Art

Books Are Signposts Along the Way

The novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, is a series of stories linked together in the small town of Macondo in South America. It is surrounded by a swamp and thus is known for its isolation.

One day the town was infected by a plague that causes insomnia. The people of the town were not unhappy at first because it meant there was more time to get things done. But there was more to this plague. In addition to insomnia, they began to lose their memory. Marquez called it the loss of “the name and notion of things.”

They countered these symptoms by writing names on things or pinning signs to them. You would walk around the town and see the words clock, chair, dog, wall, and so on. But they were afraid they would forget the purpose of the items. So they would write longer and more elaborate signs with instructions. For example, this is what was looped around the neck of the cow: “This is the cow. She must be milked every morning so that she will produce milk, and the milk must be boiled in order to be mixed with coffee to make coffee and milk.”

This literary exploration of collective amnesia made me think of the purpose of writing books and publishing in general. Writing is a thankless task during the process. But the finished work is a “signpost,” a place of memory or experience. A place where a traveler can go, sit for a while, and later move to another signpost having been affected by their previous reading. Without these books, our society would forget where we came from and where we should be going.

In a small way each book being written, whether for entertainment, education, or inspiration, is a signpost. A stopping place with a set goal of direction. When driving you see signs: “Stop,” “Yield,” “Slow, children crossing,” “No parking,” and more. But even something as simple as the roadside mile marker tells us that we are one step closer to our destination.

Bear with me for a moment and think of the “signs” we find in Scripture. Ones that point to greater things to come (emphasis added):

“I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth” (Genesis 9:12-14).

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:13-15).

“And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger”
(Luke 2:11-13).

Think about the sign that your book is creating. Signs like “Hope,” “Love,” “Redemption,” “Joy,” “Lament,” “Restoration,” “Create,” or “Beauty.” Make your sign unique and one that makes a reader stop and sit a while.

[Unfortunately, while writing this, the 1971 hit song “Signs” by The Five Man Electrical Band kept playing in my mind. (https://bit.ly/3zXnIlO)]

Your Turn

What is written on the “sign” for your book (fiction or nonfiction)? It can be a single word or two or a phrase up to six words (short enough to remember).

[This is a revised version of a post from December 2012.]

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The Story We Bring to the Story

by Steve Laube

With all the discussion about the craft of fiction and the need to write a great story there is one thing missing in the equation. The one thing that is the secret to great fiction. And it is the one thing the writer cannot control.

That one thing is the story the reader brings with them to their reading experience. As a reader I have the life I have lived, the people I’ve met, the books I’ve read, and the places I’ve been that I bring with me into the world your novel has created. This makes the reading of every story unique. No two people can read the same story the same way. This is why one person’s favorite book is another’s thrift store giveaway.

In the new memoir The End of Your Life Book Club author Will Schwable writes about the books he read with his Mom during the last years of her life. In his introduction he wrote something profound:

We all have  a lot more to read than we can read and a lot more to do than we can do. Still, one of the things I learned from Mom is this: Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying. I will never be able to read my mother’s favorite books without thinking of her—and when I pass them on and recommend them, I’ll know that some of what made her goes with them; that some of my mother will live on in those readers, readers who may be inspired to love the way she loved and do their own version of what she did in the world.

This is the secret to the greatest novels of all time. They were written in such a way that my story, the essence of who I am, merged with that story and it became something new. Something unique. Something inexplicable. A new story. And then became a part of who I am…and a part what I bring to the next story I read.

That’s the story I want to read. Can you write it? I can’t wait to read it.

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Book of the Month – March 2021

I like to occasionally recommend a book on the writing life. Art + Faith by Makoto Fujimura (Yale University Press) is one you might enjoy. The author is a well-known painter and frequently speaks and writes on the intersection of art and faith. In 2009 Crossway publishing commissioned him to …

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Fun Fridays – November 9, 2018

Today’s video is designed to make you think more deeply about art. Especially the intentionality of great art. Understanding the use of light and shadow, which directs your eye when looking at art, can help you view book-cover design in a new way. Bad cover designs make you look at …

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Writing Thoughtful Books

There has always been a hierarchy in fiction distinguishing “literary” from “popular” books, with lines drawn between both topics and reading levels.  Authors of each are different, somewhat like actors who work on stage versus those who work on screen. Comparisons of literary vs. popular and stage vs. screen are often done …

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Write Like Jazz

Years ago, I was helping a friend brainstorm and outline a book, and at some point in the course of our conversation about writing, I said, “Writing is like jazz.” Both of us were jazz aficionados, so the phrase was apt, and it stuck. He has reminded me of it …

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Real Life is Edgy

A major topic of discussion among writers of all types of Christian books is the issue of how far is too far when showing someone’s life before they surrendered to Christ, and how real you show their journey of sanctification once they exit the broad road. It’s called the “edge.” …

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Lyrics as Literature

I normally steer away from controversial topics in this blog but the announcement that Bob Dylan, the popular musician, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature gave me pause. My first thought was “What?” To place Dylan alongside previous Nobel laureates like Solzhenitsyn, Steinbeck, Kipling, Hemingway, Camus, Faulkner, T.S. Eliot, and Churchill? …

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The Work of a Cover Designer

We have all heard the phrase “a book is judged by its cover.” And it is true. We all do it. Even when the cover is as small as a postage stamp in an online bookstore. It is the first impression of what’s inside. Rarely will you buy the book after you’ve read …

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Five Dollar Words

“Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.” – Mark Twain One of my daughters is an Arts and Visual Technology major, so of course she has to read articles about art. Here are a few sentences from an eight-page article, “Modernist Painting” by Clement Greenburg. The …

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