“A story is not like a road to follow…it’s more like a house. You go inside and stay there for a while, wandering back and forth and settling where you like and discovering how the room and corridors relate to each other, how the world outside is altered by being viewed from these windows.”
Canadian writer Alice Munro has been awarded 2013’s Nobel Prize in Literature. Often heralded as “one of our greatest contemporary writers of fiction,” Munro is best known for her short stories which are accessible yet complex narratives about the human condition. Her best-known works include “Lives of Girls and Women” (1973), “The Love of a Good Woman” (1998) and “Runaway” (2004). A collection of her work, “Too Much Happiness: Stories,” was published in 2009.
2009 is also the year in which Munro was award the coveted Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work. Additionally, she has been awarded Canada’s literary honor, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, twice. She might have won a third but she removed her name from the contenders in 2009 saying that “she wanted to give younger, less-established authors an opportunity.”
In between drinking (Hemingway) and hiding (Pynchon), these two iconic writers were known to procrastinate in the way that many of us who write do: by chowing down. While stuffing our faces may partially delay the pain of composing, it’s not all duck-and-cover. Writing often requires mulling. As Umberto Eco notes, “Writing doesn’t mean necessarily putting words on a sheet of paper. You can write a chapter while walking or eating.”
A new discovery for me, by way of the Paris Review, is a site called Paper and Salt, a blog devoted to the love of food and literature. (Maybe I’ll start another called Windex and Waffles, which, granted, does not have quite the appeal of the former but I do tend to clean everything, and then EAT everything, when I have Major Writing to accomplish.)
Anyway, it’s pretty entertaining to hear about Pynchon and his love of Beer-Braised Chicken Tacos. Apparently, Pynchon could often be found
“wearing an old red hunting-jacket and sunglasses, doting on Mexican food at a taco stand.” Throughout the late 60s and 70s, Pynchon became a regular at El Tarasco in Manhattan Beach (It’s still open today, if you want to follow in his culinary footsteps). Neighbors would frequently spot him chowing down—the notorious hermit, lured into public by a burrito.”
Hemingway had his favorites, too. Among them was the humble hamburger, pan-fried, not grilled. Among his papers was found these explicit instructions for cooking Papa a proper burger:
F. Scott Fitzgerald was very ill in 1936 and was recovering at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, North Carolina with the help of a private nurse. In addition to his failing health, the author was struggling with the decision to commit his wife, Zelda, to a mental institution at a nearby hospital. His essay about his own decline, The Crack-Up, had just been published in Esquire. Here, Fitzgerald voices an incredibly sad awareness of his own decline: “[M]y life had been a drawing on resources that I did not possess, that I had been mortgaging myself physically and spiritually up to the hilt,” he wrote.
It didn’t seem that anything could go right that year. Fitzgerald’s drinking had become increasingly problematic and he had significant money problems. That summer, he “fractured his shoulder while diving into the hotel swimming pool, and sometime later, according to Michael Cody at the University of South Carolina’s Fitzgerald Web site, “he fired a revolver in a suicide threat, after which the hotel refused to let him stay without a nurse.” (Source)
Eventually, the hotel relented and allowed Fitzgerald to have an attendant, a woman named Dorothy Richardson, who, in addition to tending to his physical needs, had the unenviable task of keeping the writer from drinking too much.
The two developed a friendship during his convalescence. At one point, apparently Dorothy asked what she should read. Here is the list Fitzgerald gave her, written in her own hand as he reeled off the titles and author’s names:
Here is a more legible list.
- Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser
- The Life of Jesus, by Ernest Renan
- A Doll’s House, by Henrik Ibsen
- Winesburg, Ohio, by Sherwood Anderson
- The Old Wives’ Tale, by Arnold Bennett
- The Maltese Falcon, by Dashiel Hammett
- The Red and the Black, by Stendahl
- The Short Stories of Guy De Maupassant, translated by Michael Monahan
- An Outline of Abnormal Psychology, edited by Gardner Murphy
- The Stories of Anton Chekhov, edited by Robert N. Linscott
- The Best American Humorous Short Stories, edited by Alexander Jessup
- Victory, by Joseph Conrad
- The Revolt of the Angels, by Anatole France
- The Plays of Oscar Wilde
- Sanctuary, by William Faulkner
- Within a Budding Grove, by Marcel Proust
- The Guermantes Way, by Marcel Proust
- Swann’s Way, by Marcel Proust
- South Wind, by Norman Douglas
- The Garden Party, by Katherine Mansfield
- War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
- John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley: Complete Poetical Works
The literary world is a pretentious place, right? You wouldn’t think so judging by these ten quotes from authors playfully poking fun at their success. Who knew the Paris Review was such a popular venue in which to be self-deprecating?
Know of any others? Tell us in a comment below.
2. Mark Twain
“I must have a prodigious quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week sometimes to make it up.” – The Innocents Abroad
3. Ray Bradbury
“A conglomerate heap of trash, that’s what I am. But it burns with a high flame.” — in The Paris Review, 2010
“Slapstick may be a very bad book. I am perfectly willing to believe that. Everybody else writes lousy books, so why shouldn’t I? What was unusual about the reviews was that they wanted people to admit now that I had never been any good. The reviewer for the Sunday Times actually asked critics who had praised me in the past to now admit in public how wrong they’d been. My publisher, Sam Lawrence, tried to comfort me by saying that authors were invariably attacked when they became fabulously well-to-do… I had suffered, all right — but as a badly educated person in vulgar company and in a vulgar trade. It was dishonorable enough that I perverted art for money. I then topped that felony by becoming, as I say, fabulously well-to-do. Well, that’s just too damn bad for me and for everybody. I’m completely in print, so we’re all stuck with me and stuck with my books.” — in The Paris Review, 1977
5. Stephen King
“I am the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and Fries.”
“At the end of a miserable day, instead of grieving my virtual nothing, I can always look at my loaded wastepaper basket and tell myself that if I failed, at least I took a few trees down with me.” — Me Talk Pretty One Day
“Listen, you can’t imagine what a freak I was. I worked in used bookstores as a teenager. I grew up with hippie parents. I lived in a ten-year cultural lag. At all times. I had not the faintest idea what was contemporary. When I got to Bennington, and I found that Richard Brautigan and Thomas Berger and Kurt Vonnegut and Donald Barthelme were not ‘the contemporary,’ but were in fact awkward and embarrassing and had been overthrown by something else, I was as disconcerted as a time traveler. The world I’d dwelled in was now apocryphal. No one read Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell, the Beats were regarded with embarrassment. When all that was swept away, I stopped knowing what contemporary literature was. I didn’t replace it; I just stopped knowing.” — in The Paris Review, 2003
8. John Grisham
“I can’t change overnight into a serious literary author. You can’t compare apples to oranges. William Faulkner was a great literary genius. I am not.”
“I fell into writing, I suppose, being one of those awful children who wrote verses. I went to a convent in New York—the Blessed Sacrament… I was fired from there, finally, for a lot of things, among them my insistence that the Immaculate Conception was spontaneous combustion.” — in The Paris Review, 1956
“He really wants to cash in on this whole Hollywood vampire thing, but with werewolves… But they’re not wolves, they’re bears. Werebears.”
Images and quotes courtesy of Flavorwire.