images-1                                      By Beth Wareham

(With thanks to feminist biographer Oline Ealon for the title.) 

I have a thing for Arthur Miller. Yup, “Attention must be paid!” Arthur Miller, Mr. Death of a Salesman himself. I can’t explain this crush; his glasses were too large. He was from Harlem, seemed like he knew gangsters, talked like a tough guy, WAS a tough guy and wrote great plays. His creative leap between Joe McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee and the Salem Witch trials in The Crucible was breathtaking. His appearance in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee more so.

His wife, Marilyn Monroe, was by his side as he testified. I never really did see what he saw in her. Not really. All pouty wet lips and whispers. Seemed to me that Arthur would like somebody who pushed back, somebody hyper-real.

Marilyn was all pink bubbles to me, impossible to visualize as the wife of a man like Miller, until, that is, I read about the 430 books catalogued in her library at her death. (Thanks,

Holy moly.


The list is long and strange and exciting. Zola, Proust and Moliere lived with Harold Robbins (The Carpetbaggers, one of my favorites.) The poetry section was huge, as were books of prayer and spirituality. Goodness Has Nothing to Do with It by Mae West sat by Minister of Death: The Adolf Eichmann Story by Quentin Reynolds. She read many plays as well as the ancients: Lucretius, Plato, Aristotle. I list below the books that Marilyn owned and read that I owned and read and loved. And if you don’t love her for her taste in literature, you’ll love her for another title in her library: Pet Turtles by Julien Bronson.

That Marilyn, she had it all.

(Click on title to buy book.)

1. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Lady Brett Ashley, love triangles, and the running of the bulls in between the great wars in Europe.

2. The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell
Four books, written between 1957 and 1960, exploring modern love in the ancient city of Alexandria, Egypt.

3. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
You know of this beautifully written book about the sad man with all the money: it’s America.

4. From Russia with Love by Ian Fleming
There was good reason James Bond went to film. You’ll find out why here.

5. The Fall by Albert Camus
Jean Paul Sartre’s great frenemy leaves us guessing with The Fall, his most challenging, mysterious work. Camus was in the Resistance against the Nazis, Sartre was not. Rancor ruled.

6. Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson
Here are the joys, secrets and strangeness of a small American town in the hands of a master.

7. The Little Engine That Could by Platt and Monk
Who couldn’t use a little “I think I can” everyday of their life. Her copy had a childlike MM scrawled on it and no doubt took the 36-year journey through life with her.

8. My Antonia by Willa Cather
Willa Cather’s cornflower blue eyes saw it all, including this story of one kind of love turning into another.

9. The Collected Short Stories of Dorothy Parker
From the woman who said, “what fresh hell is this?” Dorothy Parker’s sharp tongue and command of language never cease to amaze.

10. The New Joy of Cooking by Irma Rombauer and Marion Rombauer*
A huge all-purpose cookbook, this is America at the supper table with Irma at the head, issuing orders in her no-nonsense voice. Marilyn used the 1952 edition, no doubt.

*This was long before I edited an edition of this book. Marilyn clipped recipes, wrote notes in the margins of cookbooks and cooked. I wish she’d marked her favorites.

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by Beth Wareham

This title is utter nonsense aimed at “I need to write another blog list.” There are no rules of organization in writing. Actually, there aren’t as many rules as you’d think in writing. There are just writers without the talent to break the rules and make it work. The rule breakers who make it work are usually called “geniuses.”

When writing a book of any length, it is easy to get lost in plot, idea, side discussion, subplot. Don’t get lost in anything. Your job as the writer is to DRIVE:

1. At the end of each day’s writing, make notes of what you want to accomplish the next day. That’s what Hemingway did and I’m just passing it along. It sure worked for him.

2. Make extensive notes about character and stick to your own rules. Don’t let a character slip out of voice or contradict their earlier appearance. Be consistent.

3. Books have a beginning, middle and end. Don’t forget to write an ending. (See Donna Tartt’s second book, The Little Friend)

4. Always have your reader in your mind’s eye. Describe him or her to yourself and pin that description where you can see it as you work. That’s who you are trying to reach with every word you choose. If you start selecting words to show off your big vocabulary, you’ve missed the whole point of writing.

5. Know your own focus. If it takes you a long time to get back into the story after the doorbell rings, go write in a completely silent place. Give your talent the right environment to thrive.

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imagesWriting short. Hemingway could do it.   Proust could not.   Brendan Gill could fit the world in a 300 word New Yorker architecture piece

 Sometimes it is just a matter of space:  If you have a lot, you put more words in. People feel this way about the decoration of rooms as well. It’s a shame.  Like silence, people are frightened of space.

One has big hopes the internet will rein in certain prose;  hypergraphia  be gone! Practice your new art of writing short on @twitter: those 140 characters are a mighty wall.

Writing short is the misty lair of poets. They know something about silence and space and power. They understand less is more. When poets write novels, the result is usually spectacular; they know the right word.  There’s no room in a poem for the wrong one.

 After a difficult day, people say, “Go home. Get in bed. Eat bonbons. Read some trash.” Why read trash?  Trash – literally and metaphorically – is what you’ve been grappling with all day. Don’t wallow in more mediocrity. Treat yourself way better than that. The food should be healthy, the reading very good.  Sheet thread counts matter, but that’s another discussion.

 Get out of your head and your life. Some of the books below are novellas and there is a short story or two. Doesn’t matter. They are the same thing: great art.  These pre-bed reads may be just the thing to erase the trashy memories of the day and reattach your wings:

  1. The Death of Ivan Iylich by Leo Tolstoy – Nearing the end of Romanticism (1800 – 1850, more or less, and easily identifiable by swoons, stolen kisses and heaving bosoms), Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Iylich’s 128 pages electrify. In this blasé-toned bomb of a little book, Tolstoy takes us through   the death of a mediocre government worker (he’s middle-aged and has a freakish accident with the drapes) who never once considered his own ending.  Heartbreaking and as real as it gets, this is one great instruction manual on how not to live. Everyone knows an Ivan; he may be working in the next cubicle right now.

 2. The Stranger by Albert Camus – Nobody had really encountered the likes of Camus before (and often called him an “existentialist,” much to the confusion of him and Jean Paul Sartre, that movement’s Buddha), and his work generated many a coffeehouse debate in the middle of the 20th century. Every intellectual sought to understand this cool Algerian thinker, labeled “absurdist” by those who make labels.   He won a Nobel Prize in 1957 and this little 123-page book shows you why: in one violent moment, Camus shows the impossibility of truly knowing what drives humans to do what they do.


   3. Memories of His Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – Known for opening lines that blow your skirt up, this 130-page trip to the top of the mountain begins with “the year I turned 90, I wanted to give myself the gift of a night of wild love with an adolescent virgin.”  The New York Times wrote the line off to Marquez and his love of playing with time, but there is something else here the Times would never spot: the unending well of strange magnificent love that flows through every Marquez book. Love makes time it’s bitch over and over as Marquez proves he was one great magician.

4. The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac – Once you get over Kristen Stewart being cast in On the Road, give Jack another go. Wild and sexual, The Subterraneans follows the breakup of Leo and Mardou through the smoke rooms  and back alleys of San Francisco on the edge of the 1960s. In this wild 111-page ride, you’ll read some of the greatest sentences ever written about modern America. You’ll also feel San Francisco when it was the heart of counterculture, not computer corporations.

 5. The Awakening by Kate Chopin – In today’s world of undulating booty, it’s hard to imagine an American culture where women’s sexuality constituted the bars of her prison. But that is Edna’s – and every woman’s lot in 1899. Set in and around New Orleans, Chopin’s character is isolated physically and emotionally until she has an affair, a very dangerous pursuit for a 19th Century woman. The book’s original title was A Solitary Soul. Pretty much says it all.

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