During the youth of my writing,  I warmly remember the place W. Somerset Maugham’s short stories played in my education as a fledgling writer. I Googled his name recently, searching for one of his short stories that was going to be the meat of this blog’s nut. The story itself wasn’t that important to me. In fact, I don’t recall the storyline. Only an incident tucked away in it stayed aloft in my memory over a span of fifty years, leaving the rest to evaporate.

The short story is entitled, “The Book Bag.” and the exact quote that inspired my mind to carry its baggaged idea for lo those fifty years I’ve transcribed below:

“Some people read for instruction, which is praiseworthy, and some for pleasure, which is innocent, but not a few read from habit, and I suppose that this is neither innocent or praiseworthy. Of that lamentable company am I. Conversation after a time bores me, games tire me and my own thoughts, which we are told are the unfailing resource of a sensible man, have a tendency to run dry. Then I fly to my book as the opium-smoker to his pipe.”

Mr. Maugham was a world traveler, and as that fragment of his short story went on to explain, whatever the book he flew to, he plucked it from his bookbag.

He was never without it.

I picture Mr. Maugham, waiting for his cab while poring over the books he would take with him on this particular journey. He had to choose thoughtfully, based on his journey’s length, his current interest, his mood.

Like Mr. Maugham, we all have our bookbags … in a matter of speaking. Likewise, we all have our journeys, at least in the lovely world of metaphor.

And that is the subject of this blog.


I’ve got my bookbag of favorites I’d love to share with you, and my hope is you will share yours with me in your comments. (Later, I shall compile them in another post.)

First a little housekeeping. I’m struck immediately by the difference between my bookbag and Mr. Maugham’s. I’m speaking of the physical conveyor of the books, the bag itself.

If our peripatetic 19th century author somehow journeyed into our generation, he likely would carry his entire library with him. Unless he was one of those purists living among us (God Love ‘em, one and all!), who has an emotional connection with the physicality of the book in his/her lap, who would orgasm over the sight of a well-constructed book’s spine … Mr. Maugham would own a Kindle.

Personally, I haven’t purchased a dog-ear-able, loanable-when-finished, book in years, unless it was not available in electronic print.

I love my Kindle. I especially love my Kindle For PC,  since I have no life on the other side of my computer. (But that’s a story for another post.)

One last bit of housekeeping before I compile my list for you: I believe, if Mr. Maugham lived among us, his Kindle library would be a couple of thousand books. Before he would even climb into his taxi-cab, he’d have called the Kindle representative, asking for an electronic method to organize his books, so he could pluck perhaps ten from the thousands to keep separate in—well, in his electronic bookbag, if you will, on his Kindle.

There should be such a system in Kindle. Dear reader, if you know of one, please save me a call to my Kindle representative in the Philippines. I need to know.


And now, the contents of my bookbag. (My mind’s drawn to Dylan Thomas’ lines from his short story, A Child’s Christmas in Wales: “… I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.”)

As Dylan plunged his hand in the snow, I plunge mine into my bookbag, and out comes “The William Saroyan Reader.”


A novelist, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, and a short story writer of the finest caliber, William Saroyan is one whose words jolt you like the first cup of coffee in the morning. I go to him when my own writing has become insipid and contrived.

As A Word of Warning … One can get lost in the flow of Saroyan’s sentences, the rhythm of his often-convoluted syntax—and therein lies his danger to me. I can so steep myself in his charm that, for days afterwards, my writing reads like a second-rate Saroyan. I remind myself to use him only as a tonic. Ah, but just a few of his paragraphs—what a tasty libation tossed against my dry palate.


This next book, I can announce with utter confidence, should be in EVERY WRITER’S bookbag. I’ve read it, cover-to-cover, three times since I bought it, a year-and-a-half ago.

Dang git! Already, you caught me in a lie. I haven’t read it. Even once. You see, along with the download from Amazon, I purchased the Audio-Book version. Every morning during my one-hour exercise on my Gazelle (think elliptical), I listened to “The Art of X-ray Reading,” by Roy Peter Clark. His rambling subtitle is “How the Secret of 25 Great works of Literature Will Improve Your Writing.”

At the end of each chapter, Mr. Clark inserts a summary of the major points, called “Writing Lessons.”

If you were my ward, I would grab you by the scruff of your neck, and in my gruffest Clint Eastwood whisper urge, “YOU MUST get this book.” (In my own voice, I would suggest the Audio, as well). If you’re still not convinced, sample the written version on Amazon. Glance at the table of contents, read what few pages they allow you.


If you’re like me, you always have the critic, leering over your shoulder, whispering in your ear, “How stupidly you write.”

And OH! Do you listen to him!

Well, at least I do … or did.

Probably a dozen years ago, Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones,”  fell into my hands at the right time. It taught me to develop faith in the unconscious mind to guide my writing.

How do you develop such faith? In the simplest terms, by writing fast—so fast that you’re mind’s not being interrupted by the critic. Ms. Goldberg explains it all so elegantly that this book and its sequel, “Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s life,”  became instant classics.

I have so many more books in my bookbag I’d love to share with you, but alas! I’ve already been too chatty, and used up today’s space allotment.

Until next time … let me hear of your favorites, ho-kay?

13 thoughts on “THE BOOK BAG

  1. Taking into consideration I didn’t learn how to read until the seventh grade, my book bag is not as impressive as yours. The one book I recall capturing my love and enthusiasm was, Watership Down. I was confined to bed after a difficult surgery and it was on the shelf beside my bed and the easiest to reach. I cried when I finished it because i was not ready for it to end. I also remember wanting to become a writer the moment I closed the book and put it back on the shelf. It would be years before i red Shakespeare and I am proud to say I actually finished Moby Dick. I have to add humor is my favorite emotion and I envy your ability to make people laugh. Now that’s a talent I would do just about anything to have. I can say that since I have actually done just about everything you or anyone could imagine.

    1. Sasha, you are so richly accommodating with your list. You actually read Moby Dick? Front to back. In the book by Brown (X-ray vision) he spends a lot of time with the symbolism of Moby Dick. Now I know I must read him (though I’ll opt for the audio book version). If you’ve never downloaded an audio book, you don’t know what you’re missing, Sasha. I’ve started James Joyce’s, Ulysses probably 5 times, but never got past the 3rd chapter. I bought the audio, and I’ve “listened” to it twice. And since I’m exercising daily, it’s like reading an hour’s-worth of words.

      THank you, thank you, thank you, dear Sasha. So is “Watership Down” your selection? Or Moby Dick, as well?

    1. Oh, my goodness, Sarah, but you gave me an idea. You keep their attention while I stuff three of my books in each of their bags. Lol, thank you so much. By the way, I sent you a personal Twitter message. Have you had a chance to read it? You are wonderful!

  2. “Conversation after a time bores me, games tire me and my own thoughts, which we are told are the unfailing resource of a sensible man, have a tendency to run dry. Then I fly to my book as the opium-smoker to his pipe”, I relate to these lines a lot.
    I don’t exactly remember when I started reading, but books have always been my favorite companion. In my book bag there are varied books.
    Started with Enid Blyton, then Shakespeare, O Henry (love his stories), Somerset Maughm (love them too). The one book I have read a lot of times, the first time being in my seventh grade is – Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mocking Bird”. “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett was another book that haunted me for months after I read it. William Dalrymple’s writing interests me, so does Dominique Lapierre. I also liked Bill Bryson’s “Thunderbolt Kid” and “A Short History Of Nearly Everything”. Gavin de Becker’s “The Gift Of Fear”, Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes” and so much more…

    1. I don’t know what became of my rather lengthy response to your lovely comment. Just know I applaud you for commenting in such a lavish fashion. It will be part of my compilation in another post. By the way, in the x-ray reader book, Mr. Brown does a fine exegesis of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Thanks again, for your lavish comment. Now lets see what happens when I push “reply”.

  3. Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death.

  4. Did you not get my comment yesterday? It was bit lengthy, but I commented on your erudition and keeping great literary company with Saroyan, Maughm, Thomas, and Peters… Me, I came back with a ‘Book Bag’ filled with John D. MacDonald’s ‘Travis McGee’ books (21 in all) – each title of the thin paperbacks had a color, and, for me, they were glorious reads… I also mentioned my love for the English Romantic Poets – Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Shelley, Keats, Coleridge (they were ‘my etchings’, if you get my ‘drift’! I also carried in my ‘Book Bag’ the ‘Naturalists Writers’ in American Literature: Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris, Stephen Crane, Jack London, et al…
    Now, you better get this comment, or, FIX your site! -: ) — Durn it! and Dagnabbit! ♥

    1. Billy Ray, now what happened to MY lengthy response to your comments. Particularly John D. MacDonald, whose series provided my hours of enjoyment, then years of study. My Character, Noah Winter was patterned after Travis McGee. I’ll use your bookbag choices to fatten my next post. Thanks, Billy Ray. I’m hoping this will stick.

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