A million words a year?

I blog at Published Indie Authors about why a million words a year wouldn’t work for me as a goal.  I also work in mention of my favorite hack, crime writer Erle Stanley Gardner, who wrote more than a million words a year BEFORE COMPUTERS. He hit that goal not once, but fairly often.

(His secret: he dictated his novels to a bank of stenographers.)

Blog is here.

“We can’t talk about this on the phone”

I ran across a variant on this phrase again last night, in The Case of the Queenly Contestant by Erle Stanley Gardner. (Cold night, warm house, drowsy, tired, a Perry Mason mystery to complete my contentment.) Perry M had something important to tell a client. He needed to see her, even though he had her phone number and the lines were not tapped — this point was mentioned specifically. The news was not tragic, just important.

Somewhere in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, from the 1970s, Roy Neary is having an anguished conversation with his wife. “We can’t talk about this on the phone!” he cries.

There are many other examples, none of which I can recall exactly, but the idea that you don’t discuss important things on the telephone seemed to once be a given: a basic truth no one questioned.

Sometimes people need to be together to give and receive comfort or share joy, but something else was going on. Phone talk was chatter; face-to-face talk was the real deal, the stuff of life.

Why was that?

Was there something faintly troubling about phone conversation? A sense of this is not how it is supposed to be? 

There is a difference between hearing music at home, even on a spectacular sound system, and hearing it performed live. If you don’t think so, you have never heard music performed live. It is not the same music. Perhaps a similar awareness was the basis of the belief about phones.

Now, phones are secondary means of communication and computers are primary. The day of the land line is passing, I think.  But this question still remains, in fact is more relevant than ever:

What is gained and what is lost when you talk at a distance?

When I first learned how to talk on the Internet back in the 1990s (yes, it is a skill), the thing I compared it to was learning how to move around in zero gravity. At first you overdid things. You did not end up where you intended to go. Small gestures produced big results. Eventually, you figure out how to say what you intended to say.

What about people who spend large parts of the day typing messages to one another? Is is very strange to come back to earth? Part of being there for real is reading faces, gestures, body language, and intonations of speech. Do these abilities get less sharp as the zero-gravity abilities get more sharp?

I am not writing this blog to provide answers. But when I came across the line in The Case of the Queenly Contestant about not talking about important things on the phone, I realized that I haven’t heard anybody say this in a long time.

Restful books?

I am looking for restful books, and I’d like your suggestions.

Nowhere in a restful book do I want to see detailed descriptions of the author’s sex life, unhappy childhood, or medical problems. Otherwise, I have an open mind.

Below are a few books I find restful. You will find these either charming or incomprehensible.

Restful fiction

The only novels I find consistently restful are those written by Erle Stanley Gardner (with preference for the ones written in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s). I cannot explain this choice, though I tried in an earlier post, Erle Stanley Gardner’s Infinite Playlist.

Restful nonfiction

My preferences  for restful nonfiction reflect my fondness for  illustrated books.

Books on this honored short list are strong on observation and detail. They are outer-directed. They are about something that gives the writer deep happiness, and often involve work and craft.

Goldfish Varieties and Tropical Aquarium Fishes

This deeply eccentric choice (I don’t own fish and don’t want to own fish) came from an easy-going book called All About House Plants, written in 1946 by a man with the unlikely name of Montague Free. Books like these are available for a song at abebooks.com.

Goldfish Varieties was written by William Innes and had gone through 14 editions by  1931. It is a physically beautiful book, with gilt edges and many photos and illustrations

But why?

Because William Innes comes across as a humorous, competent, satisfied man. He built his own aquariums and dug his own ponds, cooked up his own fish food, built heaters and pumps and nets, and cared for the small creatures with intelligent attention. The book also gives the gift of slow time. Where did Innes find time to do all this stuff?

Painted Ponies

This big book about American carousel art was written by William Manns, Peggy Shank, and Marianne Stevens. It is about craftsmen in the 19th and early 20th centuries who worked for money, love, and vocation. With a few exceptions, history does not record their names, but they surely did not expect to be remembered.

But why?

Because I did once see a carousel like the ones in this book.  I was about eight, and the sight was magical. Now, I appreciate the art and craft that went into creation of these pieces, the devotion and the extravagance. They could have been built cheaply. They weren’t.  And that is a wonder that persists to this day.

The Illustrated Lark Rise to Candleford

You have to be careful to get the right version  of Lark Rise. The full name is The Illustrated Lark Rise to Candleford: A Trilogy by Flora Thompson (Bracken Books, London, 1983).  These  autobiographical tales of rural English life were published originally in 1939. Flora Thompson was born in 1878 and raised in poverty. One of her teachers called her a dunce.

But why?

Because Flora Thompson was not a dunce. She was brilliantly observant from an early age. The stories are crystal clear and are loving without being sentimental. The jacket copy calls Lark Rise “a gentle masterpiece.” That’s fair.

Here is one of many illustrations from Lark Rise: