Independent Writing from an Independent Mind

Open discussion about writing and reading

from Gary Dale Cearley

Review: The Richest Man in Babylon

The Richest Man in Babylon
The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In many ways this still is the best book with the best advice on how you should personally and commercially manage one’s money. The wisdom is eternal. I started using it before the book was done. (I’d read this nearly twenty years ago but didn’t take the advice then. I’m older and wiser now.)

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The idea of wasting words: Bukowski, Thompson and Hemingway

I’m about halfway through with Charles Bukowski’s ‘Women’. Years ago, when living in Venice, California, I read several Bukowski tomes of both fiction and poetry, though I felt his fiction to be almost non-fiction due to the highly autobiographical nature of it. It was easy to do. Bukowski was a local writer and there was lots of Los Angeles tied up in his writing. What strikes me about Bukowski now is his sparse use of words. His subject matter aside, the writing style to me is reminiscent of Hunter S. Thompson and Ernest Hemingway. No wasted words with any of these guys.

Commonalities, not so oddly, go beyond style. If I were to compare the lives of these three writers I see that there were many shared traits. Machismo is there. Heavy alcohol abuse is there (and heavy drugs in the case of Thompson). Love of guns and shooting (minus Bukowksi). Wanderlust. Suicide (again, minus Bukowski). Famous Hollywood friends and groupies. Multiple women throughout their lives. Strained relationships with women and loved ones. All three were known to write under the influence of alcohol. Much of their writings were, again, highly autobiographical. The lines of morality and immorality blur with Bukowski and Thompson as well, though not so much with Hemingway. I think realism does this.

Of course, as far as success as a writer goes I would have to say that Ernest Hemingway was the most successful. He became wealthy on his writings early. He claimed both a Pulitzer and a Nobel, which very few people can claim. Bukowski probably was the least successful as he had to wait much later in life to become an "established" name. Thompson was, well, Thompson. However it cannot be stated that any of the three did not live life on their own terms. Be it rugged individualist in the case of Hemingway to hedonist in the cases of Thompson and Bukowski, they made their own ways. Nobody wrote their life scripts for them.

Is this what you get by not wasting words? On the surface at least it would seem that there is some correlation between the writing style and the lifestyle.

These men were direct. These men said what they meant. These writers were more often than not reckless with their lives and with their relationships but their writing style was pure and simple. There was a loud masculinity to their writings that brashly walked the fine line between proclamation and personal history. When I read them I feel like I am being spoken to by an older uncle who imparts not necessarily the wisdom of life but its truth.

What I take away from reading all three men is that when you write bare bones, when you write what you mean, you don’t have to chose your words so much. They are just there. You use them to tell your story.

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Gary Dale Cearley

Part way through Love, Poverty and War: Journeys and Essays by Christopher Hitchens

First of all, I am not

yet
finished with this book but there is a bit that I would like to share about it. Yesterday I was reading Love, Poverty and War: Journeys and Essays by Christopher Hitchens on the flight from Doha, Qatar, to Bangkok. This book is an excellent tome of essays and reviews. The writing is smart and thorough. While reading I came upon a chapter entitled ‘Scenes from and Execution’ which was originally an essay written about the witnessing of an execution in the state of Missouri. But this one struck me between the eyes in that it was written by Hitchens, probably my favoritie contemporay essayist but he’d written it from Potosi, Missouri, the childhood home of Michael Parks who was my classmate at the Defense Language Institute and is a life long brother to me. This I saw from the outset. But further into the chapter I see that Hitchens discusses the sixty minute stay of execution for my high school classmate, Kirt Wainwright. Yes, I grew up and went to school with that guy – as did everyone else in the Prescott High School class of 1985.

I’ve been haunted by this chapter since reading it.

Focus. How illusive art thou?

One of the issues that I constantly struggle with is interruptions. I guess I would be like others who might lose their place or their thought or even worse, their inspiration. When I am at home I face a bit more of a lack of focus but in my office, when left alone, I can generally focus quite well. As I look forward in my life I can see the need for focus so much more even than before. I also see that my writing skills, or lack thereof, will be that which boosts me or hinders me. This is why focus is important. I don’t deny it.

I read so much about cluttered desks and how that takes away from focus. I have not one but two cluttered desks and I can say that this isn’t really much of a distraction for me. My distractions are the two legged kind. People. Although I leave messages that from such-and-such hour to such-and-such hour I am not to be disturbed most people either completely ignore it or they feel that they have something with an urgency superseding my need for quiet and privacy. I guess I could start bashing people’s brains in. Perhaps I think, since people are all creatures of habit, that I could set a time every day that would make it a captial offense to disturb me. This might be better than having an ad hoc timing.

I guess the key to all this is organization. Something I have struggled with my entire life.

A continued discussion on what can be defined as a literary classic

Since I brought up the question about how to define a literary classic I was given a rule of thumb that books should be at least twenty years old and was shown a sample list that begins in antiquity (it included Gilgamesh) yet came right up to modern times. I was a bit surprised to see Isaac Asimov, Ken Kesey, Toni Morrison and Alice Walker all had one book there. So I see that at least some consider the test if time not to be a huge factor, though the twenty years struck me as quite soon for a book to be considered a classic. Even cars must wait until forty years.

I say this because I would suppose to be a classic a book would have to have resonance with a successive generations, not just the generation in which the book reach its fame. I know this isn’t air tight as some books are “rediscovered” for various reasons and some books make it through generations, I’m convinced, because they are required reading in some programs. (Think Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle here.)

And wouldn’t classics have to be such by general consensus? As an example I’m going back to a book that I’ve mentioned before, Joseph Conrad’s Gaspar Ruiz. I have tried discussing this book with a few literature types none of whom had read it and only one claimed to have known of it. So it is arguable that even though it was written by one if the best known authors if his time and was probably a best seller in its day, and even though I enjoyed reading the book if your average ‘literary types’ hadn’t a clue about the book how could we agree that it is a classic?

I do realize that there are classics in national literatures that your average reader may not have heard of. For instance the Vietnamese consider Nguyen Du to be their Shakespeare yet how many outside of Vietnam have heard of, let alone read, his magnum opus, Kieu? And likewise there are unknown books that can constitute classics within genres. In these two examples it is hard to argue against a book being a classic.

I guess there are many parallels between this question and the Great Books arguments that go on in academic circles.

My diversion for the day: Guest bloggers

Sorry folks. I’m holding back a rant here. I promise to try to keep it simple though.

So often I got to a blog that I like only to read a post from a guest blogger. Don’t get me wrong, many times this person is interesting and I still read what they have to say. And sometimes I pick up their blog. But something just doesn’t sit really well with me on this guest blogger thing.

Firstly, I feel that most blogs are meant to be personal. It is the word from you. (Isn’t it?) I have a bit of a relationship with you. I read the blog because of that.

Secondly, even though I read loads of blogs, there are only so many blogs I can read. If your guest post has a better one, I might follow that one instead.

Thirdly, if I see enough guest bloggers who aren’t spot on a topic that I am interested in then I am outta there. I might be back. I might not.

Ray Bradbury: Good exercise from a master?

Earlier this year we lost Ray Bradbury. It just so happened thought that this past weekend I came across a talk that he gave at Point Loma Nazarene University’s Writer’s Symposium by the Sea. He spoke for about ninety minutes. The time got away from me but I was quite intrigued. For one, it would seem that he was actually spending his whole time speaking extemporaneously, with no prepared speech. That did seem easy for him to do, if that was indeed what he was doing. He told stories of his long career. His stories were quite frank and quite honest and above all, they were damned interesting.

Ray Bradbury, over the course of his talk, gave the following recommendations for writers:

1) Before you sleep, read one essay, one short story and a poem;
2) Write one short story per week; and
3) Write essays often.

According to Ray this should help you to hone your overall writing skills and prepare those who are looking to be novelists at a later stage. He was pretty clear that he felt novelists should start out as short story writers. Maybe those of us who are serious should consider this advice.

If you’d like to watch Ray Bradbury’s talk yourself. Enjoy!:

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