I’m taking a break from my blog for family reasons. See you in a while.
I’ve been reading these with great pleasure. All of these interviews with leading writers have been published before – the earliest (Dorothy Parker) in the Paris Review of 1956, the latest (Joan Didion) in 2006, but they all bear reading again. They’ve been selected by Philip Gourevitch and what a selection, Kurt Vonnegut rubs shoulders with Rebecca West, Billy Wilder with T. S. Eliot. The interviewers were chosen with as much care as the subjects and there are some great pairings, Rebecca West and Marina Warner, for example. I loved the piece on Robert Gottlieb which juxtaposed the comments of his authors with his response to them. He was an editor to die for – and I especially liked the Michael Crichton’s explanation of what a good editor can do: ‘you generally start out with some overall idea that you can see fairly clearly, as if you were standing on a dock and looking at a ship on the ocean. At first you can see the entire ship, but then as you begin work you are in the boiler room and you can’t see the ship anymore. All you can see are the pipes and the grease and the fittings of the boiler room and, you have to assume, the ship’s exterior. What you really want in an editor is someone who’s still on the dock, who can say Hi, I’m looking at your ship, and it’s missing a bow, the front mast is crooked, and it seems to me as if your propellors are going to have to be fixed.’ The book is full of insights in the creative process and incidentally, good advice. too. Both Hemingway and Robert Stone make a pont of stopping the day’s work when they know what they are going to write next. (‘Leave it pointing down hill,’ as I think Graham Greene advised). This is one of three volumes that are planned. I can’t wait.
I enjoyed this collection of William Boyd’s miscellaneous writings. I’ve only read one of his novels, years ago, AN ICE-CREAM WAR. Nothing since. This made me think I might read more. I particularly liked his accounts of his rebarbative public school and his childhood in Africa. And the eulogies to two particular institutions, the British caff and the mini-cab – Boyd describes them perfectly, brought back fond memories of my life in London in the 1980s. Once a week or so (more would have been too hard on the arteries) my house-mate, Jonathan and I used to go to the Choumert Cafe in Peckham (long gone, sadly) and eat exactly the kind of meal described here. I usually had omelette and chips. This, served with fried tomatoes and mushrooms, was as healthy as it got. Another friend used to favour a caff near the Strand and consume sausages sandwiches (white bread and margarine, naturally). I shudder to think what was in those sausages. As for mini-cabs – I sometimes used to get one from Chiswick to Peckham – and Boyd is spot on – the driver with no English and no idea where he is going – the sticky carpet underfoot – the dodgy driving. I must have been mad.
This is a huge book at 650 pages and unwieldy, awkward to read in bed or the bath and this does matter. I think some of the early book reviews could have gone, but much of it was a treat – and in such short bites that it’s ideal for a busy person.