November 7, 2011

"You know Hunter [S. Thompson] typed 'The Great Gatsby'?"

"He'd look at each page Fitzgerald wrote, and he copied it. The entire book. And more than once. Because he wanted to know what it felt like to write a masterpiece. He was so hungry, yeah. Innocent, and yearning."

Says Johnny Depp, who's played the part of Hunter S. Thompson in 2 different movies now.

I'm thinking maybe that would be a good practice for all of us who presume to write. Pick one book, the book that exemplifies the best writing for you, and type it out, to see how it feels, to learn something elemental in that mysterious eyes-to-fingertips interplay.

What's your book?

169 comments:

edutcher said...

The Grapes of Wrath.

Love Steinbeck.

Ann Althouse said...

I just had this nightmare that all you people were going to say "Atlas Shrugged."

Joe said...

(The Uncredentialed, Crypto Jew)


“Dear Penthouse I never believed the stories in the ‘Lettres’ until….”

Rick Lee said...

PJ ORourke said in an interview I saw years ago that he and Hunter Thompson both subscribed to the notion that you could learn a lot by "typing the classics" as he put it. It seems like an excellent idea. Rather like artists copying masterpieces in school.

Beta Rube said...

Witness by Chambers.

EDH said...

As you may have noticed, I have a hard enough time typing my own comments.

the jackal said...

Right Ho, Jeeves.

Ron said...

I've often thought film schools should do this...take a great scene and have everyone in class do the various things to reshoot it. Obviously, no work here for screenwriters...but view it like art schools having students copy Old Masters.

Bob_R said...

The Nonlinear Field Theories of Mechanics.

Scott M said...

What's your book?

I did that with the re-issue of The Stand a few years back. I wish I hadn't, as I no longer read King as a result.

AJ Lynch said...

Wasn't there a famous bit of advice that recommended "you should read 10,000 words to write one word well"?

Vince said...

So what's wrong with Atlas Shrugged?

Vince said...

So, what's wrong with Atlas Shrugged?

Scott M said...

C: Oh, well, not to worry, not to worry. Can you help me with "David Coperfield?"

P: Ah, yes, Dickens.

C: No....

P: (pause) I beg your pardon?

C: No, Edmund Wells.

P: I... think you'll find Charles Dickens wrote "David Copperfield", sir...

C: No, no, Dickens wrote "David Copperfield" with two Ps. This is "David Coperfield" with one P by Edmund Wells.

P: "David Coperfield" with one P?

C: Yes, I should have said.

P: Yes, well in that case we don't have it.

Shouting Thomas said...

A Hero of Our Times, by Mikhail Lermontov.

ndspinelli said...

The Old Man and The Sea. I visited Papa' home in Key West last month. I've always loved his writing. Plus, I'm a poor typer and it's short.

I might consider to Kill a Mockingbird but I would tear up too much.

Paddy O said...

I retype all your blog posts so I can feel what it's like to be a top blogger.

I keep waiting for a break to put it into practice myself, but you keep writing those posts.

Old RPM Daddy said...

Anything by Raymond Chandler. I do like my mysteries.

Shouting Thomas said...

Speaking of Atlas Shrugs, Pamela Geller is just about the only person out there writing about the Tea Party, which continues to attract far more followers the the OWS.

The press continues to be the press agent of OWS, and continues to drive the Tea Party out of existence.

Ann Althouse said...

"So, what's wrong with Atlas Shrugged?"

It's not the exemplar of writing technique that you'd want to internalize!

You want something with excellent sentences. It's really hard to think of anything better than "The Great Gatsby."

I mean, check out those sentences. They are really fantastic, far beyond the actual story and the characters and all that. It would be quite valuable to pay attention to it on a word by word level.

Ann Althouse said...

"A tray of cocktails floated at us through the twilight, and we sat down at a table with the two girls in yellow and three men, each one introduced to us as Mr. Mumble."

You try to do that!!!

Tank said...

I would have picket Gatsby myself.

That is some sweet writing there.

jimbino said...

There's nothing wrong with Atlas Shrugged, though The Fountainhead is much better written. It's just that liberal intellectuals meet and greet over public disdain at the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

Envy too. Who among the many blogging lawyers can hold a candle to a Russian immigrant who learned English well enough to be hired to write screenplays and who wrote the all-time bestseller second to the Bible that was written by God?

And who among Americans has been more influential in putting the libertarian cause on the map?

Dan in Philly said...

I think The Great Gatsby is overrated.

I think "All the Kings's Men" is underrated, though not perfect.

I think "Mobey Dick" truly is one of the best writings in American History, but gets the short end of the stick to "The Great Gatsby" mostly because Gatsby is short enough to assign to high school students and Mobey is not.

victoria said...

The World According to Garp.

fivewheels said...

Neuromancer. But it seems like a silly exercise. Seems you'd be better off spending the time just reading more.

Chuck66 said...

Joe, I was thinking the exact same thing. Geesh, you beat me to it.

pogo101 said...

Probably something by Orwell. 1984?

fivewheels said...

Actually, for study-worthy construction of sentences and using words like a sculptor, maybe "The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy".

KitaIkki said...

The Maltese Falcon

Shouting Thomas said...

My second choice, on days when my alter ego is in control, would be The Rosy Crucifixion, by Henry Miller.

Sheepman said...

You’ve been with the professors
And they’ve all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have
Discussed lepers and crooks
You’ve typed through all of
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books
You’re very well typed
It’s well known

Doc Holliday's Bastard said...

I'm of two minds on this. The first is a book where the genius lies not necessarily in the style, but in the understanding of human nature. The second is a story where the words fly off the page in a dazzlingly brilliant way, one that kind of makes you just stop and say "wow" every few pages.

For the former I'd pick either Crime and Punishment or The Second Coming (by Walker Percy). For the latter it would be hard to go with anyone besides Shakespeare, so I'd go with my favorite play: The Tempest.

bearing said...

You know, if you have a text file of the book, you can import it into Mavis Beacon typing instruction software. Makes it very easy to type right along. It will even play soothing background music for you (although it beeps when you make a typing error).

Says the homeschooling mom. Just trying to be helpful for anyone who really wants to try this.

Crunchy Frog said...

Starship Troopers

t-man said...

Pale Fire

Psychedelic George said...

Beastly Bestiary by A. Tad Strange

American Poetry Alliance

Pragmatist said...

If I cannot have the Gatsby I would either want Moby Dick or anything by Lincoln or Walt Whitman. If I have to pick a "modern" one I would say V by Pynchon.

Unknown said...

The best writer I ever personally knew recommended re-reading The Old Man and the Sea. I've done that over and over. I'm now not as bad as I might others be.

-M

Rumpletweezer said...

Let me put in a good word for Samuel Clemens. Well, 10 words then.

Dan in Philly said...

Other overrated books:

Gone with the Wind (Everything after the war is not worth reading)

The Good Earth (A decent read, but again the reason for its popularity lies with it being fairly short)

Huckleberry Finn (I went there - A great book, but more a case of Americans wanting a great writer and history supplying Twain than most realize, IMHO)

lewsar said...

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.

yes, really. thompson had a marvelous way with the english language.

jamboree said...

I actually did this for fun with a screenplay because of the HST recommendation. I had never done a screenplay and it seemed to be a fast way to learn. It's how you learn music as a kid, right? You do covers and then move on to writing your own.

It was a great way to learn the difference between text writing (journalism, research, essays, novels) and storyboarding or writing for a camera. (First get Final Draft, don't even attempt to do the formatting on your own.)

DCS said...

I'm an aspiring novelist. I respectfully disagree that copying a great novel would teach me something.
Far better, I think, to get the first draft of a great novel and try to polish it.

john said...

Seabiscuit (at least in the last 4-5 years).

Hillenbrand tells a story that could have told itself. But only by her masterful way of telling it could she make you think that.

Scott M said...

You try to do that!!!

It's no Great Gatsby, but...

"She reached for the animal’s need to eat and noticed with distaste it was run through with intense sub-desires that craved a live kill; she knew that do’croki were not scavengers, preferring to hunt live prey which they tended to start feeding on while the kill struggled and here she saw, not for the first time, proof that they actually enjoyed it."

Alex Ignatiev said...

A Soldier of the Great War, by Mark Helprin.

lewsar said...

another author who i think wrote very well is richard brautigan. his best known work would probably be "Trout Fishing in America".

Allie's Apple said...

A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute.

AlphaLiberal said...

Came here to see how you would attack Cain's 4th accuser, Ann. I guess Rush Limbaugh hasn't done your thinking yet for you.

Chuck66 said...

I read non-stop from 2nd grade through 10th grade. Then life got busy (school, work, friends, volunteer work, magazines, hobbies, newspapers, TV, internet, sports, non-fiction books that just present facts). I went 20 years without reading a fiction book or an historical book that was written as a narrative story.

Then I picked one up. I forgot how enjoyable it is to read a good book.

Joe said...

(The Uncredentialed, Crypto Jew)


“Slippery Jim DiGriz I arrest you on the charge…”

I thought made a nice spot to trigger the black powder charge. The beam buckled and the twenty ton safe dropped onto his head. He squashed very nicely thank you.

(paraphrase of the one of the best openings I have ever read)

Pragmatist said...

Atlas Shrugged represents a week of my life I wish I could get back. Horrible writing and silly, rehashed, derivitive ideas. If you want to mash up Spencer and Nietsche at least make it entertaining.

Scott M said...

Came here to see how you would attack Cain's 4th accuser, Ann. I guess Rush Limbaugh hasn't done your thinking yet for you.

Crawl back under a rock until you're on topic, Alphalpha

ic said...

A typist who types the boss's speech does not make him the boss.

Fitzgerald's materials came from experience. He aspired to live Gatsby's life when he was in Princeton; Zelda, his wife, was a rich Southern belle, a little flaky, but was his Daisy.

May be I should keep typing Shakespeare and turn myself into another Shakespeare.

Allie's Apple said...

Slaughterhouse Five, Kurt Vonnegut.

Kirk Parker said...

I just had this nightmare that all you people were going to say "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas".

FIFY.

Astro said...

'The Reverse of the Medal', the 11th novel in the Aubrey/Maturin series by Patrick O'Brian, and the best of them IMHO.

Robert Cook said...

I won't make a claim for it as the best book I've ever read, or even my favorite, but Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange is a bravura display of language as music:

"What's it going to be then, eh?" There was me, that is Alex, and my three droogs, Pete, Georgie and Dim, Dim being really dim, and we sat at the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rasoodocks what to do with the evening, a flip dark chill winter bastard though dry."

I'm pretty sure that's exact, and I typed it straight off, having not read the book in over ten years. (I have read it about three times, though, and I think I will read it again before too long.)

Another writer with active, muscular prose when he was at his best was Henry Miller. The two Tropics and the Rosy Crucifixion Trilogy are his best.

ndspinelli said...

John, Have you read Hillenbrand's Unbroken? She has a huge place in her heart for overcoming adversity, as she did. And, she likes and gets men on a profound level.

MikeR said...

Fox in socks

Chris said...

Torn between the bible and Dianetics.

MikeR said...

Joe, I liked that one too: The Stainless Steel Rat.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

I had a creative writing teacher who once had us write in the style of another author- not the same thing, but perhaps more of a challege. (I chose Dave Barry- yes, yes I did.)

I was going to claim 1984, particularly because I love the scene where Winston and Julia get caught (I literally gasped out loud, even on the second reading; I thought it set the mood so well), but then I saw Robert Cook's recommendation of A Clockwork Orange, and have to agree - mastery of word usage there. A person could learn a lot from studying it.

(Also love whoever suggested Hitchhiker's Guide- you can't get any better of a description than "almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea".)

I may go back through this thread to use as a reading list (for the ones I haven't already, of course) in the future.

Henry said...

Perhaps a chunk of Shakespeare's sonnets. Or T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets. I think I'd want to type something I've read and appreciated, but that is still unfamiliar to my language. I wouldn't want to type a modern novel. I can't see the point of length in this exercise. It should be awkward and halting, a rutted portage of words and phrases not already programmed into my muscle memory.

Pete said...

Writing is re-writing. This drill won't work.

lyssalovelyredhead said...

When I was younger, I would have said "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues," but the last time I picked that one up, I couldn't understand what I had seen in it. It did have some great descriptive passages, though.

Carol_Herman said...

Well, it sounds like he was "typing" ... to get more proficient.

I've always thought it would be a great idea to read a book into a tape recorder ... for those who'd like to share the audio. But I usually think of this only after I'm almost finished reading a book.

When it came to "typing" ... Boy, do I remember those boring sentences!

Who needs "Now is the time for all good men ... blah, blah, blah.

Given that "typing" came late in my high school life. (And, we only had manuals. It was before the electric typerwriters came out. Plus, we needed to use carbon paper!

My son once said he had no idea what "carbon paper" was.

While in my parent's retail store, every receipt handed to a customer was duplicated. Because every receipt book had a sheet of carbon paper included in the back.

Meanwhile, I LOVED Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing ... which came out in the early 1970's. And, he turned "reporting" on its head.

Well, so did Norman Mailer, with Armies in the NIght.

(You know, Mark Twain remembered the steam boats that paddled the Mississippi. They were only around, tops, for 40 years. Think, he said, of all those pilots who knew the river like the back of their hands. And, by their own old age ... knowing this stuff turned out to be made useless by progress.

I think "progress" was steam locomotives. And, rails. From one end of this country to the other.

Who knew writing would also be "time sensitive?"

Except for Twain! Where you can now buy his books on audio.

Joe said...

(The Uncredentialed, Crypto Jew)


It is a sad day, but I agree with Cookie…that is one of the best openings, too…for some reason I especially love, “Dim, being very dim.” But the NadSat just floored me…it was like reading Le Petit Prince only supposedly the work was in English….

jamboree said...

@DCS well, you're probably beyond it. It's great for a kid. It puts you in the mind of the writer, so that instead of analyzing something out there, you are mimicking the actual mindset of the creator.

It's kind of like writing code. Sometimes you can look at code and say, "What was this idiot thinking?" But if you get in there and actually try to fix the problem, you will often discover that the programmer probably wasn't such an idiot after all. There was a reason he had to do it that way. YMMV.

Doc Holliday's Bastard said...

I actually just thought of another, The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe...it's different than most of the other works listed here as Wolfe is the unknown outside of the sci/fi, fantasy world but he is really a master of the language. What makes The Book of the New Sun so interesting is that it's set in the far, far future and liberally uses archaic words like lictor, autarch, califax, and fuligan. Wolfe really makes one think about the nature of language...while writing an incredibly layered and massively interesting story.

AJ Lynch said...

"Words are things; and a small drop of ink,
Falling like dew upon a thought, produces
That which makes thousands, perhaps millions think."
- Lord Byron (1788-1824), from "Don Juan"

dbp said...

I would say Moby-Dick since it is the best writing I can remember reading. Hemmingway has a lot of merit as well, but I wouldn't choose Old Man, I would pick Death In The Afternoon. I came across it while looking for something else in the stacks and read half of it while standing there. I finally gave in and sat at a carrel for the rest of it. Another strong contender would be Anthony Burgess' The Doctor is Sick, just hilarious yet somehow serious at the same time, the use of language, masterful.

madAsHell said...

Anything by Carol_Herman!!

Wally Kalbacken said...

Sartoris.

Mid-Life Lawyer said...

I second (or third or whatever) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Huckleberry Finn...Bartleby the Scrivener and it wouldn't take as long.

I was blown away by the ideas in Atlas Shrugged but never considered it good writing.

andinista said...

What I've learned over the years, is that one person's Great Novel, is another person's unreadable dross. Everyone says book So and So is Great Literature, you pick it up, start reading it, and remember you've got laundry and dishes to do.

And there's no telling for style. Content is King. People keep reading the KJB and Shakespeare and Ayn Rand and Tolkien. We're chattering primates sitting around a campfire telling stories. We wanna hear the story, told and re-told by several people. The different telling styles help us grok the story.

Which is why I have concluded that anyone who complains about an author's style, is just a below-the-radar attempt to discredit the content.

It's a very personal and idiosyncratic admission: which books you couldn't put down, and which you found deadly dull.

Njall said...

Walden, by H. D. Thoreau

Coketown said...

Mine wouldn't be an entire book, but a scene from a book: In Crime and Punishment, when Rodion has Sonya read the story of Lazarus to him. That was the most extraordinary selection of pages I've ever read, and it's my goal to someday write something even one-half as great. (I've gotten close a couple of times, I think.)

Ann Althouse said...

I just had this nightmare that all you people were going to say "Atlas Shrugged."


I was an undergraduate writing major once, and fondly remember my sincerest efforts to re-write Atlas Shrugged in every way but plot: language, structure, stale dialogue, flat characters, etc. But that's a rule for undergrad writing majors: you're either copying Ayn Rand or J. D. Salinger. Graduate students, God willing, find their own voice.

Oligonicella said...

"Because he wanted to know what it felt like to write a masterpiece."

And he never found out that way.

'Write' does not mean transcribe. Copying a book into a keyboard is not writing.

You will learn nothing 'elemental', that's mumbo-jumbo. Talent and intelligence are not subject to osmosis.

That mysterious eyes-to-fingertips interplay is called typing. Best used for writing your own work.

john said...

ndspinelli -

Haven't, but Unbroken is on my list as my first ebook when my kindle fire arrives!

Why has nobody said Shelby Foote (Civil War trilogy)?

Scott M said...

You will learn nothing 'elemental', that's mumbo-jumbo. Talent and intelligence are not subject to osmosis.

Inspiration can really be a shocking phenomena. I didn't used to think so and thought it was best just to write as much as possible as quickly as possible, then come back an edit. There's certainly a place for that, but there's also a definite place for things like voice exercises with your characters.

I had a friend suggest the interview technique in which you pretend you're sitting down to a face-to-face interview with one of your main characters and write what the transcript would look like, with the goal of tapping into that inspiration and allow the character to flesh themselves out rather than you sitting there doing it for them. As crazy as that sounds...it works and can be quite startling.

Zach said...

I've heard similar stories about multiple writers -- maybe Ron Rosenbaum is another? The idea of the exercise is to slow down the flow of words so that you have to consciously think about every decision the author made.

For what it's worth, I've done similar things with physics papers. When trying to figure out a particularly tricky paper, I'll literally copy out every sentence and every equation longhand and figure out what they mean before moving on. It's very helpful, because it prevents you from glossing over the tricky part.

Oligonicella said...

Scott M --

Hope you see this one, Blogger's deleting my posts for some reason.

You described something beyond transcription. I do that, but more like watching the scene run by. I let the characters do what they want with little or no attempt at sentence control. They often do things I haven't expected. This usually happens inside dialog.

Remember that 'elemental' was tied to the physical act of typing, not examining the text. That's why it's nonsense. Just read.

Darrell said...

“Blackadder was fifty-four and had come to editing Ash out of pique. He was the son and grandson of Scottish schoolmasters. His grandfather recited poetry on firelight evenings: Marmion, Childe Harold, Ragnarok. His father sent him to Downing College in Cambridge to study under F. R. Leavis. Leavis did to Blackadder what he did to serious students; he showed him the terrible, the magnificent importance and urgency of English literature and simultaneously deprived him of any confidence in his own capacity to contribute to, or change it. The young Blackadder wrote poems, imagined Dr Leavis’s comments on them, and burned them.”

― A.S. Byatt

ricpic said...

Type a whole novel? Sounds crushing. I'd pick a short story by the master, E. A. Poe, in order to learn how to not waste a word.

Scott M said...

I'd pick a short story by the master, E. A. Poe, in order to learn how to not waste a word.

Starring John Cusack?

Oligonicella said...

Scott M --

"Starring John Cusack?"

Joan.

Calypso Facto said...

...in order to learn how to not waste a word.

I was thinking the same thing: The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, by Hemingway.

KLDAVIS said...

You, a law professor, should know better than to use the phrase, "you people". Also, doesn't the period look better outside the quotation marks?

Anyway, I once started typing Galt's speech from Atlas Shrugged, as at the time I could not find it digitized anywhere on the 'net and wanted to run some statistical analysis on its content. I only got about three pages in before I cried uncle.

lemondog said...

A poem.

The whole of it a gem.

The concluding lines below.

Fern Hill

Dylan Thomas

"Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea."

rhhardin said...

I've copied out several of Derrida's books, just as a speed check.

DADvocate said...

Never thought about a book in that respect, although several come to mind.

BUT, the first thing that came to mind was The Last American Hero Is Junior Johnson. Yes! by Tom Wolfe, published in 1965, which is when I first read it. Obviously, he style made a strong impression. Yes!

bgates said...

I did this when I switched my computer keyboard to the Dvorak layout - found a typing tutor app and loaded the Federalist Papers into it.

tim in vermont said...

"I remember the candles being lit again,
pointlessly, and I was conscious of wanting to look squarely at every
one and yet to avoid all eyes. I couldn't guess what Daisy and Tom
were thinking but I doubt if even Miss Baker who seemed to have
mastered a certain hardy skepticism was able utterly to put this fifth
guest's shrill metallic urgency out of mind. To a certain temperament
the situation might have seemed intriguing--my own instinct was to
telephone immediately for the police."

I always loved that little bit of Gatsby.

As for Twain being over-rated? No. The stuff is beautiful, and almost unfailingly intelligent, but if you don't go in for that sort of thing...

All the King's Men is a beautiful piece of writing. There was a novel not too long ago called "A Heart-Breaking Work of Staggering Genius" which was OK, but the title to me, applies to books like Gatsby and All the King's Men. "A staggering work of heart-breaking genius."

Quaestor said...

I can hardly imagine a more useless exercise than typing out a copy of an admired book. In the immortal words of Truman Capote that's not writing, that's typing.

KLDAVIS said...

Althouse said...
"You want something with excellent sentences. It's really hard to think of anything better than "The Great Gatsby...

'A tray of cocktails floated at us through the twilight, and we sat down at a table with the two girls in yellow and three men, each one introduced to us as Mr. Mumble.'

You try to do that!!!"

Lacking stamina, I'd probably pick Joyce's short story The Dead...best last sentence in literature?

"A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead."

'Falling faintly...and faintly falling'...just try to do that in high school 'Honors English' and watch the overpaid babysitters called teachers these days have an aneurysm. Then again, there's always, "Stately, plump Buck Mulligan..."

mesquito said...

I recall someone saying they'd type out Tom Wolfe's stuff, just to see how it feels.

Beta Rube said...

By this theory would an aspiring composer benefit from hand copying a Mozart Symphony onto lined music paper?

glenn said...

Actually Hunter went right to the top of the chart with "Gatsby" I can't think of a novel with more content in fewer words.

tim in vermont said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IL3Dp6Oh3Fw

Andy Kaufman used to read The Great Gatsby as his act. The story is that he once read the entire thing, he would only read it until the whole thing blew up, things were thrown, etc, but this time everyone left but one person, who stayed until the very end, and clapped.

Michael said...

The Good Soldier. By Ford Madox Ford.

DADvocate said...

Far better, I think, to get the first draft of a great novel and try to polish it.

Reminds me of a story I read about William Faulkner. Invited to speak in front of a group of hopeful writers, he took the podium and asked that everyone wanting to be a writer raise their hand. They all raised their hands. Go home and write he told then, and walked off.

Smilin' Jack said...

I've read a lot of fine books, but for the eyes-to-fingertips thing, just to know what it feels like to write that kind of prose, I'd pick Lolita or Last Exit to Brooklyn.

mesquito said...

My book would be any of the Aubrey/Maturin series.

tim in vermont said...

Lolita, that is another one. Now I have to read "Last Exit to Brooklyn."

And the period looks just fine inside the quote mark.

MaggotAtBroad&Wall said...

I was in high school when I first read Catcher in the Rye. While I was reading it, I felt like I really knew and understood Holden Caufield. By the time I finished, I was convinced I'd read the best book ever written and that J.D. Salinger was an indisputable literary genius in all he had down to develop the Caulfied character (and the other minor characters for that matter). It was almost magical.

Then I re-read it again about a decade ago and I was hugely disappointed. In hindsight, I wish I had not re-read it. I liked it better when I thought it was perfect and J.D. Salinger was a magical writer.

Karnival said...

Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, because books and authors have come and gone in my life but no one every did dialogue like Hemingway. Plus the whole thing with expats in Paris, Pamplona...it stays with you for life.

I still can't write good dialogue and so I find myself writing snarky comments on someone else's blog. No quotation marks anywhere.

Jose_K said...

Gallic War, Caesar.
Anabaxis. Jenofont

starboardhelm said...

Lois McMaster Bujold's "Cordelia's Honor".

Peano said...

You want something with excellent sentences. It's really hard to think of anything better than "The Great Gatsby."

I mean, check out those sentences. They are really fantastic, far beyond the actual story and the characters and all that.

___

Yeah, gosh, those sentences are just way way way more cool than the story and characters and all that stuff. I've just thought and thought and thought but I can't think of any book that has so many fantastic sentences in it!!!

Peter Hoh said...

Raintree County, by Ross Lockridge, Jr.

David R. Graham said...

'Wasn't there a famous bit of advice that recommended "you should read 10,000 words to write one word well"?'

George Arthur Butterick's version of that, to his homiletics students was, "One hour in the study for every minute in the pulpit."

Shakespeare, Longfellow, Hegel, Wittgenstein, Kandinsky, Gould (Glenn), Drudge.

Fritz said...

Lord of Light, by Roger Zelazny.

Peter Hoh said...

Or I could make it easy on myself and type a volume of Dickinson's verse.

Hedgewizard said...

Ulysses S. Grant: Personal Memoirs

donald said...

Huckleberry Finn and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

I understand the beauty and magnificence of mellville, Fitzgerald and Hemingway, but those two guys are America to me.

I also love Atlas Shrugged and try to live by her any man (Person) can be noble and heroic.

Peano said...

Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, because books and authors have come and gone in my life but no one every did dialogue like Hemingway. Plus the whole thing with expats in Paris, Pamplona...it stays with you for life.

So does HIV. God, was there ever a worse writer than Hemingway? He makes my hair bleed.
____

It was a dark cantina. The cantina was dark like the night that falls swiftly during wartime in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Fred had not thought about the Sangre de Cristo in many years. Maria had been there. Maria and many, many bottles of the sharp, crisp Catenza that the Mexican elders drink in the hot noonday sun.

Why, thought Fred, were so many of them named Maria?

Even some of the men were named Maria. And as bitter, worn men with a woman's name they did what they must. They fought with those that would taunt them.

For that is what men named Maria must do.

Maria Ibiza was one such man--a short, grizzly-faced man, front teeth permanently stained with the tar from years of smoking hand-rolled cigarettes. One afternoon he creaked open the door of his favorite cantina, The Tapista. His eyes soon adjusted to the darkness--the only light filtering through slats in half-rotten shutters. His heart began to pound...Enrique!

Enrique. The dark Enrique. Enrique had been drinking with Fred since the morning, and she clung to him like a drunk woman with a hair lip. For that is what she was.

Maria and Fred had fought over her when they were young men. Not to win her, for she had a hair lip, but rather to fight each other for the sake of the fighting and the winning. For in those days they were filled with the foolishness that clings to boys like sweat on a humid day.

In the end, Maria had won her, for Fred had often gotten their names confused, and a hot blooded woman like Enrique would not stand for it, hair lip or no.


Etc., etc., etc.

David said...

The Strange Death of Liberal England.

Not great history, but great writing.

Crimso said...

"Why has nobody said Shelby Foote (Civil War trilogy)?"

Crossed my mind. But you'd want to do it the way Foote wrote the original manuscript (keep in mind this thing runs nearly 3000 pages): he didn't type it, he wrote it with a quill pen and an inkwell. No shit.

How about "Dahlgren" by Delaney? Just so maybe this time through it I'll figure out what the Hell it was about.

Crimso said...

Of course, the problem with "Dahlgren" would really be that you would never stop. You'll have to do a little background research on it (perhaps even if you've read it) to see why.

Doug said...

Bonfire of the Vanities

lewsar said...

a couple of people have mentioned the aubrey/maturin series by patrick o'brian. i have to say that i've never read a single book. i simply was not able to so do. the various books would be published, and i would be browsing in a bookstore somewhere and would pick one up and open it. invariably, the typesetting completely through me off. instead of what i consider to normal or proper quotation marks, the books used a long dash at the beginning of a sentence to indicate direct speech.

as an example, instead of

"what ho, ye scurvy dogs?"

i'd see

- what ho, ye scurvy dogs?

for whatever reason, this completely threw me. i had a hard time breaking out the character's direct speech from the narrative discourse. i'd get annoyed, put the book down, and keep looking. i was vaguely aware that the series was very highly rated, but i could never connect with the books.

then i started driving over the road. i was having trouble keeping my concentration up on the long, boring stretches of interstates (i80 through nebraska, for instance). i'd heard that audio books could help, so i got an account on audible.com, and cruised around looking for titles. i listened to a couple of hornblower books (which were generally terribly produced, i'm sorry to say). and i noticed that the entire aubrey/maturin series was available. i bought the first one, master and commander narrated by patrick tull, and was enthralled.

the language used is very good indeed, the historical accuracy is impeccable, and both the characters and overall story are magnificent. this is historical fiction, in that all the events described are as accurate as o'brian's meticulous research can create, minus the insertion of aubrey/maturin character set.

wonderfully entertaining, and highly recommended.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Looks like NaVicNoWriMo is off to a flying start.

Mitch H. said...

My book? The Stars My Destination.

There was a nasty bit of British asshole snobbery at the end, a crack about government and taxes creating a country where you wouldn't be robbed by crackheads. Both Depp's addle-headed idea that this was a common occurrence in the States outside of certain urban locales and the interviewer's determination to indulge him in his uneducated, half-bright imbecility was quite irritating.

But back to the typing-a-book thing. I think that *parodying* a great book would teach you more about writing than just rote copying. I did that once with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a comedy bit biting the Circus Circus section. Trying to bend the cadence and the sentiment to your own purposes, your own words, shows you how they're connected underneath, why you can't just move this bit there and that chunk there without deranging the arrangement, killing the poetry.

Peano said...

Man, that Fitzgerald could really lay down some shit. Check these FANTASTIC SENTENCES, the opening lines of his masterpiece "This Side of Paradise." I am so inspired. I put on a pot of coffee, and I'm going to stay up all and typing the text.
___

Amory Blaine inherited from his mother every trait, except the stray inexpressible nose hairs, that made him worth while. His father, an ineffectual, inarticulate gnome with a taste for watermelon and a habit of drowsing over the Book of Jonah, grew wealthy at thirty through the death of two elder brothers, successful Chicago pimps, and in the first flush of feeling that the world was his, went to Fort Lauderdale and met Beatrice O'Bunz. In consequence, Stephen Blaine handed down to posterity his height of just under five feet one inch and his tendency to wear his mother’s stockings, these two abstractions appearing in his son Butch. For many years he hovered in the background of his family's life, an unassertive figure with a face half-obliterated by acne and nose hair, continually occupied in "taking care" of his wife, continually harassed by the idea that he didn't and couldn't satisfy her with his Lilliputian equipment.

tim in vermont said...

A good reason to do it is to break the spell of great literature.

You can't help but fall under it when reading it, even aloud. But when you type word for word, you can see how it is done.

And sure, we can all take snarky jabs at writers we don't like, but is sort of reminds me of Mojo Nixon's John Henly Must Die" I mean really, what is the problem people have with other people who have undeniable talent?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QKWaCOQre4A

Va savoir.

Karl said...

The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Great dialog and a timeless story.

Higgins died too early.

Ann Althouse said...

You'd better do that Peano, old man. Where are you? Like page 20 by now?

Alan said...

John Cage's 4'33" - oh, sorry, that's not a novel...

My choice would be Frank Herbert's Dune. A masterpiece, done no justice by its sequels.

God Emperor of Dune was especially horrid. Tried twice to read that damn thing - could not get past the first few chapters. This coming from someone who read all of Will and Ariel Durant's ponderous Story of Civilization. It took me three years, but hey...

gadfly said...

Raoul Duke also typed:

"No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun – for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax – This won’t hurt.

Thompson, the inventor of Gonzo journalism, then took a handgun, put it to his mouth and blew his brains out.

I know for sure that my book will not be "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas."

Peano said...

You'd better do that Peano, old man. Where are you? Like page 20 by now?

I'm already up to page 157. These sentences are so incredibly vibrant, they practically type themselves! Thank you sooo much for your scintillating literary inspiration!!

Lawler Walken said...

Bel Canto, by Ann Patchett

Astro said...

@ Lewsar
Yes! The books, and the narration by Patrick Tull. Some of the world's finest and most enthralling literature spoken by a master of dialects and languages.
(Be sure to choose the lesser of two weevils. Ha.)
May they both rest in peace.

edwardroyce said...

Dear Penthouse,

No shit. There I was, a young muscular guy out hitchhiking, when ....

wv: perughyd. like naugahyde but from peru.

Sara said...

Lolita. There is no comparison.

"Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta. She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my arms she was always Lolita."

Valentine Smith said...

Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

"All about her the dead lay with their peeled skulls like polyps bluely wet or luminescent melons cooling on some mesa of the moon. In the days to come the frail black rebuses of blood in those sands would crack and break and drift away so that in the circuit of a few suns all trace of the destruction of these people would be erased."

Kirk Parker said...

lewsar,

Ohhhh, yeah--Brautigan:

"Every time you take your pill
It's like a mine disaster--
I think of all the people
Lost inside of you."

Chip S. said...

John Berryman's The Dream Songs.

"Hi, this is Sharon from Chicago. I'd like to dedicate Dream Song 4 to Herman."

Filling her compact & delicious body
with chicken páprika, she glanced at me
twice.
Fainting with interest, I hungered back
and only the fact of her husband & four other people
kept me from springing on her.

cf said...

Moby Dick

Republican said...

Drug addled nonsense from minds that overvalued the importance of the written word.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joe Schmoe said...

I don't have a fave. Loved all of Steinbeck, hated most of Hemingway and Faulkner. Loved A Prayer for Owen Meany and A Catcher in the Rye although not a huge fan of those authors' other work. Loved reading Shakespeare's plays; when I'm at a performance I miss a bit of the dialogue. When I read the plays, I realize how much wit and distilled wisdom there is in those plays. Can't make it through a chapter of Tom Wolfe other than From Bauhaus to Our House. Love poetry by Li Po and Basho (at least the English translations of such).

I'd probably copy the plays or the poetry; I love the rhythm of shorter, condensed works meant to be performed. So much literary writing in novels is excess, to me.

J said...

Lying again, Byro-Schmoe--what a shocker. You never made it to the cliffsnotes of Hamlet,phony

Grazi for evidence, wicca queer

J said...

He should have typed it again ( assuming the Deppster, of Gonzo, Inc. tells the truth). F.Scott's Gatsby' is something like Chopin compared to HST's Rolling Stones. And the A-tards, a kazoo band

Joe Schmoe said...

Hey, I've arrived as an A-tard! I've been flamed by J.

Thanks J-hole. Sorry; can't let you have the last comment no matter how pithy you think it is. Deleting and moving to the end ain't gonna work.

What have you got against wicca, by the way?

Michael said...

We note that liberals do not appear to be readers.

Scott M said...

@Joe

I wouldn't worry about it. The same idiot that wrote...

Grazi for evidence, wicca queer

...has claimed, among other things, to be a professional editor and published author, yet refuses to link to any proof of either. When challenged, "he" claims not to have anything to prove to vermin such as we here.

J said...

Mikey Dreck you obviously never read FSF's "Gatsby"--had you done so, you might have encountered "Wolfsheim", one of Gatsby's downtown cronies. Maybe with some help from a wiki or somethin' you could have figured it out--tho' I doubt it. You claim to have read Pynchon yet don't know what "Tristero" is. But just lie away like the yokels in here do.

Stick to your Blooomberg white collar crime guide.

J said...

Hey Squat shit--I don't have to prove jack to white trash shit such as you. Prove yr a human being, and not a homunculus.

Scott M said...

Prove yr a human being, and not a homunculus.

I never claimed to be either. You, on the other hand, have made very clear statements about yourself and cannot back them up.

I'm curious as to why you feel the need to tear others down over things like this. Why is that? Does it make you feel good? What are you compensating for?

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

'The Road to Serfdom' - F. A. Hayek.

No less applicable now than in 1943.

Tibore said...

Wait. What in God's name is this supposed to teach you? The art of composition is vastly different from the task of transcription. I'm at a loss as to how this is supposed to reveal anything to the writer.

A painter might learn something new from applying different brush techniques than he/she normally uses in composing their own works, but I'm seriously hard pressed to see what copying a book via typewriter is supposed to teach you about the writing process, beyond how to manage wrist-ache. Which is something Hunter S. Thompson probably already knew how to deal with.

J said...

F*ck you punk. We don't have to back shit up for yokel garbage such as you, Squat tard.

FS Fitzgerald knew the score on midwestern hayseeds and WASP-zionist rackets in general

Scott M said...

F*ck you punk. We don't have to back shit up for yokel garbage such as you, Squat tard.

Who's "we"? How many people are inside that head, Jolly?

J said...

Heh heh heh. yuk yuk yuk


Maybe try the ebonics, big print Gatsby, A-tards- They got it somewhere ah jus' knows it.

I love the smell of the Oafhouse being humiliated in the AM. Smells like.....victory.

Scott M said...

victory

You're definition of victory is laughable.

J said...

You don't write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.
F. Scott Fitzgerald


All the wannabe-writers in Hayseedville generally overlook that maxim.

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

What's laughable is your life, Squat-tard. Maybe find some Green Acres scripts you can ripoff, dreck, or stick to the Dale Carnegie books.

Scott M said...

How is my life laughable, Jolly? Please list the reasons and your proof of those reasons.

Frank said...

Any of the 20 tomes of Patrick O'Brian's canon on the adventures of Captain jack Aubrey and the surgeon/spy Stephen Maturin. The basis for the "Master and Commander" film. The writing is masterful.

J said...

Only remember west of the Mississippi it's a little more look, see, act. A little less rationalize, comment, talk.

F. Scott Fitzgerald

F.Scott had some phunn out on the coast--far away from NY and ivy league trash, and the Zelda ho

Tibore said...

"J said...
F*ck you punk. We don't have to back shit up for yokel garbage such as you, Squat tard."


Say what? Who the hell are you, and what teacher failed in his or her duty to teach your proper grammar?

Duncan said...

Maybe it's just me but I don't focus on the writing. I tend to spend time thinking about the information contained in the package instead. I know I pick up style from the many sentences read and that I can use it to produce my own writing but it seems subconscious.

I find I can't generate my own pick for "great writing" to be copied. My instinct is to borrow the names of great writers from others.

A lesser challenge, what's the best writing on my Kindle (including the free samples but not including the KJV)? It would have to be "Hunger of Memory -- The Education of Richard Rodriguez" by the same. I'm a sucker for Trad Ed writing.

luagha said...

The Guns of Avalon, by Roger Zelazny.

Joe Schmoe said...

The only female who even deigned to acknowledge J's existence must've run off to join a wicca community. Hence his extreme bigotry towards wicca.

Halloween must be a tough time of year for you, J. The wicca/pagan holy day must be a big fork in your eye, as you can't help but be reminded of her.

Stephan Kinsella said...

Lord Foul's Bane. Love Stephen R. Donaldson's writing.

Jeremy Strain said...

I just did Faukner's As I Lay Dying and am now doing Moby Dick. I'm already seeing results in my own writing.