New Feature: Do the Gute!

I draw a lot of inspiration from other books, especially ones that have gathered mold in the libraries of the world. The reason being, seriously, that all writers basically get their ideas from other books, but the further back you go, the more original you seem. Write a knock off of Twilight, and you’ll make eyes roll across the literary agencies of America. Write a knock off of Varney the Vampire, and you’ll look like a genius. Even if you get found out, because you’re going back to roots and stuff. Besides, you’ve done your homework, and everyone respects that.

I also just like the way books used to be written. I know the prose ran a little purple, but what’s not to love about this?

The solemn tones of an old cathedral clock have announced midnight—the air is thick and heavy—a strange, death like stillness pervades all nature.

It’s been a long time since anyone other than David Foster Wallace (RIP) went into the first sentence of a book thinking, OK, my main concern here isn’t that people will lose interest, but that they won’t be completely awed by my ability to write a sentence. So I’m going to write the hell out of the first sentence. No, at some point we all decided (as writers and as readers) that writing the hell out of a sentence was bad, and that curt, hard-hitting factual sentences were much better. Ones that tell the reader…

My mother drove me to the airport with the windows rolled down.

…and continue in that vein so that even a description of “gloomy, ominpresent shade” — a fragment with promise — comes too late to save what is a brisk, modern style of adverbless, unmetaphorical narration.

So maybe back then, prose ran purple. Now it runs clear. And I prefer purple to clear. We’re all told by jutting-jawed writing coaches to scratch every non-essential word, to leave nothing but the nouniest nouns and the verbiest verbs, and it’s been a long sad while since a stately cathedral clock has been allowed to peal, with sufficient narrative gravity, the opening of a spooky novel.

So there’s that, and the novelty of digging deeper than last year’s bestseller list for inspiration, and then there’s this:

Old books are free.

You can read them all for nothing. Or practically nothing, depending on your preferences.

For example, I’ve discovered that the Kindle store will have just about any classic for free or a buck or two. And a lot of times you can get the complete works of somebody or another for the same price as a single volume. I just downloaded everything by Washington Irving for a few bucks, for example. Other e-readers have free downloads.

Or you can get the $1.00 – $2.00 Dover Thrift Editions — I love those guys.

Or you can “Do the Gute!” I know, it sounds like something beer-swilling frat boys dare each other to do, but I just mean repair to Project Gutenberg and peruse their archives. Read online or print off what you want to read. There’s so much good stuff there. Not just the stories and novels, mind you, but little gems like this.

And of course, your public library doesn’t have a terribly long waiting list for anything that’s been out for over a 100 years, right?

To promote/celebrate the great literature in the public domain, I am going to start an occasional (I hope, monthly) feature where I’ll link to and write a bit about some public domain text(s) I’ve recently enjoyed. But not right now, I have to get back to Varney and find out what happens.

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