100 Great Books

If you want to breathe out, you need to breathe in. If you want to write, you need to read. I’m always on the lookout for good recommendations on what book to pick up next. This one is pretty fascinating: a list of the “100 best reads” from the last quarter-century. Albeit compiled by the editors of Entertainment Weekly (not who you’d necessarily consider the nation’s prime arbiter of literary taste), it’s a meaty list, and not a bad source for building your own “books I really need to read” list. I was pleased to note my favorite novel of all time on the list: A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving (1989). Here are a few other of my favorite novels that appear on the EW list: The Road, Cormac McCarthy (2006) American Pastoral, Philip Roth (1997) Mystic River, Dennis Lehane (2001) Cold Mountain, Charles Frazier (1997) As well as several nonfiction books that I loved: On Writing, Stephen King (2000) The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2000 The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2005) My agent, Margret McBride, and her delightful husband, Nevins, just recommended I read Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry (1985). Yep, there it is, #24. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman (the only thing of his I haven’t yet read). The Kite Runner, The Interpreter of Maladies, The Remains of the Day, Love in the Time of Cholera, Rabbit at Rest, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao—all of these titles are on my shelves, but I just haven’t gotten to them yet. (Note to self: get to them.) Eventually I’ll compile my own “top 100 books of...

The Value of Nothing

Yesterday was my birthday: I celebrated by not writing anything. For a writer, spending time not writing is precious, in the same way that cleaning out your closets helps grow your wardrobe and having earthworms in your garden helps the soil bring forth plants. It’s the aeration that comes from introducing emptiness. Empty space is one of the greatest secrets of all creative endeavor, and the one that most readily divides wannabes from masters. The value of white space in page layout; of silence in music; of understatement in rhetoric; and of knowing when the greatest eloquence lies in not saying anything at all. I think of Jack Benny and Johnny Carson, of Peter Falk as Columbo, of the peculiar genius of Steven Wright — all masters of the pause. In traditional churches, mosques and synagogues there are these vast empty spaces above our heads — extra space, someone once said, “to leave room for God.” In the same way, the silence of listening makes room for another person, and the conscious pause in action leaves room for inspiration. Blaise Pascal, writing during the generation of Isaac Newton, when the science of Europe was just beginning to grasp the vastness of the universe, wrote, “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.” I think of these infinite spaces as a pool from which one may sip when the brain and heart become parched from too much...