I was encouraged to see that Time this week devoted a cover story to a novelist. Because I have to admit, I do question sometimes the worth of spending hours a day crafting sentences about people who don’t exist and events that never happened. Sometimes.

On the cover is Jonathan Franzen, looking away from the camera, which if you think he’s aloof will affirm that assumption for you, but if you don’t, and I count myself in that camp, it’s a cool cover. I read and thoroughly enjoyed his book, The Corrections, and eagerly anticipate his newest, Freedom.

In the article, he discusses how he writes on a computer that he has souped down, making it impossible for him to check e-mails or buy a DVD or create a Twitter account or even play a game. He types. Period. Which got me thinking about my own process. I have an old Mac laptop that has limited storage and no online capabilities. The other day, as I waited at Dunkin Donuts for my car to be repaired a few doors down, I opened my laptop, searched in vain for an outlet, which turned out to be fortuitous because the battery on that old dinosaur lasts only an hour or so. With nothing to distract me (other than the steady line of doughnut lovers behind me, whom I ignored, I’m proud to say, because writers are expert at finding distractions) and with limited time, I became quite productive.

Which has gotten me thinking about reading. I will probably never read an electronic book. I don’t have anything against electronic books, other than the lack of aesthetics—no one is going to “collect” books that are electronic, though who knows—but I suspect I would find it impossible to become fully immersed in a book if I knew that a possible e-mail or Facebook update lurked in the background. In fact, I worry, as some have begun to write about, that we’re losing our very ability to become immersed in a piece of lengthy writing. If you’re still reading this, I’m impressed. (If you started reading this, I’m impressed.) Ah, but when I take a book to the couch or on the deck, I know what I’ll be doing for the next few minutes. Without distraction. Until the damn phone rings.

I’d like to know your thoughts on books vs. electronic books. Go to the Discussion section on my author Facebook page to add your thoughts. 
 
 
I just finished Rick Bragg’s The Prince of Frogtown, the final book in his trilogy about his Alabama family. This time he weaves himself into alternate chapters, chronicling what it’s like to be a sudden stepfather, then jumping back to conjure his tough old man—and the back and forth works beautifully. As he struggles to find the right words to say to his suburban bred son, you can feel the ghost of his back roads father tapping his foot, not so much judging but waiting...curious to see how much of him will survive. It’s a great book, written with poetic preciseness, and filled with a yearning for what’s been lost. The language and the rhythm and stark honesty remind me of Mary Karr’s three fine memoirs.

I’m in the middle of Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, another wonderful book. Though this one is a novel, Eugenides also brings to life the fullness of history. This time, the confident narrator can describe the very moment of his birth, which sounds impossible to pull off, but the writing is so rich that you believe all of it. It reads like epic.

Both these books remind me of a simple fact: writing intensifies and clarifies thinking, creating order out of chaos. Months of notes stuffed into bulging folders are forged and hammered until they fit inside clean covers, as if the outcome was inevitable, as if the truth was waiting to be found. Quite an illusion.