17 Must-Read Books*

Gertrude Stein


  ” To write is to write is to write is to write

is to write is to write is to write.”

 She spoke the truth.

 Email. Blog posts. Blog comments. Email. Manuscripts. Introductions. Blog posts.
Email. Email. Email.

 What happened to reading?

 I shall find out.


 Pennebaker. The Secret Life of Pronouns.

  Connolly, ed. Books to Die For.

Howells. Annie Kilburn. (Again)

  James. Portrait of a Lady. (Again)

 Wharton. The Custom of the Country. (Again)

  The House of Mirth. (Again)

   Zelvin. Shifting Is for the Goyim.

   Kaufman. The Writer’s Guide to Psychology.

   Duhigg. The Power of Habit.

   Ratey. Spark. (Again)

Castle. Murder by Misrule.

    Tartt. The Goldfinch.

   Saylor. A Twist at the End.

   Cain. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

   Edgerton. Lunch at the Picadilly. (Again)

   De Becker. The Gift of Fear.

   Hallinan. The Fear Artist.


   Where to begin?* Probably not with the Agains. They sing their siren songs, but I mustn’t answer.
Wouldn’t be prudent.

  Quiet. That’s the one. In the past three weeks, I’ve had a lot of contact with humans and
too much bustling.

  I’m just wo-ahn out.

  It’s crawl-under-a-rock time. With a book.***



  *Experts (says an article on the web) say readers are attracted to lists with numbers in the titles. We’ll see.

  **I have other possibilities. These are the ones I can see without getting up and crossing the room.

  ***I started this post last night but fiddled so long with it that I didn’t have time to read.
I’m still fiddling with it.

  But tonight . . .


I love WordPress, but sometimes we disagree about formatting, mostly about position of photographs and about spacing. What I see here on the edit page isn’t always what both of us see on the published page. I have done my darndest to make it do what I tell it to do. At this point, I don’t care. If the post looks funny, please just read it and ignore the WordPress deficiencies. My deficiencies you are welcome to notice and even to point out.


What was I thinking? Obviously not much.

For a previous WordPress photo challenge (Object), I posted

Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter Book Swap, December 2013
Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas Chapter Book Swap, December 2013

I don’t know why. I’d already picked out several shots I liked better, such as

Shiner Beer truck parked at Valero gas station and convenience store, February 4, 2014
Shiner Beer truck parked at Valero gas station and convenience store, February 4, 2014


William's foot on my brand new Kindle, October 21, 2014
William putting his stamp of approval on my new Kindle, October 21, 2014

either of which is more interesting than books on chairs.

But at the last minute the books jumped out and said, Pick me! So I did. I was later appalled at how foolish the photo looked in comparison to those other bloggers posted.

On the other hand, considered as geometric shapes–two right triangles formed from a rectangle, their common hypotenuse composed of mysteries–the picture assumes a significance bordering on the semi-artistic.

Had I cropped more precisely, or had I posted before midnight, I might have observed that before now. But probably not.

You see, I didn’t discover the books formed a hypotenuse by studying the photograph. I saw it while composing this post. I wrote the word diagonal to describe the line of books, and suddenly saw triangles.

In other words, I didn’t know what I knew until I’d written it.

It sounds backward, especially to people who’ve been told they must outline before they write. Which is practically everyone who passed through an English class before the process theory taught by Donald Murray, Ken Macrorie, Peter Elbow, and other teachers was widely recognized. Writing as process allows students to use language to discover what they know and think before they try to organize.

(Ironically, most of those early outliners could have told their teachers that outlining with an empty head doesn’t work.)

When Gertrude Stein says writers have the daily miracle, this must be what she means: allowing language to lead, using the hand to stimulate the mind, being surprised by your own creation, discovering yourself through words you’ve written.

Thinking with a pen, or a keyboard, in hand works for anyone willing to put words on paper or pixels on a monitor.

Results vary, of course.

Stephen King starts writing and ends up with The Shining.

I start writing and end up seeing triangles.

On this day, triangles are miracle enough.

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Letting the miracle happen

I ended an earlier post with the sentence, “There’s a hole I have to write myself out of.”

Parse that and you’ll find it equal parts wish, bravado, pretense, and humbug.

I had no idea how to write myself out of that hole. I thought I’d have to scrap “A Day in the Life of a Rancher’s Wife” and replace it with “A Day in the Life of a One-Room Schoolteacher.” Or anything else I could both start and finish.

But I gave it a shot, opened the document, and began revising. For the Rancher’s Wife, that meant squeezing 700 words into under 500, just in case I came up with a conclusion.

And in the middle of all that deleting, adding, shuffling, it happened. I knew how to end the story.

By the time the epiphany occurred, it was after midnight. I tacked on a couple of sentences to hold the thought and the  next day continued reworking the piece. The result is a story I’m satisfied with. Almost. There’s still time for tweaking.

When I was teaching English in the late ’70s, the latest fashion was to teach the writing process: brainstorming, prewriting, writing, revising, editing, polishing, proofreading. Sometimes prewriting was put before brainstorming. Sometimes editing and polishing were rolled into one. It was neat and tidy and linear.

But there was no step to describe that epiphany.

If there’s frustration here–and there is–it’s that I can’t explain that missing step. I had given up. I wasn’t trying think of a solution. I was playing with words. And then I knew.

Maybe that’s the heart of the process: relax, play, stay in the now, allow ideas to come. Maybe the process isn’t a process at all.

I’ve read that creativity has something to do with the frontal cortex, the anterior cingulate, the temporal lobe, the limbic brain, alpha brain rhythms, gamma brain rhythms, warm showers, long walks, and happiness. When scientists have it all observed and assimilated and indexed, I’ll try to understand.

For the present, however, I like to think that extra step is Gertrude Stein’s miracle.

Not knowing. Knowing.

And the process is letting the miracle happen.

The daily miracle

The most serious problem the writer encounters is coming up with a topic, coming up with an original topic, finding the form you’re comfortable with, writer’s block, creating interesting characters, writing sparkling dialogue, finding your voice, weeding out unnecessary modifiers, weeding out passive voice, appealing to the five senses, revising, finding a good critique group, accepting criticism, polishing the manuscript, f inding an agent, selling the manuscript, hanging in there… forgetting how the process works, forgetting the process works, forgetting the process forgetting the daily miracle will come.