Tag Archives: books

Take Three Titles and Call Me in the Morning

Because You Have To           Feeling lost and lonely? Need to laugh? Get hold of some Nora Ephron, David Sedaris, or Dave Barry. (Or Kingsley Amis, whose Lucky Jim surely remains one of the funniest novels  ever written.) Crave soothing? Read some E. B. White, or a book that tracks the painting of a portrait. (Man With a Blue Scarf, Martin Gayford.) Need a bracing draught of coziness-with-pitiless-psychological-acuity? Curl up with a pile of Jane Austen or Henry James—or for literary smack-pow insight, the essays of James Wood. Want the equivalent of a shot of absinthe? Wild Sargasso Sea. Seek American characters who’ll intrigue and compel, yet feel familiar? Grab some Elizabeth Strout, starting with Olive Kitteridge. Jonesing for a candy assortment, where you can skip around and pounce on all the dark truffles? Best American Short Stories. And please don’t forget the immeasurable power of childhood or young adult favorites for any malady— including that of the aimless need to reconnect with life, history, adventure: The Hunchback of Notre Dame; Out of Africa; The Great Gatsby; Swiss Family Robinson, Charlotte’s Web.

            (This list, of course, scrolls infinitely on. My own pulse quickens with literary lust, just thinking about certain titles I long to revisit for no other reason than that I love them foolishly.)

            My dearest friend and I fantasize about creating a newspaper column premised upon exactly this transaction: books as medicine; indeed, as some of the best, most effective medicine ever. The suffering citizen would write to us, describing her or his symptoms. And we wise people-of-the-book would advise that person, in a column functioning like a friendly forum—other citizens could scan it for helpful advice. (My friend teaches now, but she sold books professionally for some time, and still practices this prescriptive therapy.)

Artists and writers, naturally, are not only not exempt from the folds of the ailing: often we may be found slumped at their front lines, wearied and wounded from the good fight, pining for inspiration, for courage, for galvanizing vision and energy. Look no further, fellow pilgrim, than your local library’s or bookstore’s shelves—then follow your heart’s divining rod for the exactly the right antidote. What’s most splendid about this whole exchange is the vastness of the range of brilliant remedies. In fact I’m about to walk right now to my own local library, where three wonderful titles await me.

Nothing feels better.

Because You Have ToJoan Frank is the author of five books of fiction, and a recent essay collection called Because You Have To: A Writing Lifejust nominated for the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Nonfiction. Joan holds an MFA in creative fiction from Warren Wilson College, is a MacDowell Colony Fellow, Pushcart Prize nominee, winner of the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction, Richard Sullivan Prize, Dana Award, and is the recipient of grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and Sonoma Arts Council. A two-time nominee for the Northern California Book Award in Fiction and San Francisco Library Literary Laureate, Joan has taught creative writing at San Francisco State University, and continues to teach and edit in private consultation. Joan also regularly reviews literary fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review. She lives in Northern California.

Site: http://www.joanfrank.org/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joan.frank.9?fref=ts

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One is Silver and the Other, Gold

Because You Have To            People write a lot about books piling up in their homes. The tone they generally take is one of abashed pride: semi-pretending to be embarrassed or annoyed with themselves, but in fact proud to demonstrate that they love books so much they are drowning in them. That’s touching and real; I’m happy these people continue to cherish reading, and to showcase that passion.

But I’m thinking these days about the sheer weight of belongings—of stuff, as the late, brilliant George Carlin famously called it.

A year ago we talked, at dinner, with a couple of old friends who disclosed they’d been given the solemn duty of dismantling the home of a friend who’d died. The deceased man had requested this task of them in his will. He’d had an excellent career; he had liked his life. I don’t remember what he did, nor of what he died, but it doesn’t matter here.

What matters is that our friends went through his things and felt very sad. What good was the framed diploma, certificates of professionalism, photos, records, mementos? The man had no family, and no one wanted his stuff.

The same thing occurred when my husband and I had to clean out the home of his aging, widowed mother, who had to enter an assisted care facility in northern England, where she’s lived all her life. We had to throw out most of her things, which (for practical reasons) neither of her sons could keep.

These have been sobering considerations for us, even in what we consider the middle of life.

I used to feel that the serious writer was obliged to assemble a world-class library. Susan Sontag was my model: entire rooms of her New York home were filled with books, grouped by genre. Now I believe that we owe it to each other and to subsequent generations to keep the books moving. Get them into libraries and used bookstores. Offer them at garage sales.

Of course it’s important to hold onto titles whose voices you need to feel near to hand, as if they were food. (They are.)  And of course it’s important to read new works constantly, to digest what’s being offered out there by new and emerging writers.

But I now also believe it’s urgent, not just for reasons of space but for reasons of living lightly on the earth, to keep the tidal flow of books moving—like a blood supply cycled back into the world, after it’s replenished you.

Because You Have ToJoan Frank is the author of five books of fiction, and a recent essay collection called Because You Have To: A Writing Lifejust nominated for the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Nonfiction. Joan holds an MFA in creative fiction from Warren Wilson College, is a MacDowell Colony Fellow, Pushcart Prize nominee, winner of the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction, Richard Sullivan Prize, Dana Award, and is the recipient of grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and Sonoma Arts Council. A two-time nominee for the Northern California Book Award in Fiction and San Francisco Library Literary Laureate, Joan has taught creative writing at San Francisco State University, and continues to teach and edit in private consultation. Joan also regularly reviews literary fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review. She lives in Northern California.

Site: http://www.joanfrank.org/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joan.frank.9?fref=ts

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Calvino Nails It

Because You Have ToI could yammer all day about navigating the dangerous territory of bookstores. But the late Italo Calvino describes it brilliantly, in If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler:

“In the shop window you have promptly identified the cover with the title you were looking for. Following this visual trail, you have forced your way through the shop past the thick barricade of Books You Haven’t Read, which were frowning at you from the tables and shelves, trying to cow you. But you know you must never allow yourself to be awed, that among them there extend for acres and acres the Books You Needn’t Read, the Books Made For Purposes Other Than Reading, Books Read Even Before You Open Them Since They Belong To The Category Of Books Read Before Being Written.

“And thus you pass the outer girdle of ramparts, but then you are attacked by the infantry of the Books That If You Had More Than One Life You Would Certainly Also Read But Unfortunately Your Days Are Numbered. With a rapid maneuver you bypass them and move into the phalanxes of the Books You Mean To Read But There Are Others You Must Read First, the Books Too Expensive Now And You’ll Wait Till They’re Remaindered, the Books ditto When They Come Out In Paperback, Books You Can Borrow From Somebody, Books That Everybody’s Read So It’s As If You Had Read Them, Too. Eluding these assaults, you come up beneath the towers of the fortress, where other troops are holding out:

“The Books You’ve Been Planning to Read for Ages, the Books You’ve Been Hunting For Years Without Success, the Books Dealing With Something You’re Working On At The Moment, the Books You Want To Own So They’ll Be Handy Just In Case, the Books You Could Put Aside Maybe To Read This Summer, the Books You Need To Go With Other Books On Your Shelves, the Books That Fill You With Sudden, Inexplicable Curiosity, Not Easily Justified.

“Now you have been able to reduce the countless embattled troops to an array that is, to be sure, very large but still calculable in a finite number; but this relative relief is then undermined by the ambush of the Books Read Long Ago Which It’s Now Time To Reread and the Books You’ve Always Pretended To Have Read And Now It’s Time To Sit Down And Really Read Them.”

Thanks to Italo Calvino, I feel a little less insane.

Because You Have ToJoan Frank is the author of five books of fiction, and a recent essay collection called Because You Have To: A Writing Lifejust nominated for the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Nonfiction. Joan holds an MFA in creative fiction from Warren Wilson College, is a MacDowell Colony Fellow, Pushcart Prize nominee, winner of the ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award in Short Fiction, Richard Sullivan Prize, Dana Award, and is the recipient of grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund, Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation, and Sonoma Arts Council. A two-time nominee for the Northern California Book Award in Fiction and San Francisco Library Literary Laureate, Joan has taught creative writing at San Francisco State University, and continues to teach and edit in private consultation. Joan also regularly reviews literary fiction for the San Francisco Chronicle Book Review. She lives in Northern California.

Site: http://www.joanfrank.org/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/joan.frank.9?fref=ts

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