, whispering in your ear, “How stupidly you write.”
And OH! Do you listen to him!
Well, at least I do … or did.
Probably a dozen years ago, Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones,” fell into my hands at the right time. It taught me to develop faith in the unconscious mind to guide my writing.
How do you develop such faith? In the simplest terms, by writing fast—so fast that you’re mind’s not being interrupted by the critic. Ms. Goldberg explains it all so elegantly that this book and its sequel, “Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s life,” became instant classics.
I have so many more books in my bookbag I’d love to share with you, but alas! I’ve already been too chatty, and used up today’s space allotment.
Until next time … let me hear of your favorites, ho-kay?