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  • Jenny Shank 8:30 pm on 2015/05/27 Permalink
    Tags: , , Celia Blue Johnson, , , , crazy authors, genius strikes, jack london, , , poets,   

    Authors with Crazier than Fiction Personal Lives 

    One clichéd writerly image is that of a drunken, perhaps insane, party animal who somehow occasionally overcomes his or her hangover and delusions long enough to craft enduring prose. Since publishing a novel, however, I’ve met a bunch of writers, and as far as I can tell, most of them are long-married spouses, PTA-meeting-attending parents, and stalwart day-job holders, as boring as the day is long. Still, talking about the crazy authors is more fun, right? Here are some authors with crazier-than-fiction personal lives who somehow managed to tamp down their chaos long enough to leave us with some great books:

    Jack London
    Jack London grew up poor in San Francisco, and therefore meat deprived, according to Earle Labor’s biography, Jack London: An American Life. At age seven, London stole a piece of meat from a girl’s basket, which kind of gives you an idea of how he wrote so successfully from the perspective of a dog. At age 22, he complained in a letter to his girlfriend, “It has been hunger, nothing but hunger! You cannot understand, nor never will.” Finally he became a successful author, making enough money to buy as much meat as he wanted. And then he got gout and kidney disease from eating so much protein, a lot of it raw, and died at age forty. So when London takes you inside the mind of a hungry wolf in White Fang, the guy knows what he’s talking about.

    O. Henry
    According to the good folks at the O. Henry Museum in Austin, Texas, in his later years, the famed short story writer could drink one to two liters of bourbon a day. Not unlike an elephant, he could drink a gallon of beer without showing any trace of drunkenness. In addition to writing stories, O. Henry drew cartoons, made maps, and went to jail for embezzling from a bank. He was so ashamed of his conviction that he hid his true name, William Sidney Porter, and his past from his publishers. He gave his publishers plenty of headaches, selling his stories to more than one venue and demanding ever-larger payments. But his stories were so popular they put up with it. Check out Selected Stories of O. Henry for a taste of the literary brilliance that led others to overlook O. Henry’s wackiness.

    Charles Dickens
    Dickens’ home wasn’t filled with Cratchit family–esque love. He had nine children with his wife, Catherine Hogarth, eight of whom survived to adulthood. When Dickens was 45, he left his wife and kids for an 18-year-old actress. Still, most of Dickens’ children never stopped depending on him for a steady stream of money. He complained in a letter of “having brought up the largest family ever known with the smallest disposition to do anything for themselves.” The home drama never slowed Dickens’ literary output or quality—after leaving Catherine, he published A Tale of Two Cities, Great Expectations, and Our Mutual Friend.

    Charles Bukowski
    FBI agents arrested Bukowski in 1944 on suspicion of draft evasion, but following a psychological exam, he was declared unfit for military service. He published a few stories after that, became disheartened with his attempts to break into the literary world, and went on what he called a “ten-year drunk.” In Los Angeles, he worked at a pickle factory and as a postman while drinking heavily and finding plenty of one-night loves from his perch on the barstool. These gritty experiences fueled his dozens of poetry collections, novels, and screenplays, something that’s evident in the title he chose for his column in the LA paper Open City, “Notes of a Dirty Old Man,” later collected in two volumes.

    Victor Hugo
    While some of these other authors’ chaotic lives worked against their creative output and longevity, Victor Hugo did something crazy that enhanced his productivity. The author was up against an insane deadline to complete The Hunchback of Notre Dame—according to Celia Blue Johnson’s Odd Type Writers, he sat down to write the novel in the fall of 1830, and it was due in February of 1831. “No problem,” thought Hugo. “If I stay naked, I won’t be able to leave the house.” Johnson writes, “Hugo locked away his clothes to avoid any temptation of going outside and was left with nothing to wear except a large gray shawl. He had purchased the knitted outfit, which reached right down to his toes, just for the occasion. It served as his uniform for many months.”

  • Chrissie Gruebel 5:00 pm on 2014/07/23 Permalink
    Tags: anita diamond, , brokeback mountain, certain girls, , , , , , , , , jack london, , , , , , , middlesex, rick yanked, , susan cain, , the fifth wave, , , , white fang   

    A Definitive List of Books for All Vacation Occasions 

    The City and The City

    It’s already July 23, and we need to have a talk: Have you taken a summer vacation yet? Seriously…have you? For real, Americans are notorious for this gross oversight. Yes, sure—we don’t get enough vacation days in general, but if you’re not taking the ones you DO have, then we don’t have a leg to stand on collectively as a society. I mean, we all want to be like Europe, right, where they get approximately 200 days off per year (just an estimate)? So in order to accomplish this task, we all need to work together to stop working (for at least a week, that is).

    To help, here’s a list of vacations AND the books you should bring to each. So go forth! Pack a suitcase full of books and travel-sized shampoos! Live a life of temporary leisure, you won’t regret it! Europe: we’re coming for you:

    Camping, Mountains, Wilderness
    You + nature + books + maybe animals(?) = never a bad idea, and always a great idea. Whether you’re in the mood to check out from civilization, or simply find yourself wrapped up in nature’s loving arms, we’ve got a few titles on our list to remind you not to get too big for those Eddie Bauer britches—plus a few that’ll warm your heart and make you laugh. Still…leave room for a map. And a compass. And a tent. Let’s not be too cavalier where bears are concerned, okay?

    As long as no one gets Legionnaire’s Disease, cruises are basically floating barges of people in surf shorts Wang Chung-ing it 24/7. Morning buffets, alcohol, several pools, afternoon buffets, karaoke, volleyball, evening buffets, pineapples, off-off-Broadway-quality entertainment, midnight buffets. What more could a human want, really? (Enough lifeboats for everyone, if we’ve learned anything from Titanic—but besides that, LITERALLY nothing, because there’s a really high chance you’ll be allowed to wear a captain’s hat.) Bookwise? Anything goes.

    Historical/Cultural Trip
    Whew! If these walls, columns, churches, city squares, statues, monuments, battlefields, paintings, quilts, broken bells, buildings, gargoyles, fountains, parks, murals, sculptures, ruins, theaters, old wooden ships, lighthouses, walled cities, medieval castles, and artifacts could talk, right? The world’s got stories to tell! Which is crazy. These books will get you in the mood to explore, uncover some ancient mysteries, and maybe make a few stories of your own.

    Every city has a vibe all its own. Cities are like little pockets of magic where everyone dresses really cool and you’ve got all the culture and history you could possibly want right at your fingertips (and all the culture and history you never knew you wanted). Plus, in the summertime most cities smell like hot garbage, which is special.

    Beach Town
    Some of these novels are set at the beach, some merely mention the beach (maybe?), and others are flashy pieces of glitter that have basically nothing to do with the beach. Surprise! It doesn’t matter. A good beach read only requires an engrossing plot that hooks you immediately, because what do we want? To devour a story while sitting under an umbrella and drinking the rosé we’re hiding in our travel coffee mug. And when do we want it? Now.

    Solo Travels
    We’ve already covered the fact that eating out solo is basically the best thing that can happen to a book lover, but going on a trip solo? With no one else’s clipboard of fun to follow? You’ll be reading in bed, at dinner, on a bench, under the moonlight, in a box, with a fox, here, there, everywhere. Bring eight books with you. Bring ten. You’re on a solo vacation—you’re not there to make friends.

    This is a time for self-reflection, meditation, and getting the knots rubbed out of your shoulders by a trained professional. Wrap up your hair. Eat fresh fruit. Drink green tea. Breathe. Dance like no one’s watching. You get the drift. This collection of books will help you get into the right mindset to find yourself if you’re lost; and if you’re not lost, then it’ll be the right thing to read while you’re getting your feet massaged or your dead skin cells scraped off.

    Adventure (outback, safari, joining the circus, etc.)
    So you wanna live in a treehouse for a few days? DO IT. You have the heart of a lion! This portion of the list runs the gamut from taking down a government conspiracy to swimming with alligators, so you can take your pick of which adventure you’d like to accompany you on your adventure. We’ll be over here, reading quietly in a non-dangerous place.

    Road Trip
    As long as you’re not the driver and you don’t get carsick, you can put away a million books while you’re on the open road. Just be sure to look out the window every once in a while to take in the glorious scenery, and to maybe keep your eyes peeled for a Sonic. Plus, you can pretend to be a moody teenager who has big plans (BIG ONES), if only you could get away from your stupid family.

    Home alone? You’ll wanna laugh. Or cry. Mostly laugh. But maybe cry a little while you look at yourself in the mirror? That’s something some of us might do when we’re alone. No big deal or anything. In any case, you’ll be free to feel all the feelings you wanna feel because you’ll be all wrapped in your enduring solitude. Enjoy your vacation from other people!

    What are you packing to read during your next vacation?

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