This essay is about practicing a craft and the moral responsibilities that come with it. C S Lewis is best known in this country as a writer of children’s books, but his essays and the novel Until We Have Faces are amongst my favourite works. I read the following essay two or three times a year, both to remind myself of the lesson it offers and for the understated beauty of the writing
"The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it. But if you break it, a surprising result will follow. If in your working hours you make the work your end, you will presently find yourself all unawares inside the only circle in your profession that really matters. You will be one of the sound craftsmen, and other sound craftsmen will know it. This group of craftsmen will by no means coincide with the Inner Ring or the Important People or the People in the Know. It will not shape that professional policy or work up that professional influence which fights for the profession as a whole against the public: nor will it lead to those periodic scandals and crises which the Inner Ring produces. But it will do those things which that profession exists to do and will in the long run be responsible for all the respect which that profession in fact enjoys and which the speeches and advertisements cannot maintain."
Here is the essay at the California C S Lewis Society
... remove the outside, there's the inside; remove the inside and you see the soul
More than once I have tried to transpose the ferocious beauty of Belong's 'Remove the Inside' onto the page ...
This is the music I hear through the penultimate scene of The Mary Smokes Boys , a boy shooting out the windows of a truck that speeds away from him in the dusk, then he goes to his sister and sees the blood ... And I hear it in The Darkest Little Room when the man sleeps and dreams of an infinite and eternal chain breaking in the dark and knows it is the girl who has accomplished this but does not know how ...
Of course I fail, but I must continually try ...
The reason I've never looked at any kind of style manual or how-to-write guide is not that I don't think anyone has anything to teach me ... In fact, I'm sure every man, woman and child on earth has something they can teach me, and probably something I could use in writing a book ...
but everything I have every written - and I'm sure the experience is a common one, with the exception of the most committed genre writers - has posed such a unique set of problems, that no general manual could have helped.
I have never needed to know 'how to write dialogue' ... I have needed to know, for example in The Mary Smokes Boys, 'how to write dialogue between two young uneducated horse workers when one is in love with the other's sister' ... I have never needed to know how to describe landscape but instead, in The Darkest Little Room, 'how to describe the way Saigon is late at night on the back of a motorbike in the outskirts of the city that seem to unravel endlessly, as in a dream'.
I would happily have read How to Write The Mary Smokes Boys or How to Write The Darkest Little Room, but alas, those volumes were not available when I was writing those books. Even better, some diligent student could have read them and written the novels better than I have, and I would have been glad to see them in their proper incarnations.
And so it is with the new book ... I am seeking an entirely new language once more, I read other authors and every now and then get a flash of what I want ... a sound, an atmosphere, a rhythm ... and then I am in the dark again. Inevitably, I will almost write the book. It will almost be that book I so wish some better, more intelligent other would write properly, so I could simply read.
"Joseph, Holland's alter ego, is obviously meant to be a Christ figure, saving the girl in the story from herself"
I know the only bad review is the one you don't get ... but really?
Joseph, who didn't save shit ... who only has the vaguest ideas of how he'll accomplish anything, let alone the 'rescue' of the prostitute who is fooling him, whom he categorically fails to rescue ...
Or could the "Christ figure" be the girl herself. The one who bears miraculous wounds that come and go; the one who rescues Zhuan and Joseph both from fantasy and profligacy, the one who is tortured, suffers in silence, and who redeems the men around her, the one of whom her sister says 'By her wounds we are healed" The one who's on the fucking cover in an unraveled crown of thorns.
Could she be the one?
For fuck's sake
I have one. The one in the picture. And I like it, for all the obvious reasons. I'm carrying about 300 books around in my back pocket, but a couple of curious things ...
1. I start many more books than I finish on the ereader. In fact, in about 6 months of ownership, I've only managed to finish one. The temptation of holding a whole library in your hand, accessible without even having to get up out of your chair, is too great a temptation for the over-active mind (never confuse an over-active mind with an intelligent one).
Then, without being able to hold what is gone in the left hand and what is too come in the right, it is possible to feel a little lost in an electronic book, to loose your sense of progression through the pages as well as the plot, and perhaps this causes me to give up on books I otherwise wouldn't. I know I have more success on the ereader with books I have already read many times, where the words themselves remind me of where I am in relation to the front and book covers of the now incorporeal book, than with books that I've taken up for the first time.
2. I remember comparatively little of what I read on an ereader. Not only do I forget the details, but plot twists and minor characters. Perhaps the smell of the page, the feel of it, its colour and texture, the sense of its weight in our hands, are all triggers for memory, or even essential to it. I know sometimes I will look for a sentence in a printed book, and have a very clear notion of whether it was in the upper middle or lower part of the page, or whether that page was on the left or right, without ever having made a note of it at the time of reading.
A book of 11 Hemingway Stories
1. Calvino said Hemingway was at his worst when he was at his most lyrical. He was wrong. The Snows of Kilimanjaro
2. The patient stops breathing in the cave while the doctor and officer argue over him. Then comes the line of genius. "You see. We argue about nothing?' A Natural History of the Dead
3. A lot of people say that when in Ten Indians Nick wakes and has to think for a while before he remembers what has broken his heart - the little Indian girl - that it means the love and the heartbreak were things of boyhood, not true. Those people have never had the thing happen to them.
4. The stupidity of prohibition and the importance of craftsmanship and duty. The Wine of Wyoming
5. Some are born great, and some have greatness thrust upon them ... and some get neither, and no stage to perform, but are great nonetheless. The Capital of the World
6. Remember how much fun drinking was when you were a kid and you weren't meant to be doing it. And why are winds thrilling? The Three Day Blow.
7. A soldier afraid his soul will escape into the dark if he falls asleep. Now I Lay Me
8. Who else can bring a sad night-time cafe to life like this. Certainly Hemingway appreciates an honest, human fear of the dark. A Clean Well-lighted Place.
9. Why does simple food always seem like it must be delicious when Hemingway writes it? A leg of ham in his room that airman and soldiers cut slices off. The Night Before Battle
10. "I have the face of a Russian and it's getting me into trouble." Under the Ridge
11. I sometimes turn my radio way down, when I don't want to understand the talk, but want the comforting sound of a human voice. Hemingway understood fear of silence as well as fear of darkness. The Gambler the Nun and the Radio
The recent release of Peter Carey's new novel had me thinking about titles. If I am ever capable of a title as soppy as The Chemistry of Tears I hope the people around me have the good grace to pull me up. I have no idea what's between the covers of that book, perhaps it's very good. I haven't read Carey since I was in my late teens, when for some strange reason all things quirky seemed artistic.
Once I was working with a pleasant American lady in her sixties and it was Friday afternoon. Knock off time.
'Thank God,' she said swinging back on her chair.
'Too right,' I said.
Said the American lady, 'I'm going home to put a hot water bottle under my knees, a cat on my lap and watch Midsummer Murders.'
'My God,' I thought, 'You and I have a different idea of fun.'
That is how the title of Peter Carey's book makes me feel.
While it's rare that a really great writer is capapble of a title as poor as that, good book's don't necessarily have
wonderful titles. Dostoyevsky wasn't great at it: Crime and Punishment sounds like an American TV series; Tolstoy seems
not to be even trying: War and Peace could be an undergraduate history essay - it needs only the sub-title 'in 19th Century
Ireland' to make it perfect.
Graham Greene was hit and miss, the very ordinary titles Heart of the Matter and Honorary Consul (both superb novels) are
counterweighted by the Power and the Glory, which manages to be both ironic and sincere by turns, and the subtly beautiful
and also ironic, The Quiet American.
Hemingway was superb: A Farewell to Arms, The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, Death in the Afternoon, A Moveable Feast all beautiful and strange phrases with deep resonances.
Who is making great titles today? So far as I can see, no well known writers - at least, none consistently. Just one film maker comes to mind: the director or Bottle Rocket, The Life Aquatic, Darjeeling Limited. In books and films good titles are thin on the ground.
And yet, I have noticed that composers of contemporary electronic ambient music are uncannily good at it. Take
shoegaze outfit Belong: 'Remove the Inside' from the verse that says 'Remove the outside and you find the inside, remove
the inside and you see the soul' or 'I Never Lose, Never Really' .. Or Last Days: 'Saved by a Helicopter' or 'I remember When You Were Good'. Truly for the next book of stories I write I must pinch some of these.
Pensees - spelling and punctuation mistakes and all ... I believe at least three quarters of what I say. ... And the good stuff only stays posted for an hour or two.