Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bar Book Club

A brief break before my last response to the idea of escape, because last night was our latest book club meeting.

Beer of choice: Existential Porter--this is one of the beers they have periodically, not a one-time thing but also not one of their standards that's always available, and I really like it.

Book discussed: My Story as Told by Water by David James Duncan. This was a book I'd suggested, and one I'd read before, a collection of nonfiction pieces focused on environmentalism and the wilderness. Most of the others felt that while it had some snippets of incredible writing--beautiful prose evocations of the wilderness or deep-cutting insights--as a whole it lost its power by being too strident, lacking in nuance or practical responses. I can see that in places, though actually in the course of discussing it, we kept finding more and more that we'd appreciated about it.

In keeping with the writing theme of this blog, here's a great essay of Duncan's on non-advice for writers: "My Advice on Writing Advice." One snippet:
My very best, most financially useful writing advice to those who show extra spirit, the way you're doing, is this: If you want a sane work life, economic viability, happy family, home, flat abs, nice ass, reliable car, health insurance, and teeth, DON'T TRY TO WRITE BOOKS AT ALL! STOP NOW!"

That often ends the conversation, or at least moves it on to happier topics, such as viruses or STDs.

Then once he gets through the very funny attempts to dissuade writers, he explains how "fun" is the basis for all his writing:

If you think, by the way, that the "Have Fun on Paper" concept is a recipe for self-indulgence, if you think I've just outlined a self-indulgent life, then your imagination is dozing, partner—because living with nothing but paper, day in and day out for years, is not easy. If you can learn to find fun all day with nothing but paper, you could probably have fun with nothing but yesterday's laundry, or with a small pile of dirt, or with the dead flies that collect on most writers' windowsills. If you can learn to find fun with nothing but paper, you might have fun with a pile of plain nothing, after you die.

We had a number of interesting books brought by another member of our group for our next selection and chose Annie Dillard's The Living. I'm looking forward to it. I've read a number of poems, essays, meditations and assorted non-fiction by her--The Writing Life, For the Time Being, Holy the Firm--but I don't think I've read more than a snippet or two of her fiction. So that should be good.

2 comments:

Chad Aaron Sayban said...

When I used to run marathons and ultras, I was never able to explain to people 'why' to their satisfaction. They couldn't understand how it could be 'fun'. I think writing is the same way. If you don't understand instinctively, you can never be told how it feels.

Daniel Ausema said...

Yeah, my wife often tells me how she can't understand how I find writing enjoyable rather than the torture she considers it.