…books in formation: 1 to 5

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1. Becoming a Writer, by Dorothea Brande

Brande taught you how to think into your stories.  She explained the strange alchemy between movement and creativity, a cocktail of circumstance that is both individual and universal, and, if the measurements are right, as potent as morning light on a sunflower. 

Still now you think while washing up, while driving, while soaking prune-like in the bath (also a favourite with Douglas Adams, planning the next turn of events in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, draining the bath and refilling when the water went cold).  Movement and thought… movement and thought… as inextricable as love and longing.

2. Olive Kitteridge, by Elizabeth Strout

A student recommended this book to you, and you were astonished by the fluidity of Strout’s sentences, like rivers of rhythmic words that capture the heart of her characters and the people and places they love.  She moves like a spell, into and around her people, slipping through time from past to present to future, collecting and polishing meaning and insight along the way.  For similar reasons you fell in love with the writing of Vladimir Nabokov and Laurie Lee, all practitioners in the art of fluid punctuation.

3. Zen in the Art of Writing, by Ray Bradbury

Bradbury loved to write.  LOVED to write.  In this flaming burn of a book he shares his experience of writing and advice for writers:—

‘… the first thing a writer should be is — excited.  He should be a thing of fevers and enthusiasms.’

‘Run fast, stand still… the more swiftly you write, the more honest you are.’

‘We all need someone higher, wiser, older to tell use we’re not crazy after all, that what we’re doing is all right.  All right, hell, fine!’

If you are feeling tired of writing or unsure of your path, all your need to do is read his chapter titled The Joy of Writing, and you are back there, pen in hand, lost in the white heat of creation.

4. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

Isolation, repressed emotion, fires of destruction and the shame of insanity all combine to create, for you, the perfect novel.  These ideas and themes you revisit again and again in your own fiction and nonfiction, and you secretly hanker to live in an old house on the moors, the wind howling at the walls and windows while you write by candlelight. 

5. The Pillow Book, by Sei Shonagon. 

Shonagon, a 14th century Japanese noblewoman, wrote her memoir in the form of a list.  It is wise and funny, poignant and articulate, and there is a simplicity to list-making that you will be forever drawn to.  You will write essays this way, and you will write your blog this way, leaving space for the reader to make her own connections between seemingly disparate items.  That space, you have come to understand, is where meaning lies.

* * *

Next time: …books in formation: 6 to 10

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