Tag Archives: writers

The Road

Nearly every American hungers to move.

– John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

Dear readers, last week I finally got to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine – I took a cross-country road trip. From crossing the Mississippi to seeing the Grand Canyon to driving right up to the Pacific, some part of me has always been pulled westward. Now I’ve been around the country before, but never “properly” – this time two of my oldest friends and I did it right. Attention to travel results in not getting much reading done. The advantage of that was it gave me time to reflect, as many of my idols had done before me, on the beauty and expansiveness of our country, and what it means to seek the freedom of the open road. This post, as a result, is about the books that led me to this trip.

Travels with CharleyJohn Steinbeck

Steinbeck is my man. Not only did he write the greatest American novel of all time (East of Eden, natch), he also wrote what is in my opinion the definitive travel book. Perhaps it’s because of my admiration for the writer, I find Steinbeck’s ramblings about America with his poodle companion highly engaging. It’s not always optimistic, and not always smooth, but his travels feel incredibly relative – impressive considering he is a deteriorating man of 58 at the beginning of his journey. Mostly, Steinbeck’s reasons for exploration are admirable, he wishes to view the country again because he feels out of touch with it, that he has been writing about an America he no longer understands. Relative, indeed.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle MaintenanceRobert M. Pirsig

Love it or hate it, Persig created a definitive road trip read with this work. It’s also responsible for a group of people still being familiar with the term “chautauqua”. I’m torn about this book, but it does serve as a good travel book, as well as an introductory philosophy book. Pirsig is a smart dude, but I find myself not relating to his world views (is someone being too rational a fault?). To each their own, we all find something different on the road.

On the RoadJack Kerouac

Ah, Kerouac. Friends are oft-surprised when I tell them I’m not a huge Keroauc guy, but it’s mostly because I never got On the Road like some others claimed to. It certainly didn’t change my life, but what is infectious about it is the search. That drive and lust for adventure is romantic, no matter the consequences.

Friends, I guess my point is this: these are great writers and thinkers who wrote wonderful books about traveling, but they aren’t necessarily “travel writers” (nothing against the genre of writers that includes Paul Theroux and Bill Bryson, who are wonderful in their own respect). Instead, they were inspired to write by how they lived, and it’s a characteristic I think all writers should carry. Travel this country, then try to put it into words – it’s where some greatness lies. In fact, this may just be a truth I believe we all should live by – do a little traveling, and see if you can find the words to describe it.

Big names such as McMurtry, Hunter S. Thompson, Hemingway, Orwell, Huxley, and Mark Twain have all tried in their own way to describe their time traveling, here or abroad, but those names should not intimidate future writers from creating their own adventures. In my opinion, the best book about American travel has yet to be written. Perhaps it is something we struggle to describe, I know I’ve had a hard time expressing just how important this trip was to me. What do you think, dear readers? Is there a book, or an author, I’ve foolishly omitted? Am I wrong in my short-sighted opinions about travel writers? Post below for interactive fun!

– Tony


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Today is the third day of National Novel Writing Month (or, as it’s commonly abbreviated, NaNoWriMo).  This annual event began in 1999, with 21 participants.  Last year over 165,000 people entered, and over 30,000 “won” by writing 50,000 words in 30 days. 

The real point of this high-speed writing contest is not to write well, but to write a lot.  That may sound counterintuitive, but in many cases it’s the writer’s own perfectionism that kills a book before it’s even written.  Instead of “editing as you go” (which often means “not putting down a word of prose unless you are sure it’s deathless”), NaNoWriMo forces the writer to finish a first draft, even if it’s awful, and save the editing for later. 

If you’re intrigued, there’s a ton of information (and inspiration) on the NaNoWriMo website.  Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, has also written No Plot? No Problem!  A Low-Stress, High-Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days.  But if this particular challenge is not for you, the library can help you develop your own.

Does a month sound like too much pressure?  Want a little bit more time?  Try A Novel In A Year: From First Page to Last in 52 Weeks  by Louise Doughty, or This Year You Write Your Novel by Walter Mosley.  No matter how long it takes, Donna Levin can help you Get That Novel Started! (And Keep It Going ‘Til You Finish)

If your next thought was, “where am I going to find time to participate?” you might want to read The Nighttime Novelist: Finish Your Novel in Your Spare Time by Joseph Bates.  And once you get that far, you might want to pick up The Weekend Novelist Rewrites the Novel: A Step-By-Step Guide to Perfecting Your Work by Robert J. Ray.  (But no cheating!  Keep that internal editor quiet until you really, really need it.) 

If you’re interested in writing a specific type of genre fiction, there are plenty of books that can help.  For example, try How to Write a Damn Good Mystery by James N. Frey, The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction by James Alexander Thom, How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card, or On Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel That Sells by Leigh Michaels.

These books are really just starting points; the library’s collection on writing is huge.  Does anyone else out there have experience with NaNoWriMo, or with writing in general?  Can you recommend any writing guides that have been particularly helpful?



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20 Sundays of Pittsburgh Writers

This coming Sunday marks the 20th installment of the Sunday Poetry & Reading Series (which falls on the Winter Solstice this month).  In the lifetime of the series so far, more than 30 poets and writers–nearly all of them from Pittsburgh–have graced the microphone and ears in the Quiet Reading Room

Our next featured writer, Angele Ellis, reads this Sunday, December 21st at 2:oo pm.  Angele Ellis is the author of Arab on Radar, described in Pittsburgh City Paper as “invitingly angular verse…at once passionate and slyly funny,” and a 2008 recipient of a fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.

In celebration of these past featured writers and in anticipation of the many fine words to come, here’s some weekend leisure reading: selections from SP&RS guests either on the noble shelves of the library or in their nooks and haunts on the web.  Enjoy!


date featured

Nikki Allen, poetry

May 20, 2007



Jessica Fenlon, poetry

September 16, 2007

Jim Daniels, poetry

October 21, 2007

Kristofer Collins, poetry

November 18, 2007

Hodgepodge Society, humor

January 20, 2008

Toi Derricotte, poetry

March 16, 2008

Brandon Som, poetry

April 20, 2008



Terrance Hayes, poetry

May 18, 2008

Sophie Klahr, poetry

June 15, 2008

Typewriter Girls, poetry cabaret

July 20, 2008

Jan Beatty, poetry

October 19. 2008


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