Spillane’s Assault and Insult On Why We Read

Mickey Spillane, famous for creating Mike Hammer, wrote hard boiled, tough, sexy  crime novels. The stories were short, packed a violent punch, and were big sellers, popular with men, but not with the critics or the literary world. Spillane didn’t care. Like Hammer, Spillane was a tough guy too.

What he wrote on the first page of his novel My Gun is Quick caught my attention. It is something we readers and movie goers know, but ignore, pushing it to the back of our minds. But Spillane confronts us with the following:

“You pick up a book and read about things and stuff, getting a vicarious kick from people and events that never happened. You’re doing it now, getting ready to fill in a normal life with the details of someone else’s experiences. Fun isn’t it? You read about life on the outside thinking of how maybe you’d like it to happen to you, or at least how you’d like to watch it. Even the old Romans did it, spiced their life with action when they sat in the coliseum and watched wild animals rip a bunch of humans apart, reveling in the night of blood and terror. They screamed for joy and slapped each other on the back when murderous claws tore into the live flesh of slaves and cheered when the kill was made. Oh, it’s great to watch, all right. Life through a keyhole. But day after day goes by and nothing like that ever happens to you so you think that it’s all in books and not in reality at all and that’s that. Still good reading though. Tomorrow night you’ll find another book, forgetting what was in the last one and live some more in your imagination.”

Spillane is right of course, but what struck me, and it may not have been his intent, is that it seems an answer to his critics, a defiant explanation of why people read and that he is writing for what his readers want, that being action, plenty of it, and a dame of course, nothing serious, just another vicarious experience. Mike Hammer will get involved with some tough guys, get in brawling fights, but we never will. Hammer will help out some blonde, the type we will never meet. But we will live through it in our imagination.

But there is something else going on in the quoted passage. “Life through a keyhole,” is  a punch in our face, like a blow from Hammer, telling us we have a dull life. Therefore we get ready to “fill in a normal life. . .someone else’s experiences. . .you’d like it to happen to you. . . nothing like that happens to you. . .”

Spillane manages to tell us why we read and insult us at the same time. I like that in a tough guy. We need not take it personally. Howard Cosell said, “I tell it like it is.” So does Spillane. I read a book or two of his years ago, so long ago I remember nothing of what I read. But I picked up a used book that contained three of his memorable novels, I the Jury, My Gun is Quick, and Vengeance is mine. So the stories are there for when I need a vicarious thrill. And I will read someone else’s adventure and be happy.





Why Writers Lie and Why It’s Good

There is a reason why a novel or short story is called fiction. According to my American Heritage Dictionary fiction is defined as 1. an imaginative creation or pretense 2. a lie 

Putting the definitions  together we find a novel or short story is a pretentious lie created in one’s imagination. Shame on writers. And I do think you have to be a little pretentious to be a writer. And you certainly have to lie.

So why do writers create lies and why do readers believe the lies. We believe the lie you know. Readers talk  about characters as if they are real. When we read we get involved in what is going on with imagined characters who do not exist. If this happened without a book, that being getting involved with people who are imagined, said people get therapy and drugs for their hallucinations. I had an aunt who stood in front of a mirror in the hallway and talked Finnish to her reflection believing it was a friend of hers. She was ill. My aunt, not the reflection.(though that would make an intriguing story if the reflection was ill, and not my aunt). Anyway, you see the point. We have the book as an excuse for believing in non-existent people.

Writers create stories because they can not help themselves; they are warped.

Readers read for many reasons. One of which is that they like warped writers who create characters that interest them.

But here is the truth of the matter. If the characters seem real, if their actions are believable, if the readers can identify with situations, the reader sees the truth of the matter.

When you read the lies created by great writers human truths are revealed, for if they were not, we readers could not identify with the story. We sympathize, we feel empathy, we get mad, we laugh, we get scared, we sense tension. In short all our human emotions come into play, and in doing so we see the bigger picture, we understand something that can enlighten us, move us, learn more about how we feel, how we think, and it is all done through a lie.

I do not advocate lying in real life. Lots of trouble when you do. Let the writer do the lying, he will tell you the truth.


How Handwriting Kills Creativity in the Digital World

If you are a writer you know ideas, thoughts, and dialogue scenes pop into your head whenever, and at times whenever arrives like unwelcome gas when in bed with a significant other or significant same, in other words, at inopportune moments. You either have to let it go, or suck it up and multitask.

Often I get random thoughts when I go to bed. To sleep. So I keep a memo pad on a small table next to my bed. The other night something came to mind and I had to write it down. This was good. What was bad was waiting three days before I looked at it.

My handwriting is so bad even doctors can’t read it. It looks like a cross between Egyptian hieroglyphics, Sanskrit, Japanese, and ancient Martian. It does not help that my glasses were elsewhere when I wrote on the pad.

I finally got around to translating my handwriting into digital words on Word.doc. I was pleasantly surprised that only one word could not be translated out of three chicken scrawled pages, remembering of course that that is three small pages in a small memo pad.

One partial sentence reads like this, “. . .  not as vital as the heart, but vital to a (not legible), and then continues “to the future.” The word in question looks like h’fel’n, but that is a guess and based in part on two archeologists who are friends that specialize in ancient scripts.

The point is for a writer to strike while the iron of creativity is stirring. Do not have a memo pad by your desk. If you have an idea, get out of bed with the urgency of one who believes the roof is caving in during an earthquake, leaving your partner to fend for themselves because they are not writers and don’t understand you to begin with, shoving the cat out of your chair, and using the device of choice, write everything in the digital format and never, ever write anything with your hand. They are for holding a spoon to get ice cream to your mouth. If the cat meows too much throw her out of the room and let the dog take care of it.

As I was writing this post I had an idea for the last line. I made the mistake of writing-in hand-and doing so hurriedly. It looks like this, “Writing is important, nt Big otes on nets.”

I think otes could be notes, and nets could be pets or pads. I have no idea about nt. My archeologists gave up and went home.

Okay, I have no archeologist friends, but the two examples of my note taking are true.  The sad thing is that the last line beginning “writing is important . . .” is something I wrote about ten minutes ago and still don’t know what I meant.

So strike while the iron is hot and make sure the iron is stored in a digital device. Either that or have great handwriting.



Why Bookworms Need An Advocacy Group

People who read and study a great deal are called bookworms. If you love books and reading as I do, one should think it a compliment, but it is considered to be derogatory. So try not to belt someone in their sour puss if they call you a BW (bookworm).

Dictinary.com defines bookworms as “insects or maggots; there is no single species known by this name, which is applied to the anolium beetle, silverfishes, and book lice. See book (n.) + worm (n.)” You see what I am talking about. We are considered lice and maggots.

Merriam-Webster dictionary mentions synonyms for bookworms as  nerd, dink, dork, geek, grind, weenie, wonk, and swot (British). It is also mentioned that bookworm was first used around 1580, but it does not cite by whom, not what context, nor if the term was for the lice/maggots/silverfish/ beetle that wormed their way through pages and bindings eating everything up, or if they meant it was used in derision of people who read a lot.

I don’t want to be referred to as a dork, but dink doesn’t sound so bad. The only time I have heard the word is in a Jimmy Durante song called I believe inka-dinka-doo” and that is another matter.

Back to worms, I just finished a novel Chatterton by Peter Ackroyd in which one of the characters, Charles Wychwood, a poet, does in fact eat pages of Dickens’ Great Expectations. Charles had other problems, writing block being one, or perhaps like Bartelby, he preferred not to. But Charles was a bookworm in the truest sense. Bon appetite!

I don’t know who first used the term in derogatory, mean-spirited, insulting, demeaning, bullying way, towards, I am sure, wonderful people, but it goes back a long time. We need not put up with this any longer. It is time to step out of the bookcase and announce to the world we are bookworms and proud of it.

We can have march to the Library of Congress to make the nation aware of us. We can form advocacy groups across the country. We should form support groups to not only discuss the slurs directed at us, but eat pages of books like Charles. Also a yearly Book Worm conference with guest speakers. We can write pamphlets about the joy of reading and create lists of good books to eat.

“When the Day of Judgment dawns and people, great and small, come marching in to receive their heavenly rewards, the Almighty will gaze upon the mere bookworms and say to Peter, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them. They have loved reading.”Virginia Woolf

My e-novels and short stories listed below you can not eat, but reading does bring it’s own reward. In the meantime I have a Heinrich Von Kleist short story to munch on.

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A Must Read Book For Writers

The book in question is by Francine Prose, a great surname for a writer, and this book is different from every book I have read about writing.

I read books on the art of writing by Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and Lajos Egri; I learned something from each. But the book by Prose has a unique approach. She breaks down writing by these chapters; Chapter one-Words, Chapter two-sentences, then Paragraphs, followed by Narration and then Dialogue, moving on to Details and Chapter nine Gesture. There are three additional chapters, but let me state how she goes about things.

She does not tell, she shows. For example in the chapter on dialogue she uses a book by Harry Green, Loving, and uses, say two pages of dialogue between two or three characters. She tells you what to expect before you read the passages from Green’s book, then explains following the passage what Green was doing, and why, and how.

And that is why the name of her book is Reading Like a Writer. She teaches you how to read, what to look for, the why and the how of what each writer was doing. And she uses examples from writers with different styles, each of whom have different approaches, but each has a way of doing things, that when you see and easily understand what the writer is doing, you can not help but to learn.

And think about the chapters, starting from words-choosing the right word and why, and of course using examples that always gives you the ah ha moment. Now I get it. She starts with words, then of course the sentence, and on and on’ a perfect structure for writing.

And this book is not just for writers, but for readers who want to enjoy stories with an understanding of how the bones are put together.

Her book subtitled A Guide for People Who Love Books and For Those Who Want to Write Them is an accurate description. I love books, and I love writing them. And because I love books I discovered in the course of examples she cited writers I was unfamiliar with, and whose books I have purchased. They are coming in a brown box from Amazon and I looking forward to reading these stories in a new way.

Naturally I could have read any of the unread books in my massive slush pile, but the examples of writers she used made me want to read them. So now thanks to Francine I have learned about Harry Green, about Stuart Dybek, and Heinrich Von Kleist. I have invited them into my home, new friends to encounter, and to learn from. 

It is always exciting to encounter a new writer-new to you-and exploring there stories and now thanks to Francine Prose’s book, I can read them in a way that will make me a better reader, and a better writer.

My-e-books on Amazon

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Are You A Book Collector Or A Reader ?

I believe it was Diogenes who said “To own books without reading them is like having a painting of a bowl of fruit.” Philosophers say things like that. I would say it is like having a bowl of fruit on your dining room table, but not eating any. A book, after all, is there for you to read at any time, as the fruit is there should you get hungry. You can only eat a painting if you have a mental disorder.

I don’t have a bowl of fruit, but I do have about 300 unread books. I am working on it, however.

There are two types of bibliophiles, or so I have read. One is a collector of books, a mania really, where the hunt is the thing. Collectors like to create libraries, whether they are all first editions, or all editions of certain writers, or rare books of any genre or age; basically any idea for collecting that grabs you. Some collectors have over 10,000 books and manuscripts. But they do not read them all. Who has the time?

I have no true rare books, none worth more than $60-$70, but I do like to collect books that need homes, as well as books I want to read. If I live long enough I might get to 1,000 books, and would be there now, but somehow books have gotten lost during moves, or I gave some away, and some evaporate into thin air, going I know not where.

Then there are the bibliophiles who are inveterate readers, buying and reading with voracious, lustful appetites.  Both types of bibliophiles are compulsive, whether to collect or read, they both have a mania.

Jacques Bonnet, a French bibliophile, says, “An inextinguishable curiosity drove me to find out what lay behind the words and phrases, and the unknown reality on to which I had stumbled . . . the fanatical reader is not only anxious, he or she is curious.”

I think readers can identify with that statement. I recently read “To Fetch a Devil” about an unsolved 1938 murder of a socialite woman and her 23 year old daughter in a desert near El Paso. I was curious, not only because it was unsolved, but how the author, Clint Richmond, put all the clues together and came up with a plausible, though circumstantial solution. And the solution was fascinating. And believable, even with all the complications and people involved.

Words. Sentences. They are magic. And writers are magicians.

So we collect, we read.


Do You Agree With Pliny’s Quote about bad books?

“It is very rarely that a bad book does not contain some merit in the cultivated man.”- Pliny the Elder.

Writers will notice Pliny used the word ‘very’ and writers know to use that word, if at all, sparingly, very sparingly, but we must forgive the Roman Pliny for he lived from 26 AD to 79 AD and was unfamiliar with modern grammarians.

I admire Pliny for he loves to read, loves book, even bad ones, for he can find something of value where others can not.

But . .

Notice the phrase ‘cultivated man.’ The implication is that if you find nothing of merit in a bad book, something to take away from the book, you are not cultivated, therefore, or as Pliny would say ‘ergo’ you are unsophisticated, uncultured, unrefined, ignorant, perhaps outright stupid.   

Well who wants to be uncultured?

So we who want to be cultured, must of course, according to Pliny, find something in all books, no mater how bad, that we can learn from, or that brings up a pleasant memory, something we understand, that connects with us no matter how tangentially, anything at all.

I have tried. I have started books that had great reviews, or at least great blurbs on the back book jacket, and after twenty pages or so I am bored. I get what is going on. I just don’t care. Books talk to us. Each of respond differently to words, sentences, stories, just as we respond differently to food. Our taste buds are different. Sushi-never for me. Moby Dick-never for me.

Conversely, I have read books without any burbs whatsoever and found the story, the writing, everything about the book an absolute delight. Sometimes we are lucky and find these little treasures.

I do try to find something of merit Mr. Pliny, but I have many unread books, so I can set aside something that doesn’t taste quite right at the moment and try something else that looks more appetizing. But I do agree, every book does contain something for all of us, it is just a matter of connection.

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In an April 4th post about three cheap ways to become a bookaholic I mentioned  that I had 81 unread e-Books and 133 unread old fashioned books, the type you hold in your hand without use of a device, unless, of course, you recognize hands as a device. This amounted to 234 books waiting for me to crack open, or in the case of an e-Book tap open.

Two months and a few days since that post there is no relief as the avalanche continues to bury me. Unread e-Books up to 96 and the old fashioned kind up to 157. This adds  up to 253, a 19 book gain. And keep in mind I have read and finished books during this time, hoping to lighten the load bearing down on me.

And it is going to get worse. This Saturday and again on Monday the Friends of the Library is holding one of there sales. The proceeds go to the library to help them purchase new books,  to aid library programs and buy supplies for kids. So everybody wins. Except for a book hoarder like myself; I can barely breath, let alone move under the weight of unread books.

How good is the sale you ask? Hardback books at 50 cents or 3 for a $1. Who does this? This is as close to giving books away as you can get. Do they expect me to stay away, do they think I have discipline? I believe they have these sales knowing they will make a fortune off me. And paperbacks are 25 cents each or 6 for a $1. The same goes for VHS tapes, CD’s and audio books. To be honest the CD’s they had at previous sale were mostly music to accompany your yoga workout, or music from countries I did not know existed. But I go for the books anyway.

I will spend the next few days reading books nearest my hands, as many as I can, foregoing meals, bathroom trips, sleeping, and doing anything that prevents me from getting out from under this cataclysmic cascade of opus delicti.




Oscar Wilde, abandoned books, and us

Oscar Wilde said, “Books are never finished. They are merely abandoned.”

I know what he meant. If you have read Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, or even “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace, you know there are writers who write long, thick books that take a year to read. They love their characters, they love to see what their characters will do, and they love to escape into the world they created for their characters.  The real world can not be controlled, it is out of all our hands. But a writer can create a world, he can control what happens.

Using myself as an example. When I finished my first e-novel “Loonies in the Dugout” I realized, in part because of the ending, and in part because I loved my two main fictional characters, that I could not end their story. I had to abandon the book, it was finished, at least that one, so I took my two favorite people and placed them in a new story 11 years later in another town where I could hang out with them some more.

In the course of that e-novel “Loonies in Hollywood” I created another character, a flapper named Clancy. I fell in love with her as well, so when this book was abandoned because it must come to an end, I had to write a third e-book with all three of my friends. “That was “Silent Murder.”

Once that was abandoned I started another e-book with the same three characters. So I understand what Wilde meant. At least my interpretation of what he meant. He could also have been talking about the agony of rewriting and proofreading and that the writer reaches a point where he says ‘enough.’ But I think it has more to do with never wanting to escape the world the writer not only created, but inhabits with his characters, sharing their adventures. The writer is the fly on the wall.

Writers and readers do share a common bond and that is we both like to escape. The writers escaping into his world with his friends, secretly hoping to never have the story end, to write about them forever. And the reader escaping into a time and place, the world created by the writer, one the reader can also escape into. Perhaps we can find each other in this world. If you spot me, say hello.

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