Great Writers (and me) on Writing

Tony - Writing

I have some great news for which I am very thankful.  I have accepted a position as a writing instructor at a local community college.  The course is called “Introduction to Academic Writing” and it is primarily designed to teach beginning students to construct well written, persuasive essays.

To make the most of this educational opportunity, however, I want to share my passion for writing as well as the mechanics of how to do it well.  To prepare, I have pulled out part of a post (below) I wrote on writing.

A bird doesn’t sing because it has an answer, it sings because it has a song. ― Maya Angelou

The primary purpose of good writing is not to fix a problem, but to make it more meaningful and beautiful to live in a world filled with problems.  This is one reason I don’t read more Charles Dickens and why I haven’t even started Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle.  I’m thinking more of fiction here, but even good non-fiction should steer clear of one-dimensional moralism if it is to be effective.  The song must be sung, not explained or advocated or shouted out.  Which leads to my next quote –

Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. Anton Chekhov

Again, while this is true for any writing, I find it especially true for songs and poems.  Don’t say you’re depressed because your girlfriend broke up with you and then go on for 500 words telling me the symptoms of your depression.  Pay a therapist to do that.  Instead,  paint a picture of your sadness, like John Prine in the chorus of  “The Blue Umbrella” –

Blue umbrella
rest upon my shoulder
hide the pain
while the rain
makes up my mind
well, my feet are wet
from thinking this thing over
and it’s been so long
since I felt the warm sunshine
just give me one good reason
and I promise I won’t ask you any more
just give me one extra season
so I can figure out the other four.

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. ― Mark TwainThe Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

Here is where I’m going to put in a plug for self-editing. I read a lot of blogs about writing and I notice that many writers mark their progress by their word count.  Some even set goals of writing 1,000 or 2,000 words a day (or some such amount).  I believe if your goal is good writing, you should lo0k instead at how many words you delete.  I knew of a college professor who set page limits to essays.  If you exceeded the number, he would rip off the extra pages, throw them away and write across the paper, “It seemed a little incomplete.  Try again.”  One right word yields far greater power than two (or three, or one hundred) wrong ones.

One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple. ― Jack KerouacThe Dharma Bums

I like this quote both for its humility and wisdom.  The truth is, we never really get it “right” in this writing life.  Becoming better writers should always be our goal for some distant “one day.”  The direction we should be headed to get there, however, clearly should not involve complex formulas but simple methods of telling it like it is better than we told it the last time, possibly even better than anyone has told it before

Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days. ― Flannery O’Connor

In terms of writing material, we have a lot within us into which we often fail to tap.  It’s true if you are writing on any subject, you should do good research and not just sit back in your writing chair (mine is a recliner) and write what is on your mind.  Still, if we just pay enough attention to our lives (and the world around us), we will have plenty to start writing every time.

In old days books were written by men of letters and read by the public. Nowadays books are written by the public and read by nobody. ― Oscar Wilde

What may have been witty hyperbole in Wilde’s day has become almost literal truth today.  I visit many blogs that have few (if any hits).  E-books are being published that sell almost no copies.  You can’t even give them away.  We could debate what is worthy to be read, but I believe three of my primary obligations as a writer are to read, read, read.  Read what others are writing on their blogs.  Read new books being published by known and unknown authors.  And then, to relax before bed, read (or listen to) the classics (including the Bible) to let my mind be refreshed by the gifted wordsmiths of days gone by.

What are your thoughts on writing?  What quote sums up what you believe most true for you as a writer?

Building Blogging Community by Featuring Followers II

I had so much fun and have received such a good early response to my previous post featuring seven of my blog followers, that I thought I’d feature seven more.  If the first post was a pot-luck, this is like going back for seconds.

To read more, visit my new blog address by clicking on the link below —

“Building Blogging Community by Featuring Followers II”

blogs

For Two Aspiring Writers

 ‘Tis the season for graduation parties and this weekend I’m going to two – one for my college roommate’s son Dan and one for my cousin Leah’s daughter Kelsi.

Interestingly, Dan and Kelsi share something very precious in common – their love of literature.  Dan is enrolled in a Ph. D. program in English at University of Louisville and Kelsi will be majoring in English at the University of Chicago.  Both of them aim to pursue a career in the field of publishing – writing, teaching, and editing.

As a graduation gift, I got Dan the book Bread in the Wilderness by Thomas Merton and I included this note –

Dan –

As a poet and folk singer who digs into the “roots” of the literary and musical trees, I thought a book on the Psalms would be an appropriate gift.  The Psalms, in addition to being inspired sacred literature, are simply beautiful poetic and musical expressions of love and longing, fear and anger, exile and homecoming.

The author of this book, Thomas Merton, was a Roman Catholic convert who became a monk at the Abbey of Gethsemani (not far from Louisville).  He wrote poetry and essays and became something of a spiritual guru for the bourgeoning hippie movement, as well as generations beyond.

I hope this book in some way inspires you to continue writing marvelously moving poetry and singing stories of beautifully flawed humanity.  You have a gift, Dan, and I pray you continue to put it to good use.

Sincerely,

Tony Roberts

P.S.  As an added treat, I thought I’d include a poem I heard at a reading in Bloomington.  The poet, Frank Montesonti, wrote it about teaching creative writing.

 

                         Piranha

 

I try to tell my students to use images:

                say, a piranha eating an apple

       or a piranha flying through the air

               and biting a woman’s jugular.

 

Maybe you could say that when the blood

sprays from the woman’s neck it looks like, hmm,

a red Chinese fan.

 

When I’m asked what a poem should be like,

I simply state the fact that a full-size cow can walk into a river

and a school of piranha can devour it in two minutes.

They work their way into the belly and eat out the soft organs.

Then the skin and head dance on top of the water.

 

Frank, do all our poems have to be about piranhas?

a student asks — the piranha.

 

No, no, not if you don’t want them to be about piranhas,

I tell her, of course

 

I really don’t see the point

of not writing about piranhas:

that moment when the water starts to break and pop

before the frenzy.

(“Piranha” is included in the book Blight, Blight, Ray of Hope)

image above “Graduation” from  Nina Perozzo in GradGather 

My Bipolar Book Buying and Borrowing Binge

The cutest man at a local bookstore

The past two days, I have been to three bookstores and two libraries and have, for a very reasonable price, bought and borrowed a good many books I’ll be reflecting on in “The Study” chapter of my spiritual memoir.  These include –

21 Essential American Short Stories (edited by Leslie M. Pockell).  This has the short story “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlott Perkins Gillman in it.  Gillman’s story depicts a woman’s descent into postpartum psychosis.  This was recommended by several readers.

Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes Saavedra (translated by Walter Starkie).  An all-time classic I read in college.  I bought this not so much to view Don Quixote’s visions as “delusions of grandeur” as to re-live the thrill of going to battle against windmill dragons with a faithful Sancho Panza by my side.

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen.  Kaysen describes her experience as 18-year old psychiatric patient at the famous McLean Hospital (where Sylvia Plath, Robert Lowell, James Taylor, and Ray Charles also received treatment).

The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester.  W.C. Minor submitted more than ten thousand definitions to the Oxford English Dictionary while he was an inmate at an asylum for the criminally insane.

The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters.  This oversized art book contains many of Van Gogh’s classic paintings as well as excerpts of his letters about them.

Dear Theo: The Autobiography of Vincent Van Gogh edited by Irving Stone. “These letters reveal… a desperate man whose quest for love became a flight into madness for whom every day was a ‘fight for life.'”

Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith.  “Naifeh and Smith have re-created Van Gogh’s life with an astounding vividness and psychological acuity that bring a completely new and sympathetic understanding to this unique artistic genius.”

Sylvia Plath: A Biography by Connie Ann Kirk.  In this slender volume, Kirk traces Plath’s productive yet turbulent life and career.

Sylvia Plath: The Wound and the Cure of Words by Steven Gould Axelrod.  I picked this up mainly because I loved the title.  The jacket liner describes it as a “biography of the imagination, an inner narrative of the poet’s life and work.

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath 1950-1962  edited by Karen V. Kukil.  This covers the period from when she was 18, until shortly before her death.

I’ve also ordered a used (first-edition) copy of Plath’s The Bell Jar, which should be in within a week.

I’ve managed to collect all these resources for around $50 (including the cost of gas.  Not bad.  (Now if I just had the room to store them.)

My plans are, in the next two weeks to read everything I can on Van Gogh and Plath and then compose three essays (one on each of them and one on Kay Redfield Jamison) by May 31.  Beyond that, I will steadily add one paragraph reviews of other resources to the “On the Shelf” section of “The Study”.

Again, thanks to all who have submitted recommendations for books, movies, stories, music, and art work depicting mental illness (especially Bip0lar).  If you think of more, keep them coming.  I plan to be working on this for some time.

(image above “The cutest man at a local bookstore” from Rachel Roy in Rachel’s Spain Travel Diary – Launch of RRR in Spain!)

Madness in Media

I’m currently working on “The Study” chapter of my book Delight in Disorder: Meditations of a Bipolar Mind in which I will reflect on a few books that have had a significant impact on my understanding of my mental illness.  I also plan to include an “On the Shelves” section in which I list more resources (literature, visual art, movies, music) worth further exploration.

This is where I could use your help.  Below I’ve listed some of the resources I will either review or list.  I’d love to hear your experience with “media-depicted madness”.  Have any of these works touched you, or do you know of other works I might explore?

Books

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison

Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen

Manic: A Memoir by Terri Cheney

Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic Depressive Illness  by Patty Duke

Madness: A Bipolar Life by Marya Hornbacher

Touched With Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison

Darkness is My Only Companion: A Christian Response to Mental Illness by Kathryn Greene-McCreight

Movies

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

The Dream Team

Benny & Joon

Shine

A Beautiful Mind

The Soloist

Music

Vincent (Starry Starry Night) – Don McLean

Visual Arts

“Scream”  – Edward Munch

“Vase with Twelve Sunflowers” – Vincent Van Gogh

“Spirit of the Dead Watching” – Paul Gaugin

 

What would you recommend?

 

(image above “Van Gogh’s Starry Starry Night” from Rae Leff in Art I love)

Flannery O’Connor: A Beautiful Mind in a Broken Body

Flannery O'Connor with one of her many beloved peacocks

Flannery O’Connor wrote some of the greatest short stories ever published.  Most of her writing life, she was confined to her family farm house, Andalusia, outside of Milledgeville, Georgia.  Yet, her stories reveal a vibrant moral and literary imagination unparalleled by much more travelled authors.

When I was struggling through the “rock-bottom” phase of my life, I read a number of contemporary novels which consumed my time and attention, but nothing lifted my spirit like The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O’Connor.  This charming, witty, spiritual, wise woman who wrote her last letter about a month after I was born spoke directly to me as she reflected on literature, art, God, partridges, and (only infrequently) her illness.

Her illness – the “thorn in her flesh” – was lupus.  It caused her excruciating pain and greatly hindered her productivity.  Yet, it did not rule her mind or her spirit.  She died as she lived – full of faith and hope and the promise of a better life to come.

In this afternoon’s mail, I received a copy of The Habit of Being and I’ve already started thumbing through its pages.  I thought I’d share a few choice quotes to give you a sense of this beautiful mind in a broken body –

I didn’t mean to suggest that science is unreliable, but only that we can’t judge God by the limits of our knowledge of natural things.  This is a fundamental difference in your belief and mine: I see God as all perfect, all complete, all powerful.  God is Love and I would not believe Love efficacious if I believed there were negative stages or imperfections in it.  (To “A” 15 September ’55)

I am learning to walk on crutches and I feel like a large stiff anthropoid ape who has no cause to be thinking of St. Thomas or Aristotle, however, you are making me more of a Thomist than I ever was before and an Aristotelian where I never was before.  I am one, of course, who believes that man is created in the image and likeness of God…  (To “A”, 24 September, ’55)

The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction.  I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail.  She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.  (To Maryat Lee, 31 May ’60)

I’m sorry the book [The Violent Bear It Away] didn’t come off for you but I think it is no wonder it didn’t since you see everything in terms of sex symbols, and in a way that would not enter my head -… Your criticism sounds to me as if you have read too many critical books and are too smart in an artificial, destructive, and very limited way.  (To William Sessions, 13 September ’60)

I asked the doctor if I could sit up at the electric typewriter and work.  You can work, says he, but you can’t exert yourself.  I haven’t quite figured this out yet; anyway, I am confined to these two rooms and the porch so far and ain’t allowed to wash the dishes. I guess that is exerting yourself where writing is officially not. (To “A”, 15 Sept ’55)

(photo above “Flannery O’Connor with one of her many beloved peacocks” from Kobo in Animal Muses)

A Response to Generational Sin in “Accidental Racist” (and elsewhere)

“The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.”  (Numbers 14:18)

The past several days, I’ve been reflecting on generational sin – in my own family and in the lives of others.  You can debate the theology that under-girds the reality, but it is hard to deny that certain damaging and destructive “predispositions”, “attitudes”, and “behaviors” are passed on from one generation to the next.

One man turns to alcohol, neglects his wife and children and becomes divorced and remarries.

His son pledges never to be like his father, yet uses marijuana to escape harsh realities, his wife divorces him and he engages in serial relationships (at the expense of his children).

This man’s daughter marries young, hoping to be cared for by a “father-figure” who ultimately abuses her, introduces her to illicit drugs and theft.  She is so afraid of losing companionship, she follows along.

This story, and others like it, could be my own – or yours.  It is a tragic reality for so many who battle addictions, abuse, and attitudes that de-humanize others (or themselves).

Racism is one of the generational sins that has been passed on for ages.  This morning I read a very compelling post called – “Accidental Empathy: An Open Letter to Brad Paisley and LL Cool J” by rodelina.  In it, she commends the song and its makers, but takes exception with one line –

“I try to put myself in your shoes, and that’s a good place to begin, but it ain’t like I can walk a mile in another man’s skin.”    -Brad Paisley,  Accidental Racist

Rodelina goes on to write (as if to Paisley)

Maybe you don’t have time to read much…

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

Maybe reading is the place where empathy is incubated. I know, for me, as a child reading about the lives of Laura IngallsJo MarchMax, and Pooh and Piglet, and that tree that loved so selflessly, I found myself taking their struggles and triumphs in and holding them like treasures. Scary beasts like the Grinch and Boo Radley somehow acquired three dimensions complete with hurt but beating hearts in the pages of the worlds in which brilliant authors had created for them.

I had kids of my own, and we’ve come to know others so unlike ourselves, and yet so deeply human-so much like ourselves, that our hearts seem melded to theirs as we have sat together reading aloud their stories. CassyFrodoJiroRalphTien PaoEstaban, and Buran, among a host of others, have shown us that while our geography, our faith, our politics, and our history may differ, the human heart is a thing worth treasuring and nurturing, regardless of the shell it in which it resides.

By reading quality literature as a child, I think an accidental empathy for people is developed, and I am watching that empathy arise in my own children. Whatever else they learn in our home, it is my hope that that empathy will under-gird their decisions, and help them become more human human-beings.

Reading great literature may not be the complete solution to resolving generational sin such as racism, but it is a tremendous start.  Rodalena offers a wealth of great characters and stories that inspire “accidental empathy”.  I would add to these such Biblical stories and characters such as Esther, Ruth, the Good Samaritan, and the Father of the Prodigal Son (just to name a few).

The Bible is so much more than a guilt-induced rule book to be avoided in order to achieve optimum mental health (as some would say).  It is, in addition to being God’s Word, a fantastic story book that can motivate us to do our best – in relationships with others and with God.  Through the ages, it has inspired authors as diverse as William Shakespeare, Fyodor Doestoevsky, Flannery O’Connor, and many others to produce volumes of more great literature which helps us better understand our humanity so we can respond in more Christ-like ways.

photo “Brad Paisley Defends ‘Accidental Racist’ Duet with LL Cool J”  from ExtraTV onto Extra! Extra!

Poor, Mizzling Souls in William Faulkner’s “Shingles for the Lord”

William Faulkner

Rather than do a review of what I found to be one of the finest short stories I’ve ever read, I think I’ll just give you a morsel to taste.  Hopefully, it will inspire you to read the rest.

Pap is late getting to the church.  He was late borrowing the froe from Killegrew, “a seventy-year-old man, with both feet and one knee, too, already in the grave”.  Killegrew had been squatting all night on a hill listening to a fox race (or trying to, since “he couldn’t even hear unless they had come right up onto the same log he was setting on and bayed into his ear trumpet.”

Reverend Whitfield was in no mood to hear excuses.

“You could have gone yesterday and borrowed the froe,” Whitfield said, “You have known for a month now that you had promised this one day out of a whole summer toward putting a roof on the house of God.”

Pap defends himself –

“We ain’t but two hours late,” pap said. “I reckon the Lord will forgive it.  He ain’t interested in time, nohow.  He’s interested in salvation.”

But the Reverend won’t be out-theologized –

“He ain’t interested in neither! Why should He be, when He owns them both? And why He should turn around for the poor, mizzling souls of men that can’t even borrow tools in time to replace the shingles on His church.  I don’t know either.”

Before getting to work, Pap argues with Homer and Salon about how many man-hours have been lost and how many units of work they had promised Whitfield.  Pap snaps back –

What modern ideas?… I didn’t know there was but one idea about work — until it is done, it ain’t done, and when it is done, it is.

They keep going at it about work and how Pap should have hired somebody to work “them extra overtime units”.  Pap says he “ain’t had no WPA experience in dickering over labor.”  Salon proposes that instead of paying cash, he could work a trade, “You might use that dog.” Pap stops in his tracks and looks over at Solon.  Pap didn’t own the hound outright, but had raised it for half-interest.

“So that’s it,” pap said.  “Them things wasn’t work units atall.  They was dog units.

Solon insists it is just a friendly offer – “You sell me your half of that trick overgrown fyce and I’ll finish these shingles.” Pap comes back with talk of six extra units of one dollars.  Solon says no, “I’ll pay you the same two dollars for your half of that dog that me and Tull agreed on for his half of it.”  Pap could bring back the dog tomorrow and forget all about the church roof.

Pap sets there with the maul up over his head, looking at Solon.  Then he begins to laugh.  And without warning, he brings the maul down, “the froe done already druv through the bolt and into the ground while the shingle was still whirling off the slap Solon across the shin.”

They go back at until it’s time to break for lunch.

Over lunch, they continue to negotiate work hours, dollars, and the hound dog, as well as the cost of the shingles.  Finally, Solon takes out his purse and pays pap the two dollars and they get to work, arguing about whether it would be possible for finish the job in a day.  Salon lays down his froe and maul and says –

Well, men, I don’t know what you fellars think, but I consider this a day.

Pap doesn’t skip a beat –

All right…  You are the one to decide when to quit, since whatever elbow units you consider are going to be shy tomorrow will be yourn.

Solon agrees –

That’s a fact, … and since I am giving a day and a half to the church instead of jest a day, like I started out doing, I reckon I better get on home and tend to a little of my own work.

to read more…. check out “Shingles for Lord” in Works by William Faulkner

photo of William Faulkner from Rob Lowell in Repetitive History~ good beauty, bad ugly, ebon ivory.

My Problems with Life Have Been Solved

Some of you know that my current work-in-progress is a short story called, “Life”.  It’s the first in a trilogy of shorts which includes “Liberty” and “The Pursuit of Happiness”.  I completed drafts of the latter two in less than a month but after six weeks (mainly staring at an empty screen), I have only one scene of “Life” completed.

So today, I went for some help.  I met with my friend George, once was my partner in literary crime (we produced a satirical newsletter called “Rude Dogma” our final year in seminary/graduate school).  Using his keen pastoral skills, astute literary sensibilities, and sharp ear for social critique, he was able to diagnose my problem with Life and set me on a course toward liberation.

What is the story of my “Life”, you ask?

Basically, it is the story of two high school sweethearts who reach a fork in the road.  He wants to get married.  She wants to go to college.  At an impasse, they basically go their separate ways.  The story follows her journey to IU (in the early 1960s) where she encounters the beginnings of a social-sexual revolution.  She is faced with choices she must make (and choices made for her) that lead to a point of crisis.

So, what is my problem with Life, you ask?

Well, I have several.

First, I am trying to anticipate the reaction of the readers (or viewers, if it becomes a screenplay) before I write the first draft.  I am imagining intense criticism, for instance, for pretending to know the perspective of a woman (in 1963, no less) as she makes very personal decisions about relationships, career, sex, etc…  Instead of being my own worst critic before anything is on the page, I need to first tell the story (or let the story tell itself).

Next, I’ve gotten bogged down doing the grinding (though somewhat necessary) work of research.  Yesterday I spent 5 hours reading past student newspapers at the IU library (and paid $26 for parking) and still only made it through less than one month.  George recommended I hop on “Netflix” and watch the series “Madmen”, which evidently accurately depicts the early 1960s in a very compelling way.  (This is one reason I like to keep George on retainer.  While I would just as soon move to Montana and write haiku for mountain goats, he stays engaged with culture.)

Finally, my characters are underdeveloped.  By providing an affirming yet credible critique of “Liberty”, George was able to help me see some things I can develop in “Life” so that the characters grow and emerge as distinct persons you may not always agree with,  but whom you want to get to know.

While I still have research to do (like watching “Madmen” and hopefully interviewing women who lived through the early 1960s), I believe I am ready to now sit down and write the story.  I’m setting a goal to write one scene a day (starting tomorrow), which should mean I would have a working draft by the end of next month.

Now I’m wondering, just what can I offer my good buddy George in exchange for his transforming literary therapy (apart from singing his praises in this blog post)?

……. I could click that annoying button that keeps popping up on my Facebook and send him a Starbucks gift card.  (But no, that feels impersonal and I’m on a tight budget.)

……. I could abandon my allegiance to the IU Hoosiers and start rooting for the UK Wildcats, possibly even sending a letter of protest to the NCAA for their exclusion from the tournament.  (But no, when I cut my veins I bleed crimson – not blue.  How anyone can bleed blue is beyond me.)

…… I could join the Xenia, Ohio Crane Operators Guild and wage a campaign to elect him “Sovereign Lord and Grand Pubah For Life”.  (But no, I’m essential apolitical and you probably have to have a job as a crane operator to join.)

I guess I’ll have to pray about it some more.  Or better yet, in the truly modern, American way, I conduct a poll on the blogosphere!

What do you think I should give George?

This is a picture of our seminary basketball team (“The Frozen Chosen”) – circa 1932.  We’ve all aged very well.  Apart from me, everyone is a huge success.
(front row) There’s Ron, President of Chile.  John, Spiritual Director at Microsoft.  David, Sigmund Freud Chair of Psychoanalysis at Vienna University.  George, Pastoral Guru, Cultural Critic and Literary Therapist.
(back row) Robert, Medical Examiner at Johns Hopkins.  Pete, Surgeon General of Puerto Rico. Mark, Library of Congress Director.  David, Owns 7 Hawaiian Islands.  Buran, Mega-church Pastor and Spiritual Counselor to President Obama.   And Me, Unemployed Weaver of Words Sleeping on His Father’s Couch.
[Note:  I stole this from George’s Facebook page (maybe one thing I should give him is respect for his personal property….hmmm….  Naaa, I’ll think of something else).]

Tantalizing Titles for Top-Selling Books

Since I’m in a bit of a funk on my current writing project, I thought it might be a good exercise to imagine titles for future books I could write that might really sell.  Here’s what I came up with –

Farenheit 451-2: Revenge of the Books

Reformed fireman Guy Montag and grown-up Clarisse McClellan team up to write books in a special ink that emits a poisonous gas when you try to burn it.  Only book lovers are left behind to “go forth and multiply” a new, literate society.

Jonathon Livingston Seagull Contracts the Avian Flu

In his pursuit of perfection, Jonathon learns that even adorable fictitious seagulls are only human.  While living in a commune with a gaggle of positive-thinking bird lovers, Jonathon contracts the flu from a flock of chickens.  Within weeks, the community is decimated.  The chickens survive long enough to be made into McNuggets.

Treasure Island Penal Colony for Illegal Aliens

Young Jim Hawkins is now grown up.  He has moved to Arizona and become elected governor.  His first course of action is to sentence all “illegal aliens” to “treasure island” where they can “live out their days in peace and harmony”.   President Obama sends in the National Guard to foil Jim’s plans, but a group of Tea Party activists with superior firearms fend them off.

Winnie the Pooh and Man-Eating Tigger, Too

On a manic binge, Tigger eats Christopher Robbins and then leaves the 100-acre wood to stalk London, looking for more game.

On the Road, For Good

A young beatnik, inspired by the work of Jack Kerouac, takes off on a hitch-hiking adventure.  He takes with him three fifths of Jack Daniels, which he consumes before he gets to the highway.  By the first mile marker, he is flattened by a tractor trailer.

Catcher in the Rye (and Kill Her)

Holden Caulfield has had enough of all the “phonies in the world”.  Single-handedly, he occupies Wall Street, all Ivy League schools, the Pentagon, the EU, and the Mall of America.  Only angst-ridden young girls are safe.

Holden Caulfield- The Catcher In The Rye

What do you think?  Perhaps you could come up with more?