Sunday, December 8, 2013


The destruction of Los Angeles streetcars, in favor of buses, automobiles and freeways. 1956


Here is Charles McGrath today in the New York Times where he is a contributing writer, speaking to his craft as one of the judges of The National Book Award for fiction:

"So you do the best you can. You don’t skim exactly, but you race, driving your eyes across the page, in the process forgoing much of the ordinary pleasure of reading. I sometimes thought of it as chain-sawing through books, tearing into them, grinding them up, leaving a wake of fluttering pages and bits of binding. Maybe that’s why my retina ripped.

Do you need to read the entire book to know whether it’s prize-worthy? No, to be honest. But you do need to read enough to be sure you haven’t missed something, and even then you feel guilty, worried that just a few pages farther on there’s a passage that might have changed your mind."

Imagine a writer reading this and responding: "Do you have to write the entire book to know it is finished? No, to be honest."


I'm afraid we are already there.


I'm going out now before it snows to hang up some holiday lights around the Back Road Chalkboard. If I'm Charles McGrath I'll string the over 100 feet of extension cord from the house out to the rural roadside and of course I will skim, race, and forego much of the ordinary pleasure of stringing out colorful lights. I might even use my chain saw. Anything to get through the job and into some other form of racing.


I might even be too busy to connect the extension cords for the whole thing to work.


I dunno.


"Flagpole Wedding" Coshocton, Ohio, 1946
photograph by Allan Grant