Writer’s Desk: Give It Time

In 1948, Evelyn Waugh sent a letter to Thomas Merton in which he offered the following bit of advice from one writer to another:

Never send off any piece of writing the moment it is finished. Put it aside. Take on something else. Go back to it a month later and re-read it. Examine each sentence and ask “Does this say precisely what I mean? Is it capable of misunderstanding? Have I used a cliché where I could have invented a new and therefore asserting and memorable form? Have I repeated myself and wobbled round the point when I could have fixed the whole thing in six rightly chosen words? Am I using words in their basic meaning or in a loose plebeian way?”…

Wall Street Journal

You might disagree with Waugh’s usage of “plebeian” here (he was, after all, one of the great snobs of English literature, a genre already replete with the type). But the point remains solid: Take a second. Look again. That sentence you thought was carved with beautiful simplicity like a jewel could now show itself to be a bit baggy, in need of a little more carving.

Reader’s Corner: Bowie’s Books

Viles_BodiesWhen you look at this list of David Bowie’s 100 favorite books, a few seem obvious, given his predilection (particularly in the Berlin phase) for bleak, chilly dystopias and tales of alienation and schizophrenic dislocation. So, of course he liked:

  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  • City Of Night by John Rechy
  • The Origin Of Consciousness In The Breakdown Of The Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes

But then there are some books, urbane novels of wit and glee, that don’t exactly fit with any of Bowie’s shape-shifting music moods:

  • Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh
  • Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
  • Metropolitan Life by Fran Lebowitz

Maybe they were just fun reads…

The Art of Drinking and Writing: Amis / Hitchens Edition

everydaydrinking1A couple items of note from Christopher Buckley’s essay on “Booze as Muse” … and other temptations and illusions of the lit’ry kind, in which he quotes from his departed friend Christopher Buckley’s introduction to Kingsley Amis’s deathless book, Everyday Drinking:

…the “Muse of Booze,” as Christopher Hitchens calls Mr. Amis … gives us recipes for Paul Fussell’s Milk Punch (“to be drunk immediately on rising, in lieu of eating breakfast”) and Evelyn Waugh’s Noonday Reviver (“1 hefty shot gin, 1 bottle Guinness, ginger beer … I should think two doses is the limit”).

Also:

[Hitchens] and I once had a weekday lunch that began at 1 p.m. and ended at 11:30 p.m. I spent the next three weeks begging to be euthanized; he went home and wrote a dissertation on Orwell. Christopher himself was a muse of booze, though dipsography and fancy cocktails were not his thing. Christopher was a straightforward whiskey and martini man…

“Alcohol makes other people less tedious,” he writes, “and food less bland, and can help provide what the Greeks called entheos, or the slight buzz of inspiration when reading or writing.”