Epigrams and Building Blocks

“Collect books, for as ye stow, so shall ye read.”  

EpigramThis is the new motto of Circle City Books. I started thinking about epigrams several weeks ago when a woodworker happened by, peddling free-standing sandwich-board signs. I bought one put it on the sidewalk in front of the store. On one side I put in chalk “Open Eight Days a Week,” and on the other I have been rotating what I hope are amusing epigrams that relate in some way to books. I started with paraphrasing Oscar Wilde: “Cheap editions of great books are preferable to cheap editions of great men.” After a week or so, I turned to Mark Twain: “Beware of health books; you might die of a misprint.” And then, “No wonder truth is stranger than fiction; truth has to make sense.” These elicited the desired smiles often enough, but I have really been longing for something that I could make the store’s trademark. And I didn’t think it very inspired to steal someone else’s thought.  So when a momentary brain wave spiked and out came “…for as ye stow…,” I was pleased that I could put something original on my sign. But I expected, when I Googled those words, I would find countless iterations of the same idea dotting the Internet universe. Instead, my search came up empty. I still doubt I am the first to coble those words together, but at least it isn’t already the marketing campaign for some plastic container company, or an encyclopedia publisher. Now that it has been on my sign for a week or so, I have been enjoying the benefits of amusing passersby. And you would be surprised how many people ask how I could possibly be open eight days a week.

David Drake Pays a Visit

On the subject of original writing, we had an author reading last Saturday featuring the science fiction/fantasy novelist David Drake. Drake wrote his first military science fiction novel in 1982 and it, along with the rest of that series, has never gone out of print. He has many devoted fans among lovers of that genre, and some turned out for the reading, peppering him with questions afterward about his writing process. He likened his writing to the Tennessee Ernie Ford hit song “Sixteen Tons,” which described a day in the coal mine, at the end of which a miner was expected to have moved 16 tons of coal. At the end of Drake’s day he said he expected to have moved 1500 words from his imagination to the page. This is how in 30 or so years, he’s managed to move 50-plus books into print. When viewed that way, the writing process seems somewhat lacking in inspiration; but let’s face it inspiration is a fleeting spark; it takes blood and sweat to get work done. I remember reading that Hemingway always wrote standing up, as if writing were too demanding to be done in a position of physical relaxation, like sitting. And Maya Angelou says that writing is so physically demanding that she needs a second shower by noon. Susan Sontag likened writing to athletics, requiring daily training. But one of Henry Miller’s commandments for writers was “Don’t be a draught-horse – write only for pleasure.” So I don’t know. It was fun to hear David Drake describe his process, even if for him writing was just verbal bricklaying. As for me, last week I wrote one sentence, one commercial epigram, and didn’t break a sweat.