by Campbell Geeslin
Many writers have been famous drunks. Did drink help or hurt them? It’s a perennial question.
Blake Morrison started off a long article in The Guardian by listing a few of the usual suspects: Dylan Thomas, John Cheever, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.
(Personal note: In the late 1950s, I once came upon Truman Capote, already pudgy, staggering around in front of a Manhattan bookstore in a filthy corduroy suit, trying to engage strangers in conversation. A grim sight I’ve never forgotten.)
But writers, doing what writers do, have left behind some interesting quotes about booze:
“There is no poetry among the water drinkers.” —Ovid.
“The excitement of alcohol and the excitement of fantasy are very similar.”— Cheever.
Kingsley Amis liked a drink to supply “that final burst of energy at the end of the day.”
“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”— Dorothy Parker
Morrison supplied a familiar list of reasons why writers drink: “Boredom, loneliness, habit, hedonism, lack of self-confidence; as stress relief or a short-cut to euphoria; to forget the past, obliterate the present or escape the future.”
The Guardian’s article inspired comments from readers:
“A drink loosens the lips . . . the juicier the writing the more memorable the writer.”
“Writers drink to conquer fear: the fear that you’ll never get started, the fear it will be crap, the fear that you’ve finally lost it forever.”
COMING ATTRACTION: PW called their sparring “The most outrageous literary feud of the century”— meaning the 20th —and now Vidal vs. Mailer, a book of interviews, transcripts and correspondence by the two writers, is about to remind us just how outrageous, or boring, their feud really was. Carole Mallory is the editor. It’s due out the end of October. Are those drops of blood on the cover?
END IN SIGHT: Due out this fall is Sue Grafton’s W Is for Wasted. What happens to P.I. Kinsey Millhone after Z?
PROCESS: Loved his/her book, hated him/her. Beware of reading a biography of your favorite author, warns Margo Rabb in The New York Times Book Review. Rabb is the author of a novel, Cures for Heartbreak. Her essay was titled “Fallen Idols.”
She quotes Laurie Halse Anderson. “A book is like sausage. You love the end product, but you don’t really want to know how it’s made.”
Rabb also quotes George Saunders: “A work of art is something produced by a person, but is not that person….The artist is trying to inhabit, temporarily, a more compact, distilled, efficient, wittier, more true-seeing, precise version of herself—one that she can’t replicate in so-called ‘real’ life, no matter how hard she tries. That’s why she writes: to try and briefly be more than she truly is.”
Rabb ends with, “Maybe, as a reader, that is what I keep falling in love with—not the author, but the art of reaching.”
ART TOO: Cartoon by David Sipress in the July 29 The New Yorker: Couple in an art gallery stands before a huge, grotesque sculpture. A little man says to them: “I shouldn’t be telling you, but the artist’s real name is J.K. Rowling.”
A LOOK AHEAD: PW’s fall preview of major entries in literary fiction included The Lowland, a novel by Pulitzer Prize-winner Jhumpa Lahiri.
Bestselling author Donna Tartt will publish a third novel, The Goldfinch.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love sold nearly six million copies. Her fall book will be a novel, The Signature of All Things.
National Book Award winner Alice McDermott is publishing Someone, and Thomas Pynchon’s new novel is titled Bleeding Edge.
MORE: In PW’s preview of fall books, the section on chefs and restaurants said that Brooklyn was the main spawning ground for such books.
One forthcoming title out of Brooklyn will be Robicelli’s: A Love Story, with Cupcakes: With 50 Decidedly Grown-Up Recipes. The recipes include such odd ingredients as fried chicken, figs and whiskey. The underage should not dabble in whiskey, but how could chicken or figs hurt?
BLOCK FREE: Cathie Pelletier grew up in Maine, wrote songs in Nashville, and then moved back up north. She has written 10 novels. The newest one is The One-Way Bridge.
On the “How I Write” page in the August issue of The Writer, Pelletier said she had no idea what writer’s block was. “If there is any blocking going on in my life,” she wrote, “it’s me trying to block thoughts of a future book from coming into my head and to make characters shut up so I can have some peace from them.”
THIEF: Robert Boswell is the author of Tumbledown, a novel about counselors and clients at a California rehabilitation center.
In a PW interview, Boswell said, “Creating characters in a novel is like shooting at clay pigeons and missing, and then missing more productively as the narrative continues.”
Asked where he got his material, he said “I was a counselor in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. I did some good work and I did some damage. . . . [Tumbledown] is not genuinely autobiographical, but I have stolen lots of things from my life.”
EPITAPH: Time magazine devoted a page to David Rakoff and his last book, Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish. Rakoff died before the book was published this month. He was author of three bestselling books of essays.
The article ends with the comment that the novel is “a fitting finale to a body of work that explored fraudulences, privileges and melancholy with astonishing empathy.” A character in the novel describes a favorite aunt as “kindness encased in a varnish of clever.”
Time asks: “Could a better epitaph for Rakoff be found? Never.”