Burnet Up, Or How Just a Few Kind Words Can Inspire the Writer in Me

 

WITNESS STATEMENTS. Memoir. Medical reports. Journal article. Trial record.

There’s an awful lot going on in Graeme Macrae Burnet’s novel His Bloody Project, not least of which is that the crime referred to in the title is established in its opening pages. A triple homicide in a poor village in the Scottish Highlands in the late 1860s — that’s what happened, and the reader knows it straight away.

It is in the how and the why where Burnet’s tale lies. Using a variety of storytelling techniques and devices — those listed up there in the first line — he crafts a strikingly original work of vivid details, meticulous characterization, and compelling plot. As a writer, I have found myself returning to Burnet’s adroit handling to figure out how to make my own work better without throwing up my hands in despair because nothing I produce will ever be that good.

I tweeted as much to him and Matthew Klam — whose deeply felt Who Is Rich? I hope to discuss in a future post — and was reassured that all of us who struggle to make magic with words are wrestling with the same demons.

“If it’s any consolation,” Graeme Macrae Burnet tweeted back at me, “I often have the same thought!”

Yes, indeed, Mr. Burnet. It is of enormous consolation. I’ll be back at the keyboard tonight. | DL

Tome Swift, or How Smaller Page Counts Are Feeding My Habit

short readsTHE PLAN TO read more in the new year was going well. Until it wasn’t. Even my audio book consumption dropped off. In both formats, I started works only to get into them and lose interest. And before too long, my reading momentum was gone.

Looking for a way to get my nose (and ears) back into books, I recalled a list I’d seen online of well-done quick reads. That seemed like a good way to ease myself back into it — not by taking on a weighty doorstop whose heft could prove intimidating, but by leveraging the psychological boost that a work of smaller scale could provide. The Goldfinch? Um, no, not this week. Dept. of Speculation? Jenny Offill’s novel, checking in at 192 pages, is at the top of the list I’d seen. Perfect.

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Trig Newtown, or How Heavy-Duty Math and Science Don’t Mix Well with Audio Books

Indy and MarionTHE AUDIO VERSION of James Gleick’s Isaac Newton is a mere five CDs — about two-and-a-half round trips to work. Newton was a genius, of course, a pioneer in mathematics and physics, yet I knew little of his life beyond the almost certainly apocryphal tale of the apple conking him on the head, leading to his theorizing about gravity. So I figured Gleick’s book was worth a listen.

Oops.

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I’m Thankful That I Have Many Reasons to Give Thanks More Than Once a Year

THE FOLKS who research happiness say that regular reflections on gratitude improve one’s mindset. I wouldn’t mind an improved mindset, so I probably ought to think more often about what I’m thankful for. Many of my Facebook friends have spent each day this month posting about the things for which they’re grateful. But the best I can do right now is to offer this list today, Thanksgiving Day, about my gratitude, as I did last year.

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‘You Ain’t Clean’: As Flannery O’Connor Observes, None of Us Is

wisebloodTHIS POST was supposed to be a gushing paean to Flannery O’Connor’s astoundingly good debut novel, Wise Blood, whose audio version I concluded listening to on my way to work yesterday.

O’Connor’s masterful capture of the mid-century South — of its deeply ingrained racism, its dusty sleepiness, its barely hidden corruption — is startling. None of the characters is likable, though in O’Connor’s confident hands they attain a cockeyed dignity. Each has his or her own unique voice, and the author handles multiple points of view deftly.

The religious overtones for which she became known are already fully present here; indeed, the book turns on them. Despite her relative youth, O’Connor offers them to the reader forthrightly and without apology.

I hadn’t read her since a short story or two in college, and Wise Blood made me wonder what took me so long.

But what grabbed the most was one of the final sentences I heard:  Continue reading

‘A Voice That Was All Rage and Envy’

thumbsdownNOT LONG after I became a dad, contemporary, grown-up pop culture began fading from my radar. And so year-end best-of lists (movies, TV shows, songs, books, etc.) of the kind published over the last week hold much less sway with me these days. It’s hard to get excited over such things when you have lots of conversations that begin with “Remember that episode of Victorious when … ?”

Though I no longer read the content of such pieces, I have noticed that alongside the best-of lists, papers and magazines are running worst-ofs. This stinks.

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Why New Year’s Resolutions Are Crap Without This One Important Thing

YOU FINISH your list yet?

If not, you don’t have much time. It is the 31st, after all. If you don’t figure out how to be a better you in the next 15 hours or so, you’ll have to spend the next year as the current, subpar you.

Then again, if you’re like me, you can make it easy by recycling past years’ resolutions. My annual late-December self-reflection tends to yield the same goals: Continue reading