Monday, January 25, 2010

How I Write

I can be extremely nosy, although I've gotten better over the years. Maybe this quality comes from being the daughter of a journalist, and tagging along as a child to her interviews. After listening to my mom shoot questions relentlessly, maybe I thought this was how people normally interacted.

I like it when people open up to me and I don't have to ask questions, when unexpected answers arrive to questions I never ask. But sometimes I can be given too much information, like in the book I just read.

"How I Write" is a collection of vignettes by famous writers, all about their superstitions and inspirational knick knacks. I'm embarrassed to admit I had only heard of about a quarter of the authors featured in this book. I think most of them are English, but anyway, that's no excuse. Perhaps not knowing most of them accounts for me not caring about the weird things on their desks.

I loved the first essay by Vendela Vida, all about her used copy of "A Farewell To Arms." That was so interesting and well written I was aghast that I had never read anything by her. Now I plan to read both her novels and stay on the lookout for anything else she writes.

I skipped the lies by JT Leroy because I am still mad about that literary hoax and how I fell for it. I even gave a presentation on JT Leroy to my bookclub many years ago, giving special attention to the writer's personal life. And all that time a woman was pretending to be him. The nerve!!! Although, judging by JT Leroy's photos, I wonder why she wasn't called out sooner.

After reading Jonathan Franzen's little snippet about his squeaky chair, I think he must be the next biggest liar featured in this book. Either that, or he's just plain crazy. Apparently, when he's done working, his voice is hoarse from talking loudly all day, but he has no recollection of making a sound. I just don't believe that. He would have to be shouting to make his voice hoarse and the only way I can imagine someone shouting without knowing it is if that person is sleeping.

I found it interesting that Natasha Mostert pummels a speedbag for inspiration. Many of the writers in this book have routines just like boxers preparing for bouts. I wish I had a speedbag. Right now I like writing in restaurant booths, drinking Guinness, and eating fries doused in malt vinegar. Note to self: hitting a speedbag would be healthier.

I thought I would enjoy this book more than I did. Maybe the JT Leroy scandal teaches the lesson that we should not meet our idols. They're only human and focusing on their lives in addition to their writing might give them incentive to lie, build themselves up, even pretend to be totally different people. When Christopher Hitchens came to Portland, I was so determined to meet him, I sought him out with as much gusto as that lady who tackled the Pope. Luckily, I wasn't disappointed. He left a deep impression on me as being charming and kind, and he didn't bore me with stories about squeaky chairs and superstitions.

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