Reading and Writing
Reading and writing are passions that have consumed a significant part of my life. First, it was the technical writing associated with two academic careers, laboratory medicine and marine biology. This included appointments at City College, the American Museum of Natural History, University of Mississippi, University of South Alabama, Crater Lake National Park, and the Oregon Institute of Technology. Fieldwork occurred in Texas, South Carolina, Oregon, and Bermuda. In 1999-2000, I received a nine-month Fulbright Fellowship to Russia. After many years of teaching and technical writing, I retired in 2013. Finally, I acquired the time to create what I had always enjoyed reading—fiction. I hope to continue with the joys and frustrations of literary production for the duration, whatever that may be.
Here is my current list of favorite books, ones I highly recommend, among hundreds, perhaps thousands, of others.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell. A superb tale of a Dutch trader in the Japanese harbor of Nagasaki in 1799. It combines history, romance, and supernatural settings in a relatively obscure time and place.
The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles. All of Towles' books are incredible presentations of character, including Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow. But this, set in the Midwest and New York City of the fifties is outstanding fiction. His novels could serve as a writing course for prospective authors.
The Scar by China Miéville. No modern writer does the combination of gothic horror and futuristic dystopia better. He produces an amazing diversity of books, including children's stories.
Dungeness and Dragons by William J. Cook. This is the fourth novel of the Driftwood Mystery series, set in the Pacific Northwest. Cook is a talented writer and his short story collections are among the very best on the contemporary bookshelf.
The Stories of Eva Luna by Isabel Allende. I have always been drawn to magical realism and that light touch of mysticism so well represented in the works of Fuentes, Garcia Marquez, and others. Allende is one of the very best.
Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell. She writes fantastic novels as well, but her short stories are delicious and beautiful (also, Orange World and Other Stories). Wish I could write as well as she does!
Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck. Perhaps not his best or most-noted, but I consider them his most delightful. I appropriated his style and approach for The Party House.
Other favorite fiction authors include Mikhail Bulgakov (The Master and Margarita), Isaac Asimov (I, Robot), Ken Kesey (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), E. Annie Proulx (The Shipping News and many hard-hitting short story collections), Brian Aldiss (Hothouse), Orson Scott Card (the Homecoming series), William Cook (the Driftwood mysteries), Stevan Allred (The Alehouse at the End of the World), H.G. Wells (The Time Machine), Frank Herbert (Dune), J.K. Rowling (Harry and Gang), Philip Pullman (Dust and Dark Materials novels), John Updike (Witches of Eastwick), and, as I indicated, thousands of others.
The personal library of my wife and I contains more than 10,000 volumes, fiction, non-fiction, representing all genres and topics. A large collection of books on natural history followed me from my career as a biologist. I developed an early interest in science fiction and a collection dating back to the nineteenth century includes pulp magazines from the nineteen twenties and thirties. The classic titles, from Wells and Verne, to the modern visions of Asimov, Aldiss, Herbert, Card, Anderson, and countless others, fill our shelves.
Like so many others have said before me, the first key to writing is reading. Read often, read a diversity of works. Each work is a textbook for better writing. The second key to writing is to write. Don't think about it or make excuses. Write garbage, make lists, jot down ideas, fragments of dialog, imaginary titles, impressions, and observations. There is no magic key, no one size-fits-all. It comes from the passion to narrate, to tell a story, whether fictional or real. These "keys" are not profound but even seasoned writers need to be reminded occasionally that writing, like every human activity, improves with repetition.