Cool Stuff from Recent Reading

  • from Here, There, Elsewhere, by William Least Heat-Moon

Solvitur ambulando, writes St. Jerome — “to solve a problem, walk.”

So who cares? is always a writer’s most fearsome uncertainty. Whatever the genre, a reader may begin to care if writers will look closely and report precisely and with imagination.

  • from Names on the Land, by George R. Stewart

Mr. Thomas Jefferson, like other Virginia gentlemen before him, having made a purchase of western lands, sent some agents to look over the property. Since his was the largest such purchase ever made, the work of his agents attained corresponding fame, and is known as the Lewis and Clark Expedition. Only Captain Lewis could have been called educated, and even he was a poor speller. Captain Clark was frontier-bred, and his misspellings at times approached the inspired.

This rage for divorce has especially affected all words which utilize, or seem to utilize, the French article. We now have LaBolt and LaPlant, both in South Dakota, and both at least partially justified, since they commemorate people of French ancestry. More curious is LaPine (Oregon). This was originally Lapine, and was named in pseudo-French because of the pine trees there, though it actually means female rabbit. With such a craze under way, we can wonder that Lemongrove (California) chose to become Lemon Grove instead of Le Mongrove.

  • from The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard

The youth gets together his materials to build a bridge to the moon, or perchance a palace or temple on the earth, and at length the middle-aged man concluded to build a wood-shed with them. (Henry David Thoreau)

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing … A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet.

Why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands? Because it is up to you. There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain. It is hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.

Einstein likened the generation of a new idea to a chicken’s laying an egg; “Kieks — auf einmal ist es da! Cheep — and all at once there it is.”

One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

If this life be not a real fight, in which something is eternally gained for the universe by success, it is no better than a game of private theatricals from which one may withdraw at will. But it FEELS like a real fight. (William James)

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