Quote

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

My friend Kerri forced me to get Stephen King’s On Writing. I almost never read books about writing any more because it’s just too much like work, and besides, after Strunk and White, what more needs to be said?. I was in no hurry to read it, but after a year and a half guilt finally moved it off the to-read pile.

Started it. Enjoyed his life story. Liked Bill Bryson‘s better.

He reveres The Elements of Style, okay, he’s showing me something.

He thinks adverbs are the mark of a lazy writer, me, too.

His life story went fast, and now I’m bogged down in the how to write part. Too much like work. I’m going to stick to it at least until the scene where he’s laying on the side of the road thinking, “OMG, I’ve been run over by one of my characters,” which of course I’ve heard about, as who hasn’t.

Two days later:

Okay, time to stop whining. This is a good book. It is in fact (oh, he’d smack my hand for that phrase) three good books, or novellas, if such a term may be used to describe non-fiction. The first is his life story, the second is a primer on the craft of writing, and the third is the account of his close encounter of the van-crazy-guy-and-Rottweiler kind. The first is entertaining as hell, the third is entertaining and scary as hell, and the middle section, the section on craft is honest, practical and hard-nosed as hell. And also entertaining.

I like everything he said about craft because I agree with all of it. “The best form of dialogue attribution is said.” “You should avoid the passive tense.” “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Simple, direct, absolute, I’d go farther than King and say that these are rules that should be tattooed backwards on the foreheads of all beginning authors so they see them every time they look in the mirror.

What I really like here is that he takes craft so seriously, because he loves it. He is in love with writing, with storytelling, with the written word, in love even with the way it looks on the page. He cares that we do the best job we can. “I don’t believe a story or a novel should be allowed outside the door of your study or writing room unless you feel confident that it’s reasonably reader-friendly.

What he said. Thanks, Kerri.

Coffee Table Books for December 14

These are all (I hope) of the books mentioned on the air during Coffee Table this morning. For Christmas gifts for friends and family, as follows:

Tom likes Alcohol Can be a Gas by David Blume.

Amy likes The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

Samantha loves her new cookbook, Fish Without a Doubt by Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore.

Pam likes Diapering the Devil by Jay Hammond (So do I. If you want to know how and why you get a PFD every October, start here).

Mark likes Simple Food for the Good Life by Helen Nearing and is also reading Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, the one about the Great Game, aka covert ops between Russia and China in the late 1800’s.

Mike made Bill Moyers’ The Conversation Continues sound like a must-read, and the perfect bedside book.

Caroline recommends local author Dottie Cline’s children’s book, Raven Paints the Birds, and the coffee table book Nests: Fifty Nests and the Birds That Built Them by Sharon Beals, which she says is gorgeously photographed. I went and looked, and she’s not lying.

photo by Sharon Beals

Trish likes Mary H. Perry’s Onward Crispy Shoulders, and I must say she had me at the title.

Mike likes Alaska fiction, in this case Ordinary Wolves by Seth Kanter and 2182 Kilohertz by David Masiel.

Al recommends Charles Brower’s autobiography, Fifty Years Below Zero, another great title.

Dave likes John Brunner’s The Sheep Look Up and Stand on Zanzibar.

Host Aaron is reading The Hunger Games, and both he and engineer Terry read Cochrane: The Real Master and Commander at my instigation (she said proudly) and loved it.

More Terry picks:
A Voice in the Box, the autobiography of Bob Edwards, a voice you will recognize if you’re a long-time listener to NPR.
The Colorado Kid by Stephen King, a departure Terry says from King’s usual weird scary stuff.
A World Lit Only By Fire by William Manchester (big thumbs up from me here, too).
Still Life With Woodpecker by Tom Robbins, and
The Thousand-Mile War by Brian Garfield, which Terry says he got from the list of Alaska history books at the end of Though Not Dead. Yay, somebody read it!

My recommendations:

The Chrysalids by John Brunner. Classic dystopian if-this-goes-on science fiction. Substitute global warming for a nuclear holocaust and it reads as prescient today as it did sixty years ago, and it has a couple of strong female characters that could be taken as models for Katniss Everdeen.

Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker. A chief of police in rural France deals with wine, cheese, drug dealers and Nazis. A marvelously realized setting, terrific characters, an interesting plot that doesn’t cheat, and my new favorite crime fiction series.

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James. A sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, with murder thrown in. Turns out Mr. Darcy was James’ model for Adam Dalgleish.

Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man by Christopher Hitchens. Irascible author and essayist gives Tom Paine’s manifesto a biography. Anything either guy writes is pure gold, Hitchen’s historical context is matchless, and it’s only 133 pages long.

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff. Vividly detailed recreation of a woman, a place, and a time. I’d travel in time back to her Alexandria, so long as I’d had all my shots.

Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do? by Michael J. Sandel. Harvard government professor explores the answers to questions like “What wounds deserve the Purple Heart?’ and “Did those A.I.G. executives deserve their bonuses?” Where headlines and philosophy meet. This would make a great book club book. I may choose it for mine.

Inside the Sky by William Langiewiesche. A collection of essays on flight and flying. Topics include what’s going on inside the tower, meteorology, storm flying (on purpose!), and the last chapter is a mesmerizing examination of the Valujet crash in Florida. The perfect gift for the pilot in your life, and let’s face it, what Alaskan doesn’t have at least one of those?

Oh, and a recommendation I made last year for Aaron’s mom: Great Maria by Cecelia Holland. A strong woman in medieval Italy goes after what she wants and gets it. Aaron’s mom, if your son forgets for the second year in a row, buy it for yourself, it’s a great read.