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A word about #rereading (a new series)

our cat bella logo

I’ve always figured that I have a book addiction. I just never intended to do anything about it.

rereading logoHowever, the flow of books in and money out has finally brought me to a peaceful truce with my mania.

I have not bought a book for six weeks, and I intend to stay this course.

I have stopped buying books, which means that I am free to read the books that I have on hand. For as long as I can remember, I have impulsively dreamed up research plans and purchased the books I imagined that I would need. Such dreaming is the work of a moment, and with the help of Amazon and single-click fulfillment, I have a number of piles ready and waiting for my attention.

Trouble is, I have been far better at the dreaming than the reading, like those who live to sleep.

  • My first project, in a series I’m calling #rereading, is the works of Raymond Chandler AKA Philip Marlowe. The first post in that series [Here’s Why Chandler] follows this post.

A note on #rereading: Since my dreaming about these book projects revolves around moving from what I know to what I want to know, it is accurate to stress the re- part of the reading. Also, I like the idea of meeting books again for the first time.

Take your pick.


Here’s why Chandler

our cat bella logoThe first order of business is a brief examination of the why question.

rereading logoWhy Raymond Chandler.

I like the reason that Ed Asner gave Mary Tyler Moore. He picked up a copy of Chandler’s short stories and read her the first paragraph of Red Winds —

raymond chandler picThere was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Ana’s that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

That, Asner tells Moore, is good writing.

Something to that effect.

Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks.

I intent to study not only Chandler’s neck but his nouns and verbs, his similes, his characters and plots, and anything else that moves on the mean streets of Chandler’s enduring genius.

In two nights of reading, I am halfway through The Big Sleep. I have made light pencil ticks next to wonderful writing that I do not remember from previous visits to Chandler —

The plants filled the place, a forest of them, with nasty meaty leaves and stalks like the newly washed fingers of dead men. They smelled as overpowering as boiling alcohol under a blanket.

• • •

Whoever had done it [dragged a body out the door] had meant business. Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.

• • •

Hair like steel wool grew far back on his head and gave him a great deal of domed brown forehead that might at a careless glance have seemed a dwelling place for brains.

Those are fine examples of Chandler’s writing, but this one stands out for me as the best of the bunch so far —

So she giggled. Very cute. The giggles got louder and ran around the corners of the room like rats behind the wainscoting.

By the time we get the simile, the giggles are already growing little feet and exchanging street names. Anyone, like a writer with his thinking cap on, can write similes. Chandler, it feels like to me, begets them.


A book about maps is something like a book about books – in a lover’s eyes

our cat bella logoIt seems to be a reasonable thing to say that a book about maps is something like a book about books.

I can think of two reasons for this –

  • Maps, and books, guide us to places that we cannot find otherwise.
  • I like books, and I like maps. It follows that I like books about books and also that I should, and do, like books about maps.

jon books in reviewThe book in question is a recent hardcover issue titled On the Map, by Simon Garfield, a British author. The subtitle is A Mind-Expanding Exploration of the Way the World Looks.

My brother would like this book.

My brother likes maps, and that is why I do, too. He taught me how to read topographic maps where we were kids. I can look at a flat topo map and imagine a world of three dimensions.

Nothing to it, once you understand contour intervals.

It’s like those who can not only read a musical score but also hear the piece in its full richness.

That sounds difficult, to me.

The map thing, though? That is second nature.

Garfield takes maps from their beginnings to the early years of the 21 century. The book, however, is not a textbook.

It is an intelligent book about maps, for map lovers.

on the map coverI appreciate that Garfield did not mine a vein of multiple magazine articles sprinkled over a number of years and call it a book. He wrote the On the Map as a piece, in a single effort. In a global fashion, if you will.

If you enjoy looking at maps, you will enjoy looking at On the Map.

Garfield in 445 pages of photos and text never says that “the map is not the territory.” For that alone, he deserves your patronage.

His style is workmanlike and helpful at all points, with an occasional and pleasing simile or similar flourish, such as this one –

There is, of course, still quite a lot to be said for getting lost.

Being British, Garfield does use the phrase spot on more than once, which he is welcome to do. My wife, however, is under orders to beat me senseless with a shovel if I ever write that phrase even once. Ever (except when my use of the phrase is meant to be derisive).

For me, it’s out damned spot.

Ya know?

If maps are not of interest to you, you can try Garfield’s penultimate title, Just My Type, an examination of type fonts. My copy is on my on-deck pile. Perched atop Team of Rivals like a top hat.

And my wife has no instructions concerning my occasional use of a word such as penultimate.

  • Simon Garfield’s book are available at Amazon.

*Timbuctoo* writer strikes gold

our cat bellaThe best parts of John Updike, in my experience, total at least two.

Three things leap to mind –

  • The Rabbit books.
  • The word zoftig.
  • The observation that some books, well-worth reading, can only be opened in bed (because they are so big and heavy).

jon books in review 150x150Tahir Shah’s new book Timbuctoo at 526 pp. in hardcover is one such big and heavy book that is well-worth reading. I bought the hardcover special edition with six fold-out maps ($50 minus one penny). There also is a Kindle option costing $2.99.

I’m glad I went the extra mile. Love books with maps.

I also am a big fan of this writer.

I believe that I own each book of Shah’s available in hardcover. And one or two paperbacks, too. Since I buy many books and leave them in piles, waiting for shelf space to appear (sound familiar?), I am gong on memories that stretch back at least ten years. Five years anyway. At my age it would be as well to walk across the Niagara River gorge, just down from Horseshoe Falls, on a high wire. I could be there from home in less than 30 minutes, but my performance would be spotty at best.

sorcererMy favorite for a long time was Sorcerer’s Apprentice: An Incredible Journey into the World of India’s Godmen.

I would have described Shah, based on this and other titles, as a travel writer and one of my favorites. Even when he came out with Caliph’s House: A Year in Casablanca — about moving his family to Casablanca and buying a rundown compound complete with house and a few servants (loosely speaking) — I still considered Shah to be a travel writer, lately at home. At work on a novel, as it turned out. His first.

That Timbuctoo is Shah’s first published novel was another draw for me. I especially like to collect first novels.

The novel has some distinctive features –

  • Shah has gone over to self-publishing. Not because he must, I believe, but because he can — and will, I suspect. Score one for us.
  • The story, about an American man (Robert Adams of Hudson, New York) who is kidnapped and thrown on a departing ship and ends up as a slave in Timbuctoo, has been a touchstone for Shah for a long time. He writes a historical novel based on many years of study and dreaming. The book includes a bibliography.

I want to support a writer of standing who turns from big-house publishers.

I was not that interested, out front, in the fact of a historical novel.

However, Shah’s simple and clear style in telling a hair-raising tale, was pleasing to me as I hung in there. I quickly went from curiosity to commitment, finishing the book in a few days of enjoyable reading.

The narrative frame is simple and effective. Robert Adams suffers for love of a woman whom he marries in secret. When her evil father finds out, he sets up years and years of misery. Adams after bouts of escape and recapture ends up in London, all but dead, and is taken in by a wealthy man with ties to a subscription-supported attempt to grab the fabled gold of the North African desert city of Timbuctoo. Adams tells his story in daily public sessions as the gold plot unfolds.

I give Timbuctoo all possible stars.


Use your probes wisely and well

our cat bellaSometimes a copy editor has no control over the words.

When an older editor who should have been wiser wrote this headline, there was little that I could do —

Agents probe Nixon’s brother

jonwhat 150x150On another occasion, I was able to help the AP wire copy when it said —

Forty million Americans use the condom.

Words have an impish spirit that will come out when you have your back turned. Your job as a writer is to be the one in charge of the words that appear and the meanings that they bear by context and by nature.


A case of Grammaticuss Narcissicuss

our cat bellaWhen all the parts of my personality gather, most of my inner voices hope that the Inner Editor doesn’t get the memo and doesn’t show up.

Fat chance of that happening.

jonwhat 150x150The Inner Editor would not ever miss an opportunity to shower a gathering with critical commentary.

I suffer from a form of Grammaticuss Narcissicuss –my Inner Editor is always on, cranked up to full volume and giving a running commentary on all that I say and write and all that I hear and see.

My Inner Editor even disagrees with my spelling of Grammaticuss Narcissicuss.

Good news is, however, that I am in full recovery and walking out the implications of repenting of my former ways toward the works of self and others.



If ironic becomes iconic, no one profits

our cat bellaMy wife and I visited her brother and his family — wife and daughter — a while back in Washington D.C. While  we all were in the car, full and satisfied from a Korean meal with lots and lots of tasty meats, I mentioned that I was writing a blog post about the words ironic and iconic.

jonwhat 150x150Oh, Tom said, Katie and I were arguing about the definition of irony just the other day.

Fathers and daughters are prone to such things, I believe.

Oh, I said, and what did you decide?

Neither of the principals was willing to say.

Irony is like that. Iconic is not.

My take on these two I-words is that you need to know them and to avoid them (except in a narrow range of places).

For my essay on the matter, visit  House of Verbs, your one-stop shop for all your wordy needs.


Headings cover everything, touch nothing?

our cat bellaThat patron saint of copy editors whom I have mentioned frequently, Prof. John Bremner, had a tag for headlines that smoked without catching fire — crinoline headlines, he called them.

These headlines, like the capacious crinoline skirt, he said, covered everything and touched nothing,

jonwhat 150x150If you are a writer, you also are a blogger, if you are paying much attention to the experts at online marketing.

And if you are a blogging writer, you write a lot of headlines for your blog posts.

And if you self-publish, like I do, you spend quality time with display type.

The latest blog post at my sister/brother blog, concerns the writing of vibrant headlines of all stripes and types. As you might expect, the headline of the post has some zip —

Your blog’s nose is running … catch it!


Capital crimes – big letters of the law

our cat bellaIf I say capitalize, you may think that I’m talking about making the most of your money.

When I tested this out on my brother-in-law, he assumed that the subject was making the most of one’s self-growth.

jonwhat 150x150I was thinking about the big letters that begin certain words such as proper nouns as opposed to common nouns.

If I say capital crimes, you might assume that we are talking about crimes against the state, ones that will cost you your capit.

When I asked my wife about capitalizing, she was right there with examples of writing where the writer capitalizes in a seeming random way that seems to have something to do with Drawing Attention to the Things That Matter to the writer with his finger stuck on the caps key.

What I finally did was write a blog post about when to capitalize nouns and when to not.

jon bugRead the entire post at, where I am developing a book manuscript concerning grammar and usage for writers.


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