Just finished One Summer: America 1927, a non-fiction work by Bill Bryson, which as the title implies looks at the U.S. in the summer of 1927. The subject sounds so narrow and remote that I wouldn’t have read the book except for the fact I’m a big fan of Bryson’s writing and the reviews were fabulous. From page 1 Bryson pulls you in. His research on the book is impeccable and his writing is rich, funny, insightful and captivating. While the window he looks at is the three months of the year, his narrative provides necessary context for the months leading up to and following that summer. There are several main story lines that the author weaves through the 456-page book: Charles Lindbergh’s successful flight across the Atlantic, Babe Ruth’s 60-home run season, the Great Mississippi River flood, Al Capone’s reign of terror over Chicago, and a couple of others. These story lines are interspersed with interesting bits of information and trivia, such as the story of who invented the Ponzi Scheme, how the term “hot dog” came about, and the origins of Mickey Mouse. The year was filled with larger than life characters. I found the section on President Herbert Hoover to be especially revealing.
Strongly recommended – Five Stars.
I’m asked all the time, especially by new and aspiring writers, what is the best book to learn more about the art and craft of writing. Here are a three I’d recommend (followed by a link to its Amazon page):
The Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White
The timeless classic that can be read in a single sitting. Even if you read it in college this book is worth re-reading every few years. Available on Amazon
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
More than twenty years old, this book is still relevant for today’s writer. Funny, insightful, and with lots of charm, this book is part how-to and large part inspiration. The book’s title is taken from an exchange between Lamott’s brother and father:
Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'” Available on Amazon
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Probably my favorite writing book of all time, On Writing is an autobiography coupled with advice to writers. Even if you’re not a writer you’ll enjoy this book, especially if you’re a fan of SK. Writers looking for insider tips and tricks may be disappointed as King’s advice–while insightful and extremely helpful boils down to two pieces of advice: read a lot and write. Not a big fan of writers groups, retreats, or other communal writing activities, King asserts that writing is a solitary act that is best achieved by rolling one’s sleeves and working. Available on Amazon.
Just finished reading Richard Russo’s Everybody’s Fool, which is something of a sequel to his Nobody’s Fool from 23 years ago. Russo is one of my favorite authors and he doesn’t disappoint here. I highly recommend this book if you like literary fiction with doses of physical comedy. Here’s an excerpt from a review by the Washington Post Critic posted on the book’s Amazon page:
“How could twenty-three years have slipped by since Nobody’s Fool? . . . Russo is probably the best writer of physical comedy that we have [but] even the zaniest elements of the story are interspersed with episodes of wincing cruelty. . . . The abiding wonder [is that] Russo’s novel bears down on two calamitous days and exploits the action in every single minute . . . mudslides, grave robbery, collapsing buildings, poisonous snakes, drug deals, arson, lightning strikes and toxic goo. North Bath is a sleepy little town that never sleeps [and] no tangent ever feels tangential.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
Highly recommended: Available at Amazon
Beth Ruyak and the production team at Insight on Capital Public Radio (Sacramento’s NPR Station) were gracious enough to have me on their show to chat about the Ray Courage Books. If you’d like to listen to the nine-minute interview you can do so here: Scott Mackey on Insight with Beth Ruyak.