Booknotes: Favorite Writing How-to Books Part 2

Last month, I began this series to share various books I have found helpful for my own writing practice. As I wrote in that first post, these are not necessarily all traditional writing how-to books. However, they do all deal with the art and craft of writing in some way or another. This month, I am sharing three letter collections: Chekhov, Sylvia Townsend Warner and William Maxwell, and Vincent Van Gogh. If you have followed my blog over the years, you will know that I am a big fan of letter collections, especially those by writers and artists. It is, of course, a dying art nowadays, where social media has replaced both letters and emails.


The Siesta [After Millet] by Vincent van Gogh

From exactly 2 years ago, here’s one of my favorite essays on Vincent van Gogh and one of his works that has hung on my bedroom wall for decades now.


Siesta-VVGVan Gogh was a relentless and consummate practitioner of his art, sacrificing much for it, as ongoing myth, legend, gossip and research inform us. A chief approach of his was to do “translations” of the works of other artists whom he admired the most. We say “translated” because he did not just copy their works. Rather, he created his own versions of them and, particularly, experimented differently with the interplay of color and light. However, for the most part, he stayed true to all the still life details of the original compositions.

One of those influential and revered artists was Jean-François Millet, well-known for his realist / naturalist paintings and, above all, portraits of working peasants. Millet made the so-called “peasant genre” mainstream by showing them as the focal points and main subjects of his works rather than as peripheral embellishments.

During van Gogh’s voluntary asylum period in…

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the element of lavishness

Booknotes: The Element of Lavishness

"The personal correspondence of writers feeds on left-over energy. There is also the element of lavishness, of enjoying the fact that they are throwing away one of their better efforts, for the chances of any given letter’s surviving is fifty-fifty, at most. And there is the element of confidence -- of the relaxed backhand stroke that can place the ball anywhere that it pleases the writer have it go."