Good writing alert

I admire Jacques Barzun’s thinking, and have read many of his books. I admire his writing even more, and his Simple & Direct: A Rhetoric for Writers is the best book I’ve read on writing (and thinking!) clearly.

So it was a pleasure to stumble across this essay by Helen Hazen on how Jacques Barzun, while literary adviser to Charles Scribner’s Sons, turned her into a writer by asking her to expand her one and only published essay into a book. What’s especially delightful is that Barzun did his job well—the essay is brimming with essential details on how to write, presented carefully and clearly, yet with all the warmth of a memoir, managing to bring Barzun to life as a writer, thinker, teacher, and friend.

Please, if you want to write and are struggling with the technical end of it, take the time to read this essay. It is quite encouraging, and you’ll likely learn a few helpful things.

Best. Obituary. Ever.

Really, take the time to read the whole thing:

Harry Weathersby Stamps, ladies’ man, foodie, natty dresser, and accomplished traveler, died on Saturday, March 9, 2013.

Harry was locally sourcing his food years before chefs in California starting using cilantro and arugula (both of which he hated). For his signature bacon and tomato sandwich, he procured 100% all white Bunny Bread from Georgia, Blue Plate mayonnaise from New Orleans, Sauer’s black pepper from Virginia, home grown tomatoes from outside Oxford, and Tennessee’s Benton bacon from his bacon-of-the-month subscription. As a point of pride, he purported to remember every meal he had eaten in his 80 years of life.

The women in his life were numerous. He particularly fancied smart women. He loved his mom Wilma Hartzog (deceased), who with the help of her sisters and cousins in New Hebron reared Harry after his father Walter’s death when Harry was 12. He worshipped his older sister Lynn Stamps Garner (deceased), a character in her own right, and her daughter Lynda Lightsey of Hattiesburg. He married his main squeeze Ann Moore, a home economics teacher, almost 50 years ago, with whom they had two girls Amanda Lewis of Dallas, and Alison of Starkville. He taught them to fish, to select a quality hammer, to love nature, and to just be thankful. He took great pride in stocking their tool boxes. One of his regrets was not seeing his girl, Hillary Clinton, elected President.


It only took nine months since they were moved, but tonight I unboxed my office books. It was partly because I needed the space where the boxes sat, and partly because I had finally put up shelves to capture and organize the million little bits and pieces that otherwise end up on random flat surfaces.

There weren’t that many to unpack. Certainly no more than 200. When we moved last May I went through the thousands of books I had put into basement storage years back, and donated 95% of those to the local library. Then I went through my office bookshelves and culled more than half of those. I spared the living room shelves, which held (and currently hold) our farming and agrarian books. And I didn’t even think of touching the homeschool library upstairs. But of the books I deliberately weighed keeping, fewer than 200 made the cut.

I didn’t mention the culling at the time because the death-of-print fuss was at its height, and I didn’t want to irritate any friends who are devoted to their physical libraries. I think that has died down now, enough for me to reveal that I have no attachment at all to books as physical objects, and am happy to obtain my reading as I need it—and grateful it’s so easy to do that these days, using my Kindle or the Frankfort library or paying $4 for some bookseller to mail it to me.

It was interesting to be reminded of what made the 200-book cut:

  • Most of my books on writing
  • Books on folk and country music: history, biography
  • Books on the music business
  • A stack of books on simple living, research for a book I may still write
  • All 34 of my Jacques Ellul books
  • All 5 of my Dietrich Bonhoeffer books
  • 4 of my Christopher Lasch books (I hope the others are around somewhere)
  • A few computer books, mostly for nostalgia
  • A small selection of books that I think are profound

To these I added the ten or so books I’ve bought since we moved. I will still sometimes buy a physical book (used) if I can’t find a cheap/free ebook version or a copy at the library. But most of my reading these days is done on the Kindle.