New Read: Words Still Count

Words Still Count With Me: A Chronicle of Literary Conversations by Herbert Mitgang is a book I picked up at a thrifty kind of store in Payson, Arizona last summer. My mom laughed as she witnessed the finding of a hoard first-hand.

words still count cover with pop tarts
Nothing like a Pop-Tart Snack and a new book!

Used bookstores are great, but the ultimate is finding a pile of books all pell-mell in the corner of a thrift or junk store. You never know what you’ll find, and you probably won’t pay much. I combed through them (casually) looking for interesting titles and made a pile. I took eight dusty books up the register and the owner said, “Hmm… how about $14?” I replied with “Sold!” This was one of them. I bet you can guess why I grabbed this one!

Any book about writers, writing, or about other books is going to be a treasure, in my opinion. This one is about writers. A series of short interviews with (then) living writers by a “literary reporter” published in 1995. I didn’t even know “literary reporter” was a thing!

Cracking it open I see two pages of authors listed in the contents and this book isn’t very long. These are going to be short interviews. Fun. The book is nearly thirty years old. Many of the authors interviewed here are long gone from this reality, including the reporter/writer. I wonder how much of the book would be different if it were written now.

From the introduction written by Herbert Mitgang,

“Any serious author might say: Instead of trying to read me, read my books – find me there.”

I could say the same thing, even though I wouldn’t call myself a serious anything. A big part of my “real” self, my more inward thinking, without the sheen of social anxiety, is here on this blog. People that read this know me better than people that occasionally meet me in person to ask a few questions… not that that’s ever happened.

“Going over these conversations, I was happy to discover that no simple coda – other than a compelling desire to write truthfully and well – emerged from the work of the most dedicated authors.”

Every single one of us is different. We all get there our own way, to say what we feel compelled to say. That’s encouraging.

I quoted this one on my Instagram account:

“Scott Fitzgerald said that the beauty of literature was the discovery that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone.”

As I scrolled a bit down my Instagram feed, I felt the same way about it as I do my books. Every time I think that I’m wasting my time there, that there are better things to do with my moments, I remember all the warm-fuzzy feelings I’ve had there. Many of the accounts I follow have changed my life for the better, not in the same way personal connection does, but in that subtle way that a good book can. Spread all over this wide world, there are millions just like me. I find the same comfort in reading my fellow bloggers.

Mitgang continues in the introduction about his interview process. This bit reminded me of my Podcast Roundup notes.

“After an half hour of listening and talking in Italian, French, and a smattering of English, I raced back to my trusty Remington portable, without talking to anyone, and wrote three or four pages of impressionistic notes.”

When I’m listening in the car, I jot down a word or two, maybe a time stamp of when I heard it in the episode. When I arrive at my destination, I try to sit a moment, read what I have, and expand on it a bit before I go in and start my visit or shopping. If I don’t, I won’t know what any of those scribbles mean.

“Transcribe your written notes (or mental notes) as soon as possible after the interview, while your impressions are still fresh.”

And that’s exactly what I try to do. The next day, I sit with those notes and write them out into a word file that eventually becomes (at least) the next Podcast Roundup. If I’m loving what’s happening there, I’ll add more, or bring it into another essay in the future. At least, that’s what I hope to do, but it doesn’t always work. Sometimes the distractions are too much. I lose focus, get frustrated, and then walk away from it for a while.

Sometimes the information is lost to time, and that’s no big deal since I’m not interviewing live people. I only wasted my time, not someone else’s. The podcast, book, article, or movie doesn’t mind at all.

Which brings me to one more point before I go. Interruptions and focus. I’ve been laughing (quite painfully at times) at ADHD memes this morning, and started to ruminate on them. Let’s just say… they hit a little close to home and made me think. But I’ll have to expand on THAT later because the laundry is done and I’m out of time today.

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