Saturday, July 08, 2006

Writer's Desks

Just acquired a copy of Writer's Desks by Jill Krementz - bought second-via Abebooks because it's now out of print. This particular copy formerly resided in the Indiana-Marion County Library and cost me just US$5.

It's a book of photographs of famous writers at their work, and I thought I'd scan in some pages for you with quotations from the text so that you can have a vicarious peep into their writing lives. Then I thought, why not turn it into a quiz? Can you identify who's who in these wonderfully candid shots?

I'll put the answers in the comments section (a neat little trick of Lydia's!)

I just discovered a prayer for writers. ... It was written by Samuel Johnson on April 3, 1753, the day he began work on the second volume of the first dictionary of the English language. He was praying for himself. ... Anyway, this is the prayer: "O God, who hast hitherto supported me, enable me to proceed in this labour, and in the whole task of my present state; that when I shall render up, at the last day, an account of the talent committed to me, I may receive pardon ...."
The only thing I can say is that it takes place - or the best of it takes place in a sort of a vacuum. On the worst of mornings. On the least likely of mornings. When you expect nothing to happen. When the page is blank. When the mind is blank. Even in a state of depression of melancholia. And then, only with good luck ...


I don't take time off or make myself work; I have no work routine. I am compulsive about writing. I need to do it the way I need sleep and exercise and food and sex; I can go without it for a while, but then I need it.

I don't take notes; I don't outline; I don't do anything like that. I just flail away at the goddammed thing ... I'm a salami writer. I try to write good salami, but salami is salami. You can't sell it as caviar.

I surround myself with objects that carry with them a personal history - old books, bowls and boxes, splintering chairs and benches from imperial China. I imagine the people who once turned the pages or rubbed their palms on the surfaces.

Yes, I also love pre-loved books!

14 comments:

bibliobibuli said...

Answers:

From the top:

Kurt Vonnegut
Walker Percy
John Irving
Stephen King
Amy Tan

Sharanya Manivannan said...

Got the last two right. But had no clue for the others!

Chet said...

This is the shortest quiz ever! I don't mean the number of questions, but the time given before answers were revealed!

In any case, I disqualified myself since I have the book and have written about it on my weblog (no pictures, tho):
Book: The Writer’s Desk (Jill Krementz)

I love the book. It's very inspiring.

bibliobibuli said...

sharanya - if i hadn't had the book in my hand i wouldn't have recognised the first three either!

chet - your entry was really nice - i love the picture of toni morrison too without a desk - and isn't the second picture here with walker percy writing in bed such fun? how great it is to be able to track down second-hand treasures like this so cheaply

Kari said...

It's fun to put a face to the names we know so well. I'll be looking out for this book...

Greenbottle said...

if you didn't say it, i would not have guessed the first one is my favorite writer kurt vonnegut...doesn't sound or looked quite like him.
By the way just read a review of his latest short stories collection "A man without a country" in a back issue of harper's magazine (Oct 2005) ...seems like he's still as funny as ever... eg, " My wife is by far the oldest person i ever slept with"...pure vintage vonnegut.and as the reviewer said...but, like Mark Twain , even when he's funny he's depressed...that summarized neatly all his great but gloomy writings....

Lydia Teh said...

Sharon, Neat tricks should be copied :) I thought John Irving was Stephen King, remember reading about him not taking time off to write. Amy looked like she's having lots of fun whereas the others were deep in concentration (except John).

Chet said...

Look at that ancient word processor in the Stephen King picture! I think the picture was taken in the 70s, or at the latest, early to mid 80s. Sharon, please confirm, as my copy is still in storage. Thanks.

bibliobibuli said...

kari - you will only find copies in second-hand shops and on the internet i'm afraid, but at least it's pretty cheap.

greenbottle - i remembered that you're a vonnegut fan! i've got to read him soon ....

lydia - yes, your trick works well -it's like turning a page or opening a folded piece of paper

chet - believe it or not, the stephen king picture was taken in 1995! shows that writers don't always seek out the latest technology. i remeber beryl bainbridge telling us that her computer is so old that the only one like it still in existence is in the science museum! she reuses the same disk (large floppy of the kind you see no longer) over and over for all her novels.

Chet said...

I remember reading in his book On Writing that after his accident, King's wife bought him a new Mac computer to get him back writing again. It worked.

bibliobibuli said...

think you should write an article about writers and the technology!

Chet said...

Did you know that Maxine Hong Kingston lost the entire manuscript of her last book in a fire? I think she mentions it in her latest book, The Fifth Book of Peace. The manuscript was in a diskette, and it was her only copy.

bibliobibuli said...

arrrrgggghhhhhh!!!! that's too terible to contemplate

Anonymous said...

I wonder if all writers suffer from depression. And if all Asian female writers marry caucasian males.