With more than 25 years of experience, Kathi Kamen Goldmark and Sam Barry have the inside scoop on writing and publishing. Together, they are the authors of Write That Book Already!: The Tough Love You Need to Get Published Now. Email them your questions (along with your name and hometown) about writing and publishing, and don’t miss their column on BookPage.com.
INSPIRATION FOR WRITERS
The holiday season is here! For some, this is joyous news; for others, it is an excellent reason to leave the country. Whichever way you feel, the holidays are always a good time to buy a book—because anytime is a good time to buy a book.
Each year we like to provide our readers with gift book suggestions for writers. This year, we talked to four people who influence what others read. We asked them what books they would recommend to inspire the writer in your life, even if that writer is you.
Teresa Weaver, book editor at Atlanta magazine: “There are three books that I find myself going back to repeatedly for inspiration or comfort or just to remind myself what perfect sentences sound like: Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, of course; Joseph Mitchell’s My Ears Are Bent, a collection of his newspaper columns; and, above all, Eudora Welty’s slim memoir, One Writer’s Beginnings. There are so many lines in that book that I can quote by heart: ‘All serious daring starts from within,’ for instance. Or, ‘The strands are all there; to the memory nothing is ever really lost.’ But the one that will always take me back to my five-year-old self, when I first had an inkling that books would save me, is this: ‘It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves like grass.’ That is the power and the magic of great writing.”
Michael Krasny, San Francisco-based host of KQED’s Forum, recommends Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks. This novel explores the world of convicted sex offenders, some guilty of heinous crimes, others guilty of much lesser crimes, living in the only place left to them: a makeshift encampment under a Florida causeway. For nonfiction Krasny recommends The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt, which tells the story of how the discovery of an ancient manuscript changed the course of human thought and set the stage for the modern world.
Sylvia Brownrigg, book reviewer for the New York Times, the L.A. Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, and a novelist whose new children’s book, Kepler’s Dream, will be published by Putnam in May (under the pen name Juliet Bell), checks in with a vote for The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. “All right, so I’m not alone in thinking this was one of the year’s best and most compelling novels: Apparently the U.K.’s Man Booker judges felt so, too. They were right. This short novel is itself a master class in how to write a work that is true and dark, funny and thought-provoking, with a story that has both a page-turning urgency and a sense of ordinariness—as if it could have happened to anyone. Stays in the mind and heart, and leaves the reader, at the end, wanting to return to the first page and start again.”
David Streitfeld, a New York Times reporter covering digital culture, has a surprising recommendation. “My favorite source of inspiration is, I confess, distinctly odd. It’s a play, which is not a form I have spent much time with since I was 17 and infatuated with an actress in my high school. But something about Brecht’s great epic Galileo has stuck with me for decades now, and I return to it often when I need to supply myself with encouragement and enthusiasm (always in the translation published by Vintage; there have been several weaker versions). Galileo is smarter than everyone around him, the way we all imagine ourselves to be, but he is a creature of the flesh, and that is his downfall. When the Inquisition wants him to recant his heretical views, it merely shows him the instruments. No actual torture is necessary. Who among us would be any braver? Yet he consistently speaks out for the truth, questioning ‘the eternal immutability of the heavens.’ Galileo reminds me in eloquent language that, whatever my own failings, it is important to have the highest goals as a writer.”
From your Author Enablers, Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah! Or, if you loathe this time of year, happy reading! We’ll return to dispensing advice next month, so send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.