Caption: Doris (clutching her handbag) wasn’t the only one who dreaded the days when it was Vivan’s turn to host the Book Club.
Yes, that was me, not showing up for my Friday blog last week: I’m so sorry about that. I kept meaning to get to it but I had sooooo much to deal with — it was 71 freaking degrees on Long Island!!! And it seems that my brain hits its melting point at 70 degrees.
So I drove to the Port Washington library (the mother lode — this library is so plush that it was featured in a New York Times article about how the hippest “new” libraries are part arty cafe, part hipster new media supermarket) and I found about 100 books in the Travel Narrative section (Dewy Decimal 910.4 etc.) that I haven’t read yet and I spent the day splayed on the patio furniture in the backyard, ripping through first-person stories of traveling in England in 1938, the Ottoman Empire in 1824, and Dubai in 2005.
All that, and white wine, too. The only way that Heaven can be better than that is if God lets our old pets keep us company there.
And then it was night and I reached for my bedside books, and I started reading Larry McMurty’s memoir, called Books. Larry McMurtry is the author of Horseman, Pass By (made into the movie Hud), The Last Picture Show, Terms of Endearment, Lonesome Dove, and 20 other books; he has also been a rare-and-second-hand books dealer for 40 years. He estimates that he’s handled about a million books in his lifetime and currently owns about 200,000 books, both in his shops and in his personal library. Safe to say, the guy knows a thing or two about cowboys, Hollywood, and books.
And in this book about books, I read that Larry McMurtry collects travel narratives. What a coincidence! I marveled to myself; I’m writing a travel narrative! Or, I should say, trying to write a travel narrative; I’m still stuck in Bayeux…still flummoxed by the huge task of writing about my favorite town in France without getting too overwrought, too sentimental, too gushing, too weirdly personal and cliche and all the rest.
And then, reading this book called Books, I read something that made my job as a writer seem much, muchless daunting than I’d been making it out to be, with all my panic about saying the right, important thing about Bayeux, France: I read that in his collection of travel narratives, Larry McMurtry has 200 books about travelers’ journeys through Siberia.
Let’s let that sink in: Two hundred travel narratives about Siberia.
So, now that that has sunk in, which thought floats up in your mind first? :
1. That’s a tad many travel narratives about Siberia, for chrissake.
2. If that’s how many travel stories there are about Siberia, for crissake, then there must be like hundreds of thousands of travel narratives about France…
3. So for crissake, why are you thinking that you have something new to say about Bayeux???
4. Lighten up, for crissake.
Thank you, Larry McMurtry, for teaching me something crucial about my process.
What I learned from Larry McMurtry is: The worst thing you can do for your process is to take yourself too seriously.
Unless you’re writing the Declaration of Independence or the new health care bill, that is.
And just a last word about Showing and Telling in writing:
If you want to read a book that does a superlative job about showing, read Eat, Pray, Love, by Elizabeth Gilbert. She is so good at showing (rather than telling) that, although I have almost zero interest in reading any other book about Italy, India, and/or Indonesia (no judgment about those cultures, just a matter of personal taste), I couldn’t put down her book about her travels in Italy, India, and Indonesia. I think that the reason her book was such a huge best seller is because of the masterful way Elizabeth Gilbert shows you her world, her life, her travels, her challenges, her happiness; it just goes to show you how much the world loves show, not tell.
If you want to read a book that does too much telling, read any celebrity memoir. Celebrities get away with telling because they can usually drop enough names to make these books mildly interesting for a reader — otherwise, since all they do is tell, tell, tell their books tend to be very dull (even if the celebrity was once married to a Beatle, or used to be the governor of Alaska).
Speaking of celebrity memoirs, I’ve just started reading Richard Chamberlain’s book Shattered Love because I had such a crush on R.C. when I was a teenager…and I spent my 20th birthday (1976) in New York City watching him play the priest in Night of the Iguana on Broadway. I don’t care how bad the book is: as long as there are lots of pictures R. C. can tell and tell and tell…I’m easy.