Friday, December 24, 2010

Some Books That Changed Things, 2010

First, this is not really a Friday Filler post, but then again, it's All About Me so maybe it is. Except it's not:

Happy Holidays to any of you who celebrate any holidays that might be happening right now! Was that non-specific yet heartfelt enough? Because really, it's been a hard year for a lot of folks and what I wish most for everyone's 2011 is peace and joy but, mostly, peace because it's so hard to come by. Peace on Earth, everyone.

But back to me: I was thinking about which of the books I read this year that have influenced the way I write. Not necessarily books that were my favorites, but books that have changed my relationship to my own fiction. There were not many of them, but there were a couple:

Women In Love, by D.H. Lawrence. A classic, depending on who you ask. This book is a bit clunky in the prose but Lawrence had a way of directing your attention to the uncomfortable but real emotions of his characters, of showing how people do the most unpredictable things in order to achieve happiness, even resorting to a kind of savagery, and how some people might get it right while most people get it wrong. There's a matter-of-factness in Lawrence's approach to character that I definitely see working its way into my own fiction.

Labyrinths, by Jorge Luis Borges. Borges wrote no novels, concentrating his efforts on short stories and essays. The stories are amazing and groundbreaking; Borges had an eclectic education and his influences include everything from Shakespeare to Poe to folktales to Cervantes to Einsteinian physics. The thing that I am getting from Borges is that you can push ideas really far and be vague about where you end up but that vagueness is good and valuable and mystery is an excellent addition to life, and therefore to story. Weird, that is, is good.

How Fiction Works, by James Wood. A non-fiction book about fiction. I read a lot of books about literary history and literary theory and narrative theory and all of that, but this book is not that sort of academic writing. This is a sort of old-fashioned primer on the art of fiction, focused on what makes the good books so good. Wood might try too hard to reduce things down to the ubiquity of "free indirect style" narration, but his delight in character and the poetry of language is infectious, and his arguments in favor of the artistic elements of writing make me want to try harder. There were no specific lessons for me in this book, but it certainly got me more excited about being a writer and that's nothing to sneeze at, kids.

The point of all of this is not to get you to read the books. The thing is, really, that what Davin, Michelle and I are doing here at the Literary Lab is less about lessons on writing (though we're all quite capable of beazling and prolixing for thousands of words about the bits and bobs of our craft) than it is about getting you excited to be fictionauts and showing you that the three of us try really hard to constantly improve our artsy craft and crafty art, and we hope that we have--in our own small way--inspired you to try harder, too.

Beggars that we are, we are even poor in thanks but I must thank you on behalf of Domey and Michelle for coming to our little corner of the interweb and having these chats with us. Because one thing we forget to say often enough is that you folks, with your willingness to engage us in this ongoing dialogue, inspire us to work hard and think deeply and aspire to brilliance. Because this matters, really it does. It matters to you, it matters to us and my hope is that by reinforcing each other's will to brilliance we can all raise our game, as the kids say, to the next level. And that would be really cool. Peace on Earth. Bigger and better. All of that. Thanks.


  1. Love that word: fictionauts. And I am encouraged to read these books.

    You guys have been inspirational. Thanks for being here this year. I'm looking forward to the upcoming year - and to see how the anthology works out.

    Have a great weekend . .


  2. What a smashing post, Scott! Thank you for writing it. I do mean to thank everyone for keeping this place fun and wonderful. Really, I feel so lucky when writers I respect come by with their thoughts and their good humor. I keep fearing that it will disappear but somehow it doesn't!

  3. Happy Happy Holidays to everyone here at the Literary Lab!

  4. You guys really have inspired me to work harder with my writing. Thank you so much! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

  5. We need to rename our blog to include the word fictionauts. Sweeeet!

    I want everyone to know how grateful I am for the Lit Lab and all of our readers! This blog has truly blessed my life and my writing career. Thank you from the bottom of my heart - to Scott and Davin and everyone who stops here - comments or not! I appreciate you! And Merry Christmas!

  6. Fictionauts. Classic! I'll start using that one.

    Merry Christmas.

  7. I stole "fictionaut" from but don't tell anyone!

    Also: Happy Christmas!


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