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On Shakespeare’s works: “Fantastic. And it was all done with a feather!” — Sam Goldwyn
“I write nude, seated on a thick towel, and perhaps with a second towel around me.” — Paul West
“I’ve never heard of anyone getting plumber’s block, or traffic cop’s block.” — Allan Gurganus
“I’m a drinker with a writing problem.” — Brendan Behan
1 "Speaking to the Eyes": Beginnings
2 The Feather Is Mightier Than the Sword
3 Inkwells, Steel Nibs, Billions of Ballpoints
4 The Properly Pointed, Perfectly Portable Pencil
5 The Long Reign of Longhand
6 "First, I Write by Hand. . . ."
7 The Almighty Typewriter. Can You Hear the Rhythm?
8 Hail the Conquering Word Processor
9 Pins, Paste, Scissors, Recorders. The Right Paper, Please
10 Out of Their Mouths Popped Literature
11 Keep Out! Writer at Work
12 To Hide Out, or Greet Life
13 Panoramas, Bare Walls, Strange Habits
14 While Working on It, Shut Up About It. Or Don't
15 They Wrote Lying Down, Standing Up, Stark Naked
16 Horror Rolls in, "Like Some Poisonous Fogbank"
18 "I'm a Drinker With a Writing Problem"
19 The Wrong Stuff
20 Walking the Walk, and Other Steps to Creation
21 Burning Kisses, Animal Magnetism
22 The Daily and Nightly Grind
23 "And How I Get There Is God's Grace"
24 "We Are Only Telephone Wires"
25 What's Worse Than Writing? NotWriting
26 From the Great French Hunter of "le Mot Juste": le Mot Dernier
Posted July 19, 2012
Posted July 19, 2012
Posted July 19, 2012
Posted October 18, 2009
This is a great book. It is a book about writing and not about getting published. It is the writers' "how and why" and not a "how to". It is a joy to consume and it should be read by writers, would be writers, readers, historians and people with an interest in the curious workings of the writer's mind and life. This was a huge task as literature and writers are so diverse. It is seemingly impossible to unite them into a common theme but Harry Bruce has done this, and done it well. It is a travel through time and technology. It proceeds through papyrus to pen and it is about people and their personal peccadilloes - and much more. I agree with writer Ray Robertson's review in the Globe & Mail that it is "and admirably assembled and easily consumable compendium of choice anecdotes and most sensible reflections about all facets of the writing life." It is a superb work. It is easy to read due to the fine and fluid writing style, no doubt coming from Harry's own 50 plus years as writer and journalist. It is a pleasure to read. You can either devour just a few pages and easily pick it up at a later time, or what is usually the case, get immersed in the history and wonder of the topic through the grace of the writing and find that you have knocked off most of the book. As I did in one plane ride.
It should be noted that the Editor-in-Chief for this book is the Canadian publishing icon Douglas Gibson who only chooses a few books to personally work on each year. The editing is flawless. Even the cover art is good. On the front is a caricature of Mark Twain bashing an old style typewriter with his cane and on the back is Victor Hugo who would write would write naked standing up at his lectern. The book is filled with many well researched and juicy tidbits, such as, Voltaire using his naked mistress' back as a desk or the superstitions of Truman Capote which include refusing to fly if the plane included two nuns as passengers, allowing three cigarette butts in one ashtray or to be anywhere near yellow roses. Who knew?
Do not be misled by the sub-title as it does not do the book justice. The 351 pages is about more than "foibles and fetishes" and it does not adequately describe the depth and breadth of what is clearly one writer's passion about the lives and work of his peers. It has no less than 398 bibliographical references. One can only imagine how much research had to go into finding so much relevant, interesting and even arcane information.
Harry Bruce aptly quoted Lord Byron early in the book and I will close this review with the same one. He has made fine use of the mighty instrument.
O nature's noblest gift - my grey goose-quill!
Slave of my thoughts, obedient to my will
Torn from thy parent bird to form a pen
That mighty instrument of little men!