Sunday, January 19, 2014


By Bonnie Stanard

This morning as I was eating cereal and reading an article in The New York Review of Books, it came to me that one reason to write arises from reading what somebody else has written.

I had been reading a review of biographies of former president Dwight D. Eisenhower in which his handling of international politics was contrasted with that of his successors. Every president since Eisenhower has ignored traditional military art. That is to say they have merited the idea of a partial victory (an oxymoron). According to the article, our military leaders “promise quick victories with little pain” resulting in exploits such as Kennedy’s attempt to overthrow Castro and his sending “advisors” to Viet Nam. Dabbling in conflicts or sending small contingencies of combat troops into hostile territory is anathema to Eisenhower’s credo that war is an all-or-nothing game.

Reviewer Thomas Powers put forth simple and fundamental ideas which rang true. My reaction was to get an email off to my sons and friends, to broadcast my reaction to this information, to make my thoughts on it known.

Years ago when I read the diary of Thomas Chaplin, I began a literary journey that resulted in three novels, something I never anticipated. From my experience of sharing Chaplin's life—his toothache, his boat in a storm, his fields of cotton, his fight at the agriculture society—arose the character of Tilmon Goodwyn, who began to take shape as a man who considered himself a good person. The slave girl Kedzie appeared to prove him wrong.

Writers get inspired by the works of other writers. Owen Wister’s The Virginian inspired The Log of a Cowboy by Andy Adams. Sometimes that inspiration takes on a life of its own resulting in books written in response to another. Literary allusion, or writing that throws light on other writing, has been around since the Bible. Homer’s Odyssey has spawned numerous literary works such as James Joyce’s Ulysses, Atwood’s Siren Song, as well as poems by such as Walcott and Tennyson. More recently Michael Cunningham used Virginia Wolf’s Mrs. Dalloway as a springboard to write The Hours, which was made into a successful movie.

I guess my point is that success breeds success. Good books give rise to more good books. But you have to read them first.

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