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Adventures in Writing, Reading & Book Culture

New Year’s Book Total — 2013 Reads

The year 2013 was good for many things, and books also, but not for total books read. At least, not according to my standards. Lots of reasons can be sited, but none particularly worthy of the let-down. I had time, and while not having wasted it, made use of those minutes and hours for other — equally important — passions: food, travel, writing work, loving, thinking.

Yet I did read some good books in 2013, some of them having big page-counts. The statistics hold up well:

22 books read

7,924 pages

3,317,125 approx. words


So without anymore fanfare nor excuses, her is my list, in chronological order:

Any Human Heart by William Boyd

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood

Tunc by Lawrence Durrell

2666 by Roberto Bolano

The Story of Philosophy by Will Durant

Nunquam by Lawrence Durrell

In the Hand of Dante by Nick Tosches

Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates

The Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester

 Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

A House for Mr Biswas by V.S. Naipaul

Cordial & Corrosive by Sophie Hannah

Letting Go by Philip Roth

Bleeding Edge by Pynchon (suck!)

Operation Shylock by Philip Roth

The Divine Comedy: Inferno by Dante Aligheri

The Night Train by Carl Purdon

Art & Lies by Jeanette Winterson

Darkness Visible by William Golding

Under the Autumn Star by Knut Hamson

Max, the blind guy by Mark Beyer (pub 2014)


I shan’t give my faves, though you all must understand, I don’t read bad books (ie. anything with vampires, zombies, or sentimental love, and, NO, I am not sorry for that). Please tell me, on FB or in the comments below, what you’ve read, your list, your stats, or just your faves.

Happy New Year!

Where Do Writing Ideas Come From?

In the last week I’ve been asked by friends, fans and family what seems an obvious question (sometimes): “Where do you get your ideas?”

One way to answer this is simply to say what I really think, which is “I DON’T KNOW!” But that’s not exactly an answer, and certainly not polite. I’ve read that some writers formulate a stock answer to this question because, on their book tours and at book fairs (or just sitting down to dinner at a restaurant) they get this question asked of them constantly (often enough from two people in a row, with the second one having been standing right behind the first!); and if you can’t always come up with a unique answer, then say something that sounds good (even unique) but in fact is about as canned as SPAM.

Hemingway didn’t like to talk about nor answer questions regarding his writing, or where ideas came from. He said they (the ideas) were of a mystical nature and to talk about them “was spooky.” On the other side of the spectrum sat Eudora Welty, who seemed to find story just about everywhere, and took dialogue from anyone, and scene that happened before her eyes (at the post office, on the bus, walking through the park). Neither process is unusual.

I lean somewhere tripping toward Welty. One of my answers last week was, “I’m not so sure, but sometimes shit just flies out at me from some place. I catch it and see if it works.” Another answer I needed to temper for the audience: “They’re not so controlled, but I invite the ideas in because I don’t think too hard about the problem.” (In this case, “problem” refers to scene or character or dialogue or imagery that I’ve been thinking about before and LETTING ALONE for a day or so.) I used to say this very line (please follow the canned response) to my fiction writing students at Columbia College Chicago. More than half of them didn’t understand. And I know why.

You see, they lacked imagination, and writers do not lack this key ingredient to finding, seeing, developing, and … fucking drum-roll, please! … FINISHING the story (which is really not the end to the process because then writers rewrite the story numerous times to fill in those spots where imagination hadn’t been slip-sliding its best that day — get it?).

So then, I sit here to ask myself: Where do your writing ideas come from? The answer, for me, must be delivered as a list (in no particular order):

1. Imagination … 2. Life-Love-Death experience … 3. Inspiration … 4. Understanding Human Nature … 5. Misunderstanding Human Nature … 6. Having Been Divorced … 7. Liking People … 8. Not Liking (some) People … 9. Sexual Experience (and continual experimentation — wink-wink!) … 10. An Understanding for How & When & Why People Speak … 11. Tapping into My Dark Fantasies (read this as you may, or dare) … 12. My Love for One Woman … 13. My Sensitivity and Anger Issues … 14. Not Arguing with SOME Inspiration … 15. Noodling with a Scene … 16. Sleep … 17. Dreams … 18. Deep Thought/Memory … 19. Asking Questions of the Character (through the author, of course, because characters DON’T FUCKING SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES!) … 20. Letting the Characters Speak for Themselves


What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.

My List of 27 Books Read in 2012

In 2011 I was able to read 49 books (mostly novels) and don’t know exactly why that count fell to 27 in 2012. I called 2012 The Year of the Big Book because the average page count was 436. By today’s publishing standards, that’s nearly double the book — and double the pleasure.

For commentary on each of the 27 books, look at the Books Read string. Otherwise, the stats for and my chronological list of books read for 2012 follows:

2012: 27 books – 11,776 pages – apprx words: 5.1 million ….

Biggest surprise enjoyment: “The Magus” (it took me back to carefree years of college) … Biggest Disappointment: “Polite Sex” (missed opportunities; perhaps poorly edited) … Weirdest Story: “One Big Damn Puzzler” (life on a Pacific island) … Best Drama: “The Kindly Ones” (life of a Nazi SS commander) … Best Writing: Philip Roth’s books simply kill me, how good a stylist, storyteller, and ear for dialogue he has … Biggest Surprise: “East of Eden” (Steinbeck can write some character!) … Most Memorable Character: Lucy Nelson in “When She Was Good” (Roth) … Funniest: “Solar” … Best Sex Scene: “Rabbit at Rest” (actually, one of only a few in all these books) … Best Narrative Story: “Suttree” (McCarthy can lay down scene & place like few others) … Widest Use of Characters: “Middlesex” (everyone simply worked and was needed) … Oddest Use of Characters: “The Philosopher’s Pupil” (Murdoch’s characters sometimes do the oddest things!) … Most-Traveled Character: Augie March … A Little Disappointed: “Amsterdam” (I expected more, of everything) … My Favorite Book – Maybe: “Rabbit at Rest”

1/10 In the Beauty of the Lilies by John Updike (488)

2/6 The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (611)

2/28 The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (250 – fired)

2/29 Reading Myself and Others by Philip Roth (300)

3/15 Suttree by Cormac McCarthy (465)

3/31 The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow (295)

4/4 Polite Sex by James Wilcox (270)

4/8 Solar by Ian McEwan (386)

4/21 Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (320)

4/29 The Plot Against America by Philip Roth (390)

5/20 The Philosopher’s Pupil by Iris Murdoch (550)

6/5 Rabbit at Rest by John Updike (425)

6/30 The Kindly Ones by Jonathan Littell (975)

7/4 The Secret Life of Words by Henry Hitchings (343)

7/12 Amsterdam by Ian McEwan (278)

7/22 One Big Damn Puzzler by John Harding (450)

8/16 The Magus by John Fowles (642)

8/24 I Married a Communist by Philip Roth (323)

9/2 Basic Bech by John Updike (303)

10/10 Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell (510)

10/19 All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (438)

11/7 East of Eden by John Steinbeck (590)

11/15 A Frolic of His Own by William Gaddis (609)

11/24 Shosha by Isaac Bashevis Singer (274)

11/30 When She Was Good by Philip Roth (291)

12/4 The Ecstasy of Influence by Jonathan Lethem (440)

12/30 The Good Apprentice by Iris Murdoch (560)

In 2013 I want to read some of my contemporaries, including several Indie authors who have put out books that sound good and read very well. Otherwise, I have lots on my plate, as I’m working on a first draft of my next novel, “Max, the blind guy”.


What Beauty is my newest novel, a story of art, obsession and ego. Read an excerpt here. It’s available as an ebook, too.

The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.