by little red pen
The bedside table
The pile of books by my bed is getting out of hand — I’m partway through eight of these and have worthy intentions towards the rest. From bottom to top, they are: excellent, but hard work; strange; charming, but my French was better eight years ago when I started reading it; essential, but daunting; thought-provoking, but irritatingly blokey; so well written I can’t bring myself to read past the first chapter until I can pay proper attention; fun, then boring; terrific, according to my partner; a classic; very dated, but I’m much calmer this week; also dated, but I’m having a good time.
And I’ve got three books on hold at the library: John Le Carré’s A Delicate Truth (because I can’t hold out any longer) and James Salter’s Light Years and All That Is (because I read a review of one and then wanted to read both).
How to write
If you want to know how to avoid writing rubbish prose, Orwell summed it up pretty well almost 70 years ago. For example:
Each of these passages has faults of its own, but, quite apart from avoidable ugliness, two qualities are common to all of them. The first is staleness of imagery; the other is lack of precision. The writer either has a meaning and cannot express it, or he inadvertently says something else, or he is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern English prose, and especially of any kind of political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.
The next project
By now, it will be obvious that I have a weakness for the spy thriller, so I might just have to work my way through this list too.
So, there’s all that, but I feel like I’ve spent the last few years reading in snatches, collecting books at random and inhaling them in any tiny quiet space I can find in a day.
But what am I missing? What’s out there that I don’t know about? What would you recommend? If I browsed your bookshelf, what would you pull out for me? Should I be keeping more lists: “What I Want to Read”, “What I Have Read”? Would that mean I could go stationery shopping, buy a notebook?