“When I read aloud to a person, is it not the same as if I was telling him something by word of mouth? The written, the printed word, is in the place of my own thoughts, of my own heart. If a window were broken into my brain or into my heart, and if the man to whom I am counting out my thoughts, or delivering my sentiments, one by one, knew already beforehand exactly what was to come out of me, should I take the trouble to put them into words? When anybody looks over my book, I always feel as if I were being torn in two.”
Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832) German poet
A friend of mine, a fellow professional writer, writes with his eyes; that is, he composes the words by how the word and/or sentences look on the page: long, short, colorful, alliterative, etc. I write with my ears — that is, by how the words sound to me. I often speak the words as I’m typing them.
Each professional writer develops his own style from a number of early experiences with reading and writing with parents or teachers. I was no exception. Being the firstborn in a large family, I also became a sort of de facto tutor of reading and writing to my little brothers and sisters. This teaching, of course, developed my own reading and writing skills and fostered a love of language.
My first formal experience with a language other than English was studying Latin as a freshman in high school. I took to it like a seagull on a french fry. I devoured as much of it as I could, fascinated with the awareness that there was another language to be learned.
My favorite exercise in Latin class was reading the pages out loud, simultaneously translating the words into English as I read them in Latin. I explained this to my teacher, an Irish-American Catholic priest named Ralph Hogan, who knew my ethnic background. When I explained my method to him, he laughed and said, “Mr. McCullough, every drop of blood in your veins is Celtic. That’s how your ancestors did literature: spoken, not written. Sitting around a fire in a cave. Passed on generation to generation by means of the spoken word.”
Years later, after becoming a published author and professional writer. I discovered the joys of reading aloud and did readings and book-signings every chance I got.
My buddy, and gifted Wellfleet author, Mike Lee started a weekend of readings at the Orleans Academy of Performing Arts some years ago, and invited me to read every year for decades at an April event called “Night of New Works.” I also did readings at local bookstores around Cape Cod and brought a backpack full of books, selling them as I drove around the Cape.
That worked pretty well for a few years, but Mike had stopped producing the spring “New Works” show, and driving around selling my books to far-flung bookstores was not working out very well. A few of them didn’t pay me in a timely manner. One would make me wait for six or seven months before sending me a check.
I finally worked my way down to two wonderful little bookstores in Orleans: Main Street Books, next to the Orleans Whole Food Store, and the Booksmith/Musicsmith in the Skaket Corners Plaza with Shaw’s.
Both of these bookstores changed hands: one closed, and COVID-19 arrived. So I did a contract with Amazon.com for my two best-sellers: “Sailing Alone on Sunday,” (a collection of columns from this space in the Cape Cod Times) and “Out of the Cave” (an everyman’s introduction to philosophy).
I miss those book-signings at all those bookstores. I miss sitting at a table with a pile of books, shaking hands, making new friends and telling stories. People in New York, Texas, Nebraska, Florida, California and Delaware are still buying my books, and sometimes they write, and that’s good. But they’re all strangers to me. No more face-to-face handshakes or smiles. I miss that human contact. I miss driving around in my truck with a backpack full of books and making new friends. I miss those little bookstores and the nice people who owned them. But I’m still writing and still selling books, so I guess that’s OK. It’s just not the same.
Dan McCullough is a Cape Cod Times columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or write him at P.O. Box 2813 Orleans, MA 02653