Writing is something we slow down to do. It takes time to think, to sort out from among the many words the one that says what we mean. Writing is also an intimate exercise. It puts others in contact with the way one's mind works. At the crucial moment, when Gregory Corso is daydreaming about marriage to a beautiful woman in Connecticut and life is all snow and white houses with picket fences, he is ready to exclaim to the milkman, "Bring me penguin dust, I want penguin dust."
The really noteworthy writers are those whose turns of mind are so characteristic that only they could have written "Bring me penguin dust" at the right moment and have such a preposterous exclamation work. If you or I were to say the same thing, even in print, we would be stringing ourselves out for long moments of embarrassed silence. It would be like stuttering into your girlfriend's record-a-phone. It would not even help to call back and say, "That is not what I meant at all. That is not it, at all." T.S. Eliot said that; she would think you a plagiarist.
The preceding paragraphs are themselves examples of the sort to which they refer. They are characteristic Davidson. My mind does the improbable. It skips like a stone over water, touching several subjects before it sinks like a stone. Plop. That is another way of saying that I tend to see the weighty side of things. I have wondered why that should be long enough to have thought about characteristic turns of mind. Reading, trying to notice the way others think, I have come upon an interesting instance of that old adage that "madness is to genius near allied." Just as T.S. Eliot, and he alone, could write "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and only Gregory Corso could have written "Marriage"—"bereft of 2,000 years and the bath of life"—so there are writers abroad in America, little read and little understood, who alone could have written the works they produced.
Anybody could sit down and put pen to paper and come up with a shopping list. Anyone could send a postcard—"Wish you were here." Anyone could write an angry letter to the telephone company or send a fan letter to the young Ingrid Bergman. But not anybody could have written some of the amazing titles (they are all honest folks) that I am about to review here.
When I say "review" I mean "mention," which is more than most of these works have ever received before. They never quite made it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. Indeed, most of them never even made it to the Library of Congress or even Books in Print. But here at last, on these pages, we finally have a public recognition of works that achieve a kind of distinction. They reflect a turn of mind so characteristic, so personal to the authors, that only they could have written them. Consider:
• We Never Went to the Moon, by Bill Gaysing. The author says the Apollo landing was a fraud. After all, if we had gone to the moon, "why was there never a mention of the gold, silver, diamonds, or other precious metals on the moon?"
• The Poor Man's James Bond, by Kurt Saxon. This is the self-described "do-it-ourselves" guide to "mayhem," a book that informs anyone about how to fashion homemade hand grenades out of the leftovers.
• Evolution: The Fossils Say No, by Duane T. Gish, Ph.D. No more need be said.
• Another unique volume is None Dare Call It Witchcraft, by Gary North. He says that Cotton Mather was right.
• Another volume that only its author could have written is The Reincarnation of John Wilkes Booth, by Dr. Dell Leonardo.
• A classic that you never would have thought to write and even Harry Browne and other giants of the "how to" genre overlooked: Raising Earthworms for Profit. It may well be, of course, that raising earthworms is more profitable than writing for REASON magazine. If so, we have just another proof that character is fate. If I shared someone else's turn of mind, I could be a foreman on a worm ranch right now.
• But to do that, I'd have to change my fortune. I'd have to send away for Ultra-Psychonics: How to Work Miracles with the Limitless Power of Psycho-Atomic Energy, by Walter Delaney. That is the book that helped Susan H. become president of her club. After Sally L. read it, she immediately found her dream house. Larry S. put his Earth Forces to work during his lunch hour and doubled his salary. Miracles. And all for $8.95.
It is enough to make you think.
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Viewpoint: Amazing Writing".