Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Art & Culture: Page Fright by Harry Bruce

Readers are more interested in process than product we’re told be author Harry Bruce in his vastly entertaining new work, Page Fright: Foibles and Fetishes of Famous Writers (Douglas Gibson Books). Says Bruce:
But process, which is what this book is all about, includes not only tools but the rooms in which writers work; the number of hours, in each day or night, that they imprison themselves in those rooms; and the number of words, in each day or night, that they’ve sworn to write…. Indeed, process is everything that creative writers do to make themselves as receptive as they possibly can to what so many of them see as dictation from a forever-unknowable source.
Bruce’s strong interest in the process of making books has led to him collecting the anecdotes that contribute to Page Fright throughout his 50 year career as an author and journalist. Burce tells us that Susan Sontag wrote in longhand on yellow legal pads as do Nelson DeMille, Jim Harrison, Beverly Cleary, Toni Morrison and Wendell Barry.

Yellow legal pads had not been invented when Alexandre Dumas did his writing, but the poet and author still used yellow, though only for his poetry. Dumas wrote his non-fiction on rose-colored paper and his novels on blue. And as silly as that sounds from this distance, it probably made it easier to find what you were looking for in his office.

“Nabokov and Saul Bellow liked to soak themselves in bathtubs,” writes Bruce. (Though probably not at the same time.) Nor were they the only water babies in this crowd. Bruce includes a quote from Diane Ackerman, who does it up right:
I have a pine plank that I lay across the sides of the tub so that I can stay in a bubble bath for hours and write. In the bath, water displaces much of your weight and you feel light. When the water temperature and the body temperature converge, my mind lifts free and travels by itself.
Since Ackerman is best known as the author of 1990’s A Natural History of the Senses, all of this sort of makes sense.

Page Fright is fantastic. Writers and would-be authors will find inspiration here. And anyone who loves books will find facts worth collecting and smiles that can’t be resisted. It’s a great book.

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