Posts Tagged ‘Mark Twain’

In Defense of Actual, Physical Books

Published June 10, 2009 by Graham


“My sister bought me my first book, The Prince and the Pauper. A ritual began with that book which I recall very clearly. The first thing was to set it up on the table and stare at it for a long time. Not because I was impressed with Mark Twain; it was just such a beautiful object. Then came the smelling of it. I think the smelling of books began with The Prince and the Pauper, because it was printed on particularly fine paper, unlike the Disney books I had gotten previous to that, which were printed on very poor paper and smelled poor. The Prince and the Paper–Pauper– smelled good and it also had a shiny cover, a laminated cover. I flipped over that. And it was very solid. I mean, it was bound very tightly. I remember trying to bite into it, which I don’t imagine is what my sister intended when she bought the book for me. But the last thing I did with the book was to read it. It was alright.

“But I think it started then, a passion for books and bookmaking. I wanted to be an illustrator very early in my life; to be involved in books in some way–to make books. And the making of books, the touching of books–there’s so much more to it than just reading; there is a sensuousness. I’ve seen children touch books, fondle books, smell books, and it’s all the reason in the world why books should be beautifully produced.”
Maurice Sendak, 1970

Roald Dahl in a Sleeping Bag in the Virtual Hut

Published June 8, 2009 by Graham


Cabinet Magazine recently published an article entitled “To Sit, To Stand, To Write,” examining a deep rift amongst history’s greatest writers: the ideal bodily position for writing. Friedrich Nietzsche, for instance, responded to Gustave Flaubert’s casual remark that “one cannot think and write except when seated,” with an infuriated accusation of cultural decadence, writing, “There I have caught you, nihilist! The sedentary life is the very sin against the Holy Spirit. Only thoughts reached by walking have value.”

Nietzche was not alone in his preference– though he was perhaps unparalleled in the philosophical weight he placed behind it. According to the article, Virginia Woolf, Lewis Carroll, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Ernest Hemingway all wrote standing up, hovering over lecterns and typewriters placed upon dressers. Still others preferred the supine pose, including Mark Twain, who wrote in bed. Roald Dahl’s writing habits were generally rather traditional in his tendency to be seated, and yet the description of his writing environment is one of the most interesting parts of the article.

We can conjecture that it was phsical considerations that caused the six-foot-six-inch Thomas Wolfe to write his opulent, autobiographical novels using the top of his refrigerator as his desk, the shifting of his weight from foot to foot being a neat approximation of the Nietzschean decree that all writing should “dance.” But what do we then make of Roald Dahl, also six-foot-six, who everyday climbed into a sleeping back before settling into an old wing-backed chair, his feet resting immobile on a battered traveling case full of logs? Dahl’s claim that “all the best stuff comes at the desk,” is a simple modern variation on Flaubert’s static dictum.

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, we can go on an informative virtual tour of Dahl’s fabled writing hut, minus the writer and his lanky legs that are no longer resting on that log-filled suitcase. When do the rest of us get our writing huts?