Sitting in the Ultimo public library I met a man who told me he was being persecuted by the Australian government in alliance with the Chinese.
(The rest of this story is all what he told me. Obviously, I haven’t fact-checked any of it.)
About Writing: Seven Essays, Four Letters, & Five Interviews by Samuel R. Delany is the best book about writing I’ve ever read. Bar none. If you care about the art of writing and not just “how to get published” this is the book I would recommend without reservation.
The key pieces of advice from the book are fairly pedestrian when laid out: “Don’t overwrite; don’t let your writing become thin or superficial; don’t indulge clichés,” but there’s much more. He talks about what writers should read, and about how story is just false memory, and how the best stories are economic (stories that don’t acknowledge how the protagonists are paying their rent tend to be less satisfying because how we afford things is integral to our experience of life).
Delany discusses about the formation of a literary canon, and about how science fiction, pornography and experimental writing exist as para-literature, but also gets into punctuation and the use of tenses to convey different moods and feelings. He discusses dramatic structure in a way that is incredibly simple, so simple it’s not formulaic. He talks about the poetry of language and what talent is and how it’s different from being able to use the tools of writing. He talks about how to construct a scene by observation, that that’s the writer’s real job, to observe better than everyone else and remember and write it down (which prompted this tweet from my research methods class yesterday).
There’s a lot to this book. I’ve used it already to improve a piece of fiction I’m working on and I will continue to use it since this is about as close as I’ll get to learning from the man himself.
My book for October was Jorge Luis Borges’ Collected Fictions. It was the book I returned to amidst all the school reading, when I needed something beautiful to enter my brain. The stories are very short. There are many many knife fights. And labyrinths. And doubles. A few libraries. Some philosophical treatises. Many excellent quotes about art and letters and all of that. The fact that Borges was a librarian does give me hope. Hope that I won’t disappear into a job as I work my way along through this life.
I know a girl who reads the Bible with her boyfriend. Maybe I know several who do this, but I specifically know that this is something this one girl and her boyfriend share. I would never be able to take such a practice seriously. Not the proper amount of reverence in me. But I could see a book like this one filling that same role in a life. You pull the book down and read a few pages with your lover, a little tale. And discuss what it all might mean.