Category Archives: The Writing Life

50 Reads for Writers

Often I get questions like:

 

  • If you didn’t go to school for writing, how did you learn?
  • How do I improve as an editor?
  • Are there any good books out there for writers?
  • What’s wrong with this story?

 

…among others.

A long while back I shared twenty-three books. I’ve since expanded that list to a nice, round fifty. If you’ve read these, you’ve read almost every important book I’ve read on the craft.

You need not read every book on this list.

Just pick one that applies to the current stage of your journey and find inspiration there. I believe in dabbling, in skipping chapters, in dropping a book or even a list if it hinders the overall trajectory you’ve laid out for your overall goals.

We’re all at different places on this journey. So take stock of your current scenery:

  • Where are you?
  • Mindful of your situation, what kind of help do you need?
Once you’ve assessed your situation, pick one of these 50 reads for writers and finish it.

I linked most of these titles to the open source or public domain documents. If those don’t exist, I resorted to Amazon links since most of you will go there anyways.

Enjoy these…

fifty reads cover image

one

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (story construction) first clued me in to the basic arc within all stories – the voyage and return. The hero journeys out from the norm into the unknown, suffers trials and returns to society with some gift–enlightenment or a magic item–that will somehow help society. Campbell can be best described either as a panentheistic transcendentalist or as a neo-western Hindu.

two

Tree and Leaf by J.R.R. Tolkien (writing & life) taught me that I wasn’t crazy spending so much time in another world, that escapism in this sense is one of the healthiest things we writers do. This book applies first to fantasy writers, but beyond that to every writer of fiction. I would probably couple this with Mythopoeia, if the version you buy doesn’t include the poem. 

three

The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker (story construction) takes a similar stance to Campbell, but from a general survey from the perspective of plot. Cooper’s magnum opus filtered as many stories as he could find (not just the myths) until they coagulated to one another in seven clumps: tragedy, comedy, quest, romance, slay the giant, mystery and

four

Poetics by Aristotle (story construction) critiques the Greek plays of the time, uncovering the good and the bad in each. This is the first time the deus ex machine was truly scathed and the independent struggle of the protagonist was critically applauded.

five

Story by Robert McKee (story construction) sums up the previous three, but applies them first to screenwriting and then to writing in general through a series of helpful strategies and maxims. An avid Agnostic, Mckee takes a humanistic approach to virtue, inconsistent as it seems in places. He believes in talent where as Pressfield believes in inspiration. I happen to believe in both, but regardless McKee’s case for Story takes on all challengers.

six

Platitudes Undone by G.K. Chesterton (literary criticism). I really should put some other Chesterton book on here, but this facsimile of Chesterton’s personal copy of Jackson’s “Platitudes in the Making” shows how old Gilbert thought moment-to-moment. If you read this, you’ll see the kind of objections people like Chesterton will be making when they try to follow your train of thought.

seven

How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster (literary symbolism) explains literary interpretation so that any unacquainted with it can start to pick it out in the most basic of literature. You’d be surprised at the homosexual symbolism in the He-man Christmas special or the communion theme in Downton Abbey or how often deals with the devil show up in Grey’s Anatomy. You’ll also find ways to imbibe your own work with the poetry of symbols so that your themes stand out stronger.

eight

How to Read a Film by James Monaco (literary symbolism) does the same as the lit book above but focuses on cinema… much like I did in explaining the previous book, actually. How did I get by without a single literary example? Oh well…

nine

Letters to a Young Poet by Ranier Maria Rilke (poetry) first taught me the following maxim:

You ask whether your verses are good. You ask me. You have asked others before. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are disturbed when certain editors reject your efforts. Now (since you have allowed me to advise you) I beg you to give up all that. You are looking outward, and that above all you should not do now. Nobody can counsel and help you, nobody. There is only one single way. Go into yourself. Search for the reason that bids you write; find out whether it is spreading out its roots in the deepest places of your heart, acknowledge to yourself whether you would have to die if it were denied you two write. This above all—ask yourself in the stillest hour of your night: must I write? Delve into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be affirmative, if you may meet this earnest question with a strong and simple “I must,” then build your life according to this necessity; your life even into its most indifferent and slightest hour must be a sign of this urge and a testimony to it.” In short, write because you must.

That’s where we get the maxim.

TEN

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Dave King (editing) taught me dialog mechanics, point of view, and proportioning better than anything else. You can find all of Dave’s work on adverbs, reading aloud, beats, the rules of once and thirds, sophistication, and show and tell elsewhere in books listed here. Outside of a brief mention in Story and the barrage of he said/she said in On Writing, I’ve found no other work so helpful on how dialog feels, what dialog does and most importantly how to write dialect effectively. The same goes for proportioning and point of view (save for the collection of short stories below). In my estimation, Dave’s work on dialect and narrative distance was worth the price of the book. I’ve yet to find this information in other books.

eleven

Articles on Editing by Dave King (editing) elaborate on issues like how to write a believable historical novelnarrative distance, the benefits of critique groupsquery letterspurple prose, and healthy plot twists.

twelve

Elements of Style by Strunk and White (editing) “has little BS in it” according to Stephen King, which he thinks is the main problem with most books on writing. This book works like the Levitical code for writers, empowering weak language for decades.

thirteen

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss (editing) takes a sarcastic, humorous approach to basic punctuation mistakes and works like a bit of therapy for you anal editor-types.

fourteen

War of Art by Stephen Pressfield (writing & life) will kick you down, beat you up, tell you to change your shorts and get back to work. For any artist, really, this book explains the basic resistance artists, saints, and visionaries meet any time they veer onto the road to greatness. Pressfield’s a pagan in the traditional sense – he believes in the gods and the muses and so believes in the old Greek style of divine inspiration. It’s the kind of book that gives agnostics and true theists some talking points, as indicated by McKee’s introduction.

fifteen

Under the Unpredictable Plant by Eugene Peterson (writing & life) discusses vocational holiness. This one (like the one after) was written from a Christian perspective, though not evangelical. Peterson talks about dual vocations – the writer and the pastor. Anyone who shares their heart for writing with a heart for some other craft would benefit from this discussion.

sixteen

Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis (writing & life) tracks along with the autobiographical  journey of one writer as he moved from Norse mythology through British schools and onto old books until he arrived a modern sort of faith and reason that subsequently informed his future writing.

seventeen

On Stories and Of Other Worlds by C.S. Lewis (writing & fantastic literature) works through Lewis’ thinking on the formation of fantastic worlds, the basic process of writing good literature (as quoted in my little piece on the fear of Christian art), and about the formation of good sentences.

You may think listing two books in one is cheating, but there’s massive overlap in many of the compilations of Lewis’ smaller pieces – several stories and lines of thinking are repeated between the two. These two tiny books work like one big book.

eighteen

On Writing by Stephen King (writing & life) blends one part memoir, one part toolkit, one part devotional. This book alone turned me from a hobbiest to a professional writer and I’ve read it more than any other– as in at least once a year.

nineteen

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamotte (writing & life) tends to get more traction with women than men, in my experience. I found that this book’s section on overcoming the anxieties of writing was better than any other part of it, namely because I’ve developed ulcers in the past from worrying over this craft. Yay for holes in the old tummy. Which brings us to…

TWENTY

Danse Macabre by Stephen King (fear in writing) explores two types of fear in horror and thriller literature: that which we cannot see and that which we see until it goes and changes on us.

twenty-one

Aeropagitica by John Milton (philosophy) argues for the right of free press. You can read it in an afternoon if you work diligently, but the arguments stay the same – how censorship hinders, rather than helps, the noble and true ideas of humanity.

twenty-two

Aids to Reflection by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (philosophy) shows how symbols work in life and literature, encouraging reflection above anything else. This is philosophy so it takes ten times as long as Strunk and White.

twenty-three

2014 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market (publishing) if you’re an artist don’t have AT LEAST ONE of these on your shelf, stop everything else and buy one.

You need a thesaurus for the right word, a phone book for the right number and a copy of the market for selling to the right industry. Buy one. Now. They make them for screenwriters and playwrights, poetry, songwriters, and fine art. Get one for your market and start collecting rejection like the rest of us.

twenty-four

How to be Your Own Literary Agent by Richard Curtis (literary agency) explains contract mechanics so you’re not working as an indentured servant.

The man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client.
– Abraham Lincoln

Though this is true, and though you probably need an agent, you should still learn to read like a good lawyer, a good agent. Your agent will miss something. And if you’re unagented, then you have your work cut out for you.

twenty-five

How to be a Literary Agent by Richard Mariotti (literary agency) shows how your agent works and will work as a great starting place for those of you considering entering the marketplace as an agent.

twenty-six

Query Shark by Janet Reid (literary agency) takes innocent little query letters and CRUSHES THEM for your viewing pleasure. Read the friggin’ archive and learn.

twenty-seven

Your First 1,000 Copies by Tim Grahl (marketing) takes you through the ways media and the new marketing has shifted the publishing industry in favor of the writer – we’re quickly approaching a seller’s market and this book will show you how to navigate those waters.

twenty-eight

After you read Tim’s book ^We Are Not Alone by Kristen Lamb  (marketing) seems to be a helpful complimentary work that focuses on this changing marketplace of ideas (less on the ideas side of things, more on the marketplace). Kristen reveals simple tweaks that can improve your web and social media presence a hundred fold.

twenty-nine

The Art of Fiction Archive at The Paris Review (craft of writing) covers interviews from over two-hundred of the biggest names in fiction since 1950. The interviews with Hemingway, Faulkner, King, Vonnegut, and Fransen are must-reads among the many other great voices.

THIRTY

Comedy Writing Secrets by Mel Helitzer (craft of writing) is the book that everyone enrolled in comedy school has purchased for years. Comedy is like stage magic – there is a secret to every trick. It’s not some mystical power people are born with. Greatness, however, is born and can’t be nurtured.

thirty-one

Flannery O’Conner wrote A Prayer Journal (writing life) during her tenure as a student enrolled in University of Iowa’s workshop. I think we’ve all prayed these prayers before and I find it encouraging that one of the American greats was in the exact same spot before she hit it big.

thirty-two

Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky (writing life) uses some of the worst examples of artists (James Patterson and Thomas Kinkaide) to illustrate some of the best principles for professional artists. Ignore the bad examples, substitute your own, and learn how to order your life so those precious ideas or that mind so full of new ideas will actually happen.

thirty-three

Oxford English Dictionary and The Thinker’s Thesaurus (craft of writing) are possibly the two most under-used resources by all readers and all writers. I’m amazed at how many people (1) refuse to take the time to look up unfamiliar words they encounter while reading and (2) act all shocked when I ask them to define a word for me.

Look, people, words are living organisms – they’re all connected to the root tree of language and their definitions grow and become stale and eventually need pruned off as humanity grows. Like, you know, branches on a tree. This is the study called “etymology” and you can get a great head start at Etymonline. This also means that the definitions in your dictionary are not set. If you’re a writer, if you can speak, you’re participating in our collective effort to create the future of the language. Are you helping or hindering the language?

As for thesaurus, this is the only way to get at the plurality of any word’s given meaning. My grandma gave me The Thinker’s Thesaurus for Christmas one year and I’ve found it to be the best way to discover unconventional words and to let your mind go in different directions.

You don’t have to read them cover-to-cover, but if you’re a writer – what on earth are you doing letting your dictionary and thesaurus collect dust?

Seriously?

thirty-four

Points of View (inspiration; craft of writing) is one of those golden gems I found in a Salvation Army bin for like fifty cents. It’s out-of-print, so you’ll have to Amazon the sucker, but this 1956 book collects forty-one short stories and arranges them based on point-of-view. If you’d like the cliffnotes on the table of contents, the sections look like this:

  1. Interior Monologue
  2. Dramatic Monologue
  3. Letter Narration
  4. Diary Narration
  5. Subjective Narration
  6. Detached Autobiography
  7. Memoir, or Observer Narration
  8. Biography, or Anonymous Narration – Single Character P.O.V.
  9. Anonymous Narration – Dual Character P.O.V.
  10. Anonymous Narration – Multiple Character
  11. Anonymous Narration – No Character

In a future post, I might try and find the stories on open source since… well… 1956 was 58 years ago and that means most of the stories are now public domain. Until then, grab a copy of Points of View .

thirty-five

Make Good Art (writing life) by Neil Gaiman does have a print version, but the video’s easier:

thirty-six

The Verse of Paradise Lost (289 words on craft of writing) by John Milton was an intro to Paradise Lost written in 1667. In it, Milton makes fun of poems that rhyme.

  • This was pre-Victorian England.
  • This was pre-Beatles.
  • This was pre-free verse.

And Milton’s making fun of “the jingling sound of like endings” – awesome.

thirty-seven

Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered his speech on The American Scholar (writing life) to Cambridge in 1837, before the Harvard Chapter of the Phi Beta Kappa Society, a college fraternity composed of the first twenty-five men in each graduating class. The society has annual meetings, which have been the occasion for addresses from the most distinguished scholars and thinkers of the day.

This included theologians and writers, of course, and he says some brilliant things about how to achieve greatness in this pursuit of crafting the perfect sentence.

thirty-eight

The Apology by Socrates (philosophy) will reframe your entire thinking about… well… thinking. This is important because:

  • To write for original works, you must first speak for yourself.
  • To speak for yourself, you must first think for yourself.

The flow of Trivium is logic > rhetoric > grammar, not the other way around. So learning to think well, learning to embrace autodidactism as soon as possible, will pay off infinite dividends. That starts with knowing that you know nothing, admitting your ignorance is always greater than the things you think you know.

Socrates was killed for thinking this way. This the apology he delivered while on trial.

thirty-nine

Thoughts on Mind and Style by Blaise Pascal (philosophy; craft of writing) starts with the difference between the mathematical and intuitive minds and then builds up from that base towards literary style. It has gems in it like:

Eloquence is an art of saying things in such a way—(1) that those to whom we speak may listen to them without pain and with pleasure; (2) that they feel themselves interested, so that self-love leads them more willingly to reflection upon it.

And it’s public domain.

FORTY

Often the best way forward is knowing where you came from. Recently the New York Public Library has exhibited a work on children’s literature, honoring it in its rightful place as a genre among the classics. Lewis’ book Of Other Worlds (above) also holds children’s literature in high esteem.

Which is why I recommend any children’s writers reading this to get ahold of A Critical History of Children’s Literature (story construction). It’s big, it’s intimidating, and it’s exactly the way to discover what tomorrow’s children’s literature may look like.

forty-one

The Writer’s Journey (story construction; the writing life) takes The Hero With A Thousand Faces (above) and applies it to (1) the career of the writer, (2) the journey of writing any given work, and (3) the plot of your current work. It’s as close to devotional as any work based on Joseph Campbell can get and, in part, it helped my family through our transition to New York.

forty-two

The Dictionary of Biblical Imagery by Leeland Ryken (literary symbolism) is a wonderful reference to have on your shelf alongside Dictionary of Symbols and A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery.

However, I chose Ryken’s book as the keystone because I know of no work with more literary imagery than the anthology of sixty-six books we call “The Bible.” It’s a great way to explore the development of imagery over a larger work – and with this on your shelf (or any of the others listed above), you can easily flip and dip to get some inspiration to bolster the themes of your book. Assuming, of course, you’ve read something like How To Read Literature Like a Professor (above).

forty-three

Lewis Carroll, the Alice in Wonderland guy, wrote Eight or Nine Words About Letter Writing (the craft of writing). Aside from the nostalgia and humor, this work will help anyone writing historical novels or using the point-of-view called “Letter Narration.”

However, normal writers will dig up some gold  like this inside:

A great deal of the bad writing in the world comes simply from writing too quickly.

forty-four

Mark Twain grew weary of English as She Is Taught (writing life) and hoped to revive the poor lady, so he wrote an essay about it. This short essay will help heal any student burnt out by bad teachers and will give teachers a good laugh at themselves… or their colleagues.

forty-five

Poets and non-poets alike will find A Defense of Poesie and Poems by Sir Phillip Sidney (writing life; philosophy) provocative and insightful. His argument builds on the idea that anyone who says “I hate poetry” is indebted to the poets who invented the  words (and meanings) of “poetry” and “hate” and even “I” ::

They go very near to ungratefulness to seek to deface that which, in the noblest nations and languages that are known, hath been the first light-giver to ignorance, and first nurse, whose milk by little and little enabled them to feed afterwards of tougher knowledges. And will you play the hedgehog, that being received into the den, drove out his host?

Or rather the vipers, that with their birth kill their parents?

So, so good.

forty-six

The writer of Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote some Essays in the Art of Writing (craft of writing) that offer helpful tips and insights such as this one:

What an intricate affair is any perfect passage; how many faculties, whether of taste or pure reason, must be held upon the stretch to make it; and why, when it is made, it should afford us so complete a pleasure.  From the arrangement of according letters, which is altogether arabesque and sensual, up to the architecture of the elegant and pregnant sentence, which is a vigorous act of the pure intellect, there is scarce a faculty in man but has been exercised.  We need not wonder, then, if perfect sentences are rare, and perfect pages rarer.

forty-seven

Any audacious list like this would feel incomplete without some genre-specific collections. So find your genre-specific collection below (inspiration):

  • The Best American Essays of the CenturyTwain. Eliot. Nabokov. Angelou. Yes, if you’re writing essays, you need this book.
  • The Best American Non-required ReadingIf you’re writing on the internet, for a comic strip, or in some weird medium – this is the series you need to check out.
  • The Best American Sports Writing of the Century. I have to admit: I didn’t want to include this one. I also have to admit that during the 2010 NCAA championship between Butler and Duke, I finally recognized that you can craft significant narratives around sporting events. I’ve since modified my position to this: athletics without aesthetics is mere brutality. Without sports writers and commentators and people in giant bird costumes, we’d have no reason to keep watching the same plays, the same points, the same game play out over and over again. Here’s your resource, sports fans.
  • The Penguin Anthology of 20th Century American Poetry. This is probably the best base any current modern reader can establish for themselves. If this blog post exists in thirty six years, a better anthology will probably arise.
  • Prize Stories 1996: The O’Henry AwardI picked this one over The Best American Short Stories of the Century because it includes a wonderful story by Stephen King and we need to broaden our ideas about what counts as “literature” – as indicated by King’s acceptance speech for the 2003 National Book Foundation award (also worth your time). There’s good genre work out there right in the middle of the crappy pointy-eared elves, laser battles, and sulking sleuths. Case in point:
  • The Best American Mystery Stories of the Century. When your book includes the likes of O’Henry, Faulkner, and Steinbeck – you really can’t go wrong.
  • The Best American Noir of the Century. Is kind of a “second verse, same as the first,” suggestion, but it’s helpful for those who make a distinction between Noir and Mystery.
  • The Year’s Best Science Fiction Stories: Twenty-Sixth Annual Collection. I couldn’t find a best-ever collection of Sci-Fi (were I an editor with rights management responsibilities, I’d jump at that opportunity right now). Instead, I shared the volume that contained my favorite SciFi story of all time: Stephen Baxter’s “Turing’s Apples.”
  • The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror: Sixteenth Annual Edition. Again, couldn’t find a best-of collection (someone please jump at that opportunity!) so I chose a volume that contained two solid pieces. Neil Gaiman fans will appreciate the “Pages from a Journal Found in a Shoebox Left on a Greyhound Bus Somewhere between Tulsa, Oklahoma and Louisville, Kentucky.” The other story is Eric Shaller’s “The Assistant to Dr. Jacob,” which may be the finest piece of horror I’ve ever read. Stephen King in Danse Macabre (above) talks about the urban legend “The Claw” and how it’s the best thriller ever written. Shaller’s story achieves that kind of mythic greatness – it’s pure fear.

 forty-eight

I WILL NOT WRITE UNLESS I AM SWADDLED IN FURS by John Babbott (writing life) is a hilarious little piece that McSweeney’s recently published. Babbott pokes fun at any artist who thinks they need optimum conditions in order to create.

forty-nine

Just because you write doesn’t mean you have to dress like a piss-stained hobo. Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette (writing life) will help you understand why most writers in bygone eras wore tweed.

It’ll also help you understand that social graces emphasize “grace” rather than “social” – it’s all about taking care of the other person.

FIFTY

I stumbled across a copy of The Reflection of Theology in Literature by William Mallard (philosophy) while staying at this Anglican retreat center and the nice people there let me have it for free.

Look, no matter what you think about God – believe, disbelief, ambivalence, plurality – you still think about God, you have an opinion. You’ve probably even discussed it with someone other than yourself. That’s theology.

And literature reflects what we think about God.

Which is why, if you’re in for some heavy lifting, you should also get a copy of this book.


 

Whelp, that’s it. Like I said, just pick one that seems applicable to the current stage of your journey and dive in. 

Then come back here and tell me how it went in the comments.

As always, more to come.


 

lance's monogram new

 

Free stories for readers and encouragement for artists ::

 

Before You Start That Blog: Intro

I’ve never thought of myself as a blogger.

Many of you know my aversion to the word “blog,” my aversion to the false sense of immediacy created by that publish button, my desire for us all to reflect on language that has lasted and for us to spend less time spent gobbling up whatever was “so ten seconds ago.”

I really couldn’t care less about blogging as an idea or as a vocation. Blogging is neither my form nor my calling.

However, I do care deeply about the conversations that follow any given blog post, whether in person or in email or in letters or even in the comments. I also care more about the study that leads up to a blog post rather than the post itself.

I’d also be lying if I said that the LinkedIn crowd has endorsed any one skill of mine more than blogging. In the last few months of work, my coaching sessions focused on blogging more than anything else: more than those sessions built around storytelling or even book proposals.

And now that I’m reflecting on it, I also think I’ve hosted over a dozen blogs since 2005 even though all but three of them are no longer public. I did MySpace and Facebook notes, the Xanga thing, all of that. Because of those experiences and growing up with AOL and ICQ and email, I just assume most people know how to blog.

Apparently they don’t know. And by “they,” I mean the people who keep asking me about setting up a blog. Like I said, I like having blogged because of the conversation and emails that follow. I also like having blogged because blogging forces me to write in a mode holistically different from my normal work.

But the actual process of blogging sends me through a freaking gauntlet every time. As my name’s Lancelot, I find this fitting. Assuming, of course, that I come out the other side of this gauntlet unscathed. People, for whatever reason, keep telling me that this rather grueling experience of mine is helpful for their own personal pursuits.

I’m reminded of Kierkegaard:

What is a poet? An unhappy man who conceals profound anguish in his head, but whose lips are so fashioned that when sighs and groans pass over them they sound like beautiful music. His fate resembles that of the unhappy men who were slowly roasted by a gentle fire in the tyrant Phalaris’ golden bull–their shrieks could not reach his ear to terrify him, to him they sounded like sweet music. And people flock around the poet and say to him: do sing again.

Which means, “Would that new sufferings torment your soul and would that your lips stay fashioned as before, for your cries would only terrify us, but your music is delightful.” And the critics join them, saying, “Well done, thus must it be according to the laws of aesthetics.” Why, to be sure, a critic resembles a poet as one pea another, the only difference being that he has no anguish in his heart and no music on his lips. Behold, therefore would I rather be a swineherd on Amager and be understood by swine, than a poet and misunderstood by men.

Since my blog is mostly poetry these days, you can understand the connection, pain to pain.

But if this blog’s helpful or beautiful to a few, I’ll sing on. For me, the beauty’s in the smiles I see that immediately follow my own slow roasting (or baking, as the Cookie Monster gif would have it ->). The beauty’s in the questions you wonderful people ask. The beauty’s in the emails I get – even though I take forever to respond because of backlog combined with my desire to answer more fully than in one-word responses. Your encouragement and stories and journeys are the real prize.

So let’s do a little series of short posts on why you probably shouldn’t blog. And if you insist on blogging, this series will expose everything you should first consider. Questions welcome.

Heck, questions provoked. Bring it on.

We’ll break each section up into three parts: (1) blogs in general, (2) your blog in particular, (3) specifically that blog post you’re about to publish. I’ll create a table of contents below and link to the posts as they come.

 

Before You Start That Blog:

  • Dissent

  • Intent

  • Content

  • Consent

  • Ferment

  • Relent

  • Lament

  • Segment

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Guest Post: “Cheese” by G.K. Chesterton

Today I’m happy to welcome G.K. Chesterton to speak to us on Cheese. Take it away, G.K.!

Cheers, Lancelot.

My forthcoming work in five volumes, The Neglect of Cheese in European Literature,' is a work of such unprecedented and laborious detail that it is doubtful whether I shall live to finish it. Some overflowings from such a fountain of information may therefore be permitted to springle these pages. I cannot yet wholly explain the neglect to which I refer. Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. Virgil, if I remember right, refers to it several times, but with too much Roman restraint. He does not let himself go on cheese. The only other poet that I can think of just now who seems to have had some sensibility on the point was the nameless author of the nursery rhyme which says:If all the trees were bread and cheese’ – which is indeed a rich and gigantic vision of the higher gluttony. If all the trees were bread and cheese there would be considerable deforestation in any part of England where I was living. Wild and wide woodlands would reel and fade before me as rapidly as they ran after Orpheus.

Except Virgil and this anonymous rhymer, I can recall no verse about cheese. Yet it has every quality which we require in an exalted poetry. It is a short, strong word; it rhymes to breeze' andseas’ (an essential point); that it is emphatic in sound is admitted even by the civilization of the modern cities. For their citizens, with no apparent intention except emphasis, will often say Cheese it!' or evenQuite the cheese.’ The substance itself is imaginative. It is ancient – sometimes in the individual case, always in the type and custom. It is simple, being directly derived from milk, which is one of the ancestral drinks, not lightly to be corrupted with soda-water. You know, I hope (though I myself have only just thought of it), that the four rivers of Eden were milk, water, wine, and ale. Aerated waters only appeared after the Fall. Continue reading Guest Post: “Cheese” by G.K. Chesterton

The Last of the Tellers – Five: Of Songs and Hues

Previously in The Last of the Tellers, Lest (the Teller) enjoyed his first apple. Conversation moved toward Graham’s trade and he revealed himself to be a singer, a trade that takes a lot of nerve in their society…

“A singer? Haven’t seen a singer since…”
“The Flight?”
“No. Not that long, I think, but close. It seems I met a commune twelve years back.”
“Of singers?”
“Yes, and Tinters like a hive.”

The Singer Graham sat quiet for a time
in which he sipped his coffee, thought, and stared.
“A commune,” Graham began, “of song and hue.”
“But only songs and color, nothing more.”

“But what if Continue reading The Last of the Tellers – Five: Of Songs and Hues