A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)

Blink and you’ll miss this as it’s unfairly not often enough in best-ever lists.

Maybe that’s because the usual suspects like War and PeaceDon Quixote and yadda yadda yadda have been loitering longer. (Sphincter fix: a humble 77 jostling 151 and whopping 415 years.)

Join little girl Francie with her brother, mama and papa in the astonishing poverty of Brooklyn at the turn of the last century.

It’s tempting to skip through what they were eating, but pause and reflect on this before your next meal.

Continue reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (1943)

Pearls are a Nuisance by Raymond Chandler (1950)

Sticking with Chandler’s style for a few short posts.

Here’s the story’s hero trying to be tough and in control but it not working very well. One’s got to smile.

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The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler (1944)

If you prodded me in the chest and said, ‘Off the top of your balding head, name a writer that makes you frisky when it comes to style.’

I’d say, ‘Trick of the light. Chandler.’

The magical thing about Chandler’s style is you can’t really unpick how he does it. Gotta keep trying, though.

There are some obvious touches like word economy and timing, but you still can’t explain how that rabbit – or the smile on your face – came to be there.

I think I might’ve wised up to a couple of wee wows, though. So turn up your collar, glance over your shoulder, and lean in…

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Any Human Heart by William Boyd (2002)

It’s no picnic writing a journal. One that has style, anyways.

Cripes, is it easier to write your own or a fictional one? That’s a good two-pinter for the pub. When they open again.

Meantime, there’s probably only one style that works. Boyd’s honest approach.

The recipe: some exciting bits. But mostly humdrum.

And there you have it. Stuff any human heart – or spirit – can relate to. 

Sex (I’m being honest, okay – it’s the first thing that came into my head), booze (I’m still being honest, okay – it’s the second thing that came into my head), marmite on toast (I’m…), love, arguments, laughter, sadness, joy, aging and death. 

Oh, and good and bad luck. And, erm, compromise. And bullshit. We’re all in on all of these.

In the book, Boyd’s journal writer Logan Mountstuart shows us how to write a journal, with a style tip along the way.

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