Monday, September 18, 2017

Answers to Questions About Favorite Books

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

           Last week I had just come across a delightful book, a perfect gift for a reader or a writer, entitled I’d Rather Be Reading: A Library of Art for Book Lovers by Guinevere de la Mare.

As I noted, the artwork is mostly fun and colorful. The accompanying text consists of clever slogans, book-related poetry, and essays including “Cheating” by Ann Patchett, which included a list of interview questions about her favorite books. Her essay first appeared on her blog “Musings” which appears on the Parnassus Books web site, her bookstore. To see Ann Patchett’s answers, you will need to visit her blog or buy this book.

Here are my answers although I didn’t confine myself to the rules and I added a list of my favorite books about writers and writing as this blog is about writing. Since many of my favorite books were included in other questions, listing 25 more at the end was fun. I reviewed many of these books under Reads for Writers, Writing Book Recommendations, essays, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and some by author if you want more information.

Name your 25 favorite books about writers and writing.

A New Kind of Country by Dorothy Gilman

Backpack Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, and Writing by XJ Kennedy and Dana Gioia

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott

The Book on Writing: The Ultimate Guide to Writing Well by Paula LaRocque (Also, Championship Writing)

The Elements of Eloquence: Secrets of the Perfect Turn of Phrase by Mark Forsyth

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence by William Kenower (Also, Writing Within Yourself—An Author’s Companion)

For Writers Only: Inspiring Thoughts on the Exquisite Pain and Heady Joy of the Writing Life, From Great Practitioners by Sophy Burnham

Handling the Truth: On Writing Memoirs by Beth Kephart

Invisible Ink: A Practical Guide to Building Stories That Resonate by Brian McDonald (Also The Golden Theme)

The Little Black Book of Writers’ Wisdom edited by Steven D. Price

My Writer’s Life by Ellen Gilchrist

On Conan Doyle by Michael Dirda

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life by Julia Cameron

Six Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure edited by Larry Smith, founder of Smith Magazine

The Soul of Creative Writing by Richard Goodman

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield

The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling by Charles Johnson

Winter: Notes from Montana by Rick Bass

The Writer’s Devotional by Amy Peters

The Writer’s Home Companion by Joan Bolker, Ed.D.

Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg

Zen and the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity by Ray Bradbury


Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus

The Synonym Finder by J. I. Rodale

What are you reading now?

I read multiple books at a time. Right now: The Long Way Home by Louise Penny (10th book in murder mystery series); Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld; Books for Living: Some Thoughts on Reading, Reflecting, and Embracing Life by Will Schwalbe; and born bright: a young girl’s journey from nothing to something in america by c. nicole mason. Still working on summer reading list, Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes by Michael Sims; Dialogue: The Art of Verbal Action for the Page, Stage, and Screen by Robert McKee; and Grief Cottage by Gail Godwin.

What was your favorite children’s book? Why?

I can’t pick just one. Harold and the Purple Crayon (and all the Harold books) by Crockett Johnson—adventures and solutions all through a writing instrument, great book for future writers; The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney—a tight-knit family faces adversity cheerfully as well as with the help of a German shepherd which is why I now have two of my own; the 199-page novel A Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith (NOT the children’s picture book)—always loved dogs and this has the happiest ending ever for a dog lover; and The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster—such a clever use of language as well as teaching life lessons. None were new when I first read them. They are classics.

What book do you most often reread? Why?

I reread these four books the most: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert Pirsig—made me consider how I see the world. Each time I reread it I reconsider how I see the world. (Also, the sequel Lila.); Running From Safety by Richard Bach—trust yourself! Be who you were meant to be; Reflections on the Art of Living: A Joseph Campbell Companion selected and edited by Diane K. Osbon—discusses many of the myths, ideas, and beliefs in the world and what we have in common and what we can learn; and all of Robert Fulghum’s humorous and thoughtful essays about life—they make me laugh and cry, especially It Was on Fire When I Lay Down On It (pp. 9-15), Uh Oh, Maybe, Maybe Not, and True Love: Stories Told To and By the Author. Having a bad day? Read one of Fulghum’s books.

What book would you want with you on a desert island? Why?

Blue Pastures by Mary Oliver. I can remember the plots of my favorite books so I could replay them in my mind. Mary Oliver’s prose and poetry would make me think and remember and write—because I wouldn’t be on a desert island without notebooks and pens! I would also want the complete works of Henry David Thoreau as I would be without society.

What book would you recommend to a friend? Why?

It depends on the friend. I guess he/she would have to choose one from all that I have listed in the other questions, especially the next one.

What is your favorite biography? Why?

I read more memoirs than biographies. My favorite would be Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell about her best friend, Caroline Knapp, who died at 42. Both writers, Caldwell captures the essence of friendship and loss so beautifully I’m tearing up as I write this. I recommend it to everyone.

What is your favorite holiday book? Why?

The Sweet Smell of Christmas (a scented storybook) by Patrica M. Scarry. More than anything else, aromas bring memories rushing back. This story about a little bear is delightful as is the hot chocolate, peppermint, and orange scents (and more) in the book which I first read as a child. I’m glad it’s still in print as the scratch and sniff patches don’t last as long as the book.

What is your favorite summer read? Why?

The Girl of the Limberlost by Gene Stratton Porter. It was my grandmother’s favorite. I read her copy and remember the discussions we had about the characters and the spring and summer wilderness settings as my grandmother was a botanist.  

What is your favorite mystery? Why?

Almost any book by Agatha Christie as well as the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny who has won five Agatha awards. They both have deep insights into how humans think and why they commit murder—that frightens me more than the actual mystery.

What book did you think made a better movie than it did a book? Why?

Hasn’t happened yet for me.

What book most influenced your life? Why?

Many have influenced me in different and important ways—so the four I listed under books I reread for a start.
Most important was Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg as it started me on the path to my writing/editing career with her guideline to fill a spiral notebook every month without fail. I wrote regularly and met the deadline—best training for a writer. When I became an intern on staff at the magazines where I’m now the editor, I was ready to write articles on short deadlines as I had no fear of a blank page.

What is your favorite classic?

Again, can’t pick just one. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, and the Emily series by L. M. Montgomery (Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily’s Quest) all about a young girl who wants to be a writer.

What is your favorite coffee-table book?

Our Home, Too by Schim Schimmel. I love his artwork. Also, The Life & Love of Dogs by Lewis Blackwell given to me by my dad, a fellow German shepherd owner, and one every dog owner will love.

Name your 25 favorite books on top of the ones listed above.


At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy (unforgettable)

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking and every other book written by Malcolm Gladwell

Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day and every other book written by Diane Ackerman

Drawing on the Right Side of the Brian by Betty Edwards (Also, What Really Matters? with Tony Schwartz)

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett



The I-Team series by Pamela Clare

The Last Enemy by Pauline Baird Jones (thriller) (Also, The Spy Who Kissed Me—funny)

Smooth Talking Stranger by Lisa Kleypas


The Digital Fortress by Dan Brown

The In Death series by JD Robb  (PLEASE NOTE: Adult themes & graphic violence)

(Don’t forget The Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny from my answers above.)


Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie (Also, Fast Women)

Dying to Please by Linda Howard

The Wallflower series by Lisa Kleypas


The Dresden series by Jim Butcher

The Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs


Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader by Anne Fadiman

The Quiet Center: Women Reflecting on Life’s Passages from the Pages of Victoria Magazine, Katherine Ball Ross, Editor

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage (includes “The Getaway Car” an essay about how the author became a writer) by Ann Patchett. (The title refers to one essay. It is not the theme of the essays.)

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Life and Love from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed


Poems by Billy Collins

Poems by Mary Oliver

Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World by Jane Hirshfield


Confessions of a Closet Master Baker: A Memoir—One Woman's Sweet Journey from Unhappy Hollywood Executive to Contented Country Baker by Gesine Bullock-Prado. While the original title seems more true to the author's outlook, it's been repackaged as My Life from Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting Over One Cake at a Time. Take note: the recipes cover more than cakes and the text tells wonderful stories from her childhood and life with her mother and her sister, actress Sandra Bullock.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Questions About Favorite Books

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

           I just came across a delightful book, a perfect gift for a reader or a writer, entitled I’d Rather Be Reading: A Library of Art for Book Lovers by Guinevere de la Mare. The artwork is mostly fun and colorful. The accompanying text consists of clever slogans, book-related poetry, and essays including “Cheating” by Ann Patchett on page 53.

          Ms. Patchett wrote her essay about the questions asked by an Australian reporter for an interview to appear in a newspaper. It first appeared on her blog “Musings” which appears on the Parnassus Books web site, her bookstore.

          Any reader will love the questions so I will list them here.

Name your 25 favorite books.

What are you reading now?

What was your favorite children’s book? Why?

What book do you most often reread? Why?

What book would you want with you on a desert island? Why?

What book would you recommend to a friend? Why?

What is your favorite biography? Why?

What is your favorite holiday book? Why?

What is your favorite summer read? Why?

What is your favorite mystery? Why?

What book did you think made a better movie than it did a book? Why?

What book most influenced your life? Why?

What is your favorite classic?

What is your favorite coffee-table book?

          To see Ann Patchett’s answers, you will need to visit her blog or buy this book.

          To see my answers, read my next post as I found the questions too late to answer them this week.

          In the meantime, have fun answering them yourself.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Will I Ever Learn?

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          August was a tough month for writing. I had visitors. I went on a trip. I had my usual professional writing deadlines. However, I still managed to fill my notebook for the month.

What I didn’t have time for was counting all the words. Takes a lot of time when you wait until the end of the month instead of counting them each day. Also, it’s tiring when I put off writing three pages a day which means I then have to write eight or ten or more pages a day during the last week of the month.

Procrastination is not a good habit.

I manage to fight it well when I have to meet a paying or public consumption deadline, but filling a notebook a month is neither—just a goal I set for myself.

Some days filling the notebook is effortless. I have an idea. I jot it down and expand upon it.

Other days I don’t have any ideas so I write observations about the weather, upcoming deadlines, even To-Do Lists, but, if I keep writing, eventually something pops.

One day I got an idea. I expanded on it for a couple more days and thought I was done. But three days later as I was just scribbling, I got a huge idea to add to the one from almost a week ago. The subconscious is a beautiful thing!

If I didn’t fill a notebook a month, would I have had the first idea? Maybe. But I am positive that I would not have had the really big idea if I hadn’t pondered for days about the first one.

Filling a notebook a month takes time, but the payoff in the end is huge:

Keeps my writing muscles (brain and body) nimble;

I can face a blank page without fear;

I write faster, too;

All ideas are written down for future reference;

Even bigger/better ideas show up in this welcoming space; and

Meeting deadlines is a fabulous feeling.

Also, I love seeing full notebooks pile up on shelves in my office. They are physical proof I’m a writer since so many of my assignments fly out of my office via the internet.

I will continue meeting this goal every month. Maybe someday I will learn never to procrastinate!

Monday, August 28, 2017

Celebrating 5th Anniversary

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I cannot believe I’ve written a blog for five years. I’m so grateful Cheryl and I started it as it’s the best writing assignment ever.

          As I wrote on the first anniversary:

“If you want to be a writer or you are a writer, start a blog. Do it today. It's not difficult—and it is one of the best gifts you will ever give to yourself! I recommend following the easy step-by-step instructions in Publishing a Blog with Blogger (second edition) by Elizabeth Castro and the encouraging text of Are you There Blog, It's Me Writer by Kristen Lamb.

Start with a weekly post. That's not intimidating. A committed deadline motivates me like nothing else.

I recommend limiting yourself to a maximum word count like 500 per post. Again, that's not intimidating. However, it is fun work to make all the points on a given topic in that tight word count. You will be forced to stretch your vocabulary, but it will make you a better writer. However, as many famous writers have noted, it takes longer to write shorter.

Then share your thoughts on topics you love: books, authors--anything that inspires you. Since every writer has a different process, write about yours.

Writing this blog has meant I read more, too. I want to recommend writing books to encourage other writers. Also, I am always on the lookout for well written books to share with our blog readers. Writers can learn from authors even in genres we don't normally read.

Blogging has added so much to my life. I write more often. I write about topics and books I love. Writing about the things that make me happy, makes me even happier.

And when tragic and sad things occurred this past year, I had my blog to keep me writing in spite of the pain and anger. It is too easy to put writing aside for another day or week or year. I committed to Cheryl and this blog that I would publish a weekly post by midnight each Monday and I only missed that goal once by a few minutes due to technical difficulties (a frozen notebook). I take great pride in meeting my deadlines which is why I am so motivated by this blog.

I have written 53 posts now. I hope to write hundreds, even thousands more. Now that is intimidating as I cannot think of thousands of topics off the top of my head, but once a week I expect something to spark my imagination and inspire a post. That's all it takes to be a blogger. Now you know how to be a blogger, too!” ( from post on 9/2/13)

The pressure of this blog’s deadline pulled words out of me. I’ve now written 210 posts including some of my favorite pieces ever. I’ve loved writing reviews in the categories Reads for Writers and Masterclasses. I’ve loved sharing Personal Writing Class ideas. I’ve loved sharing my writing and, hopefully, inspiring others to write through my posts.

          I hope to write 210 more.

          Thanks for reading this blog!

Monday, August 21, 2017


From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I’m always looking for a new topic to cover in my blog. Yesterday I decided on ekphrasis—writing inspired by art. I read about a Poetry & Art show based on this.

I’ve decided to pick a piece of art and write about it this week. I’m not sure if I will pick a favorite piece or something brand new. I like looking at something familiar with fresh eyes, but something new should really shake me up. I believe I will be inspired when I see the “right” piece.

If this sounds like fun, join me on assignment!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Reads for Writers: Award-winning and Bestselling Author Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache Series

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          I discovered Louise Penny and her mystery books on the CBS Sunday Morning TV program a few weeks ago. If you like Agatha Christie, you will enjoy Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series that begins with Still Life. To date, there are twelve books in the series.

New York Time's bestselling author Louise Penny has won five Agatha Awards. She certainly has Christie’s ability to see into the hearts and minds of murderers. I have lost count of the universally true Insightful Asides I have underlined while reading about the murders in Three Pines, a small Canadian village near the US border.

“It [Three Pines] had croissants and cafĂ© au lait. It had steak frites and The New York Times. It had a bakery, a bistro, a B. & B., a general store. It had great joy and great sadness and the ability to accept both and be content. It had companionship and kindness. (page 12 in A Fatal Grace, book 2).

Sounds like an idyllic place to live—except for the murders.

Here are a few of my favorite Insightful Asides from the series:

“His [Brother Albert] theory is that life is loss,” said Myrna [bookstore owner] after a moment. “Loss of parents, loss of loves, loss of jobs. So we have to find a higher meaning in our lives than these things and people. Otherwise we’ll lose ourselves.” (page 138 in Still Life, book 1)

“…Murder was deeply human, the murdered and the murderer. To describe the murderer as a monstrosity, a grotesque, was to give him an unfair advantage. No. Murderers were human, and at the root of each murder was an emotion. Warped, no doubt. Twisted and ugly. But an emotion. And one so powerful it had driven a man to make a ghost.” (Chief Inspector Gamache on page 154 of A Fatal Affair, book 2)

“Accepting murder meant accepting there was a murderer. Among them. Close. Someone in that room, almost certainly. One of those smiling, laughing, familiar faces hid thoughts so vile they had to kill.” (Clara Morrow on page 66 of The Cruelest Month, book 3)

“There are four statements that lead to wisdom…You need to learn to say: I don’t know. I’m sorry. I need help and I was wrong.” (Chief Inspector Gamache on page 130 in The Cruelest Month.)

“Hazel Smyth had been off to the funeral home…It was like being kidnapped and taken into a world of hushed words and sympathy for something she couldn’t yet believe had happened.” (page 144 of The Cruelest Month)

“…He saw all the Morrows, trudging along, chained together, weighed down by expectation, disapproval, secrets. Need. Greed. And hate. After years of investigating murders Chief Inspector Gamache knew one thing about hate. It bound you forever to the person you hated. Murder wasn’t committed out of hate, it was done as a terrible act of freedom. To finally rid yourself of the burden.” (page 205 in A Rule Against Murder, book 4)

“Grief was dagger-shaped and sharp and pointed inward. It was made of fresh loss and old sorrow.” (Inspector Gamache on page 262 in A Rule Against Murder)

          Poetry plays a big role in Louise Penny’s books and in her writing. Chief Inspector Gamache reads and quotes poems in these books and there is a poet who lives in Three Pines.

          Louise Penny thinks reading poetry is essential for writers. As she states in her Acknowledgments on page ix of The Brutal Telling (book 5):

…I actually need to thank the wonderful poets who’ve allowed me to use their works and words. I adore poetry, as you can tell. Indeed it inspires me—with words and emotions. I tell aspiring writers to read poetry, which I think for them is often the literary equivalent of being told to eat Brussels sprouts. They’re none too enthusiastic. But what a shame if a writer doesn’t at least try to find poems that speak to him or her. Poets manage to get into a couplet what I struggle to achieve in an entire book.

          I, too, think poetry is essential as does author Ray Bradbury. See posts dated March 9, 2015; March 21, 2016; and April 4, 2016.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Summer Dream Vacation

From Kate’s Writing Crate…

          If I could plan a summer vacation just for me, it would be a nine-day staycation of nothing but reading.

I’d sort out books I can’t wait to read and stack them in my reading nook.

          Every morning, I would choose a book on my way to breakfast. I’d read while crunching on toast. When finished, I would lounge on the couch or the deck depending on the heat and humidity or rain while turning pages at a steady pace with a cool drink of sweet tea on the table.

          I would read though all my meals—so many books to get through—and I would end the uninterrupted days reading in bed. I’d finish two or three books a day as I’m a fast reader.

          I would also jot in my notebook and even write a bit when inspired, but, mostly, I would just read.

          I know this is an impossible dream as there are other people to consider and other things that need doing—feed and walk the dogs, cook, laundry, etc.—but a reader can dream.