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How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors Hardcover – April 24, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Crowe, founding editor of Zembla magazine, and Oltermann asked 67 authors to tell them about meaningful objects in their work spaces. The answers, revealed in this playful and snappily designed book of text and photographs revolve around the things writers use for inspiration or to ward off their demons—insufficient inspiration, procrastination and writer's block. Lucky charms abound. Luis J. Rodriguez keeps a statuette of the Hindu lord of success on his desk; Siri Hustvedt has a set of abandoned keys to symbolically unlock the doors to her stories. Writing implements are important: Hanif Kureishi's pens; John Byrne's old Olympia portable typewriter; Peter Hobbs's generic red and blue notebooks. Furniture matters, too, including Alain de Botton's huge desk and Jonathan Franzen's squeaky office chair. Some writers depend on food or drink—chocolate for Douglas Coupland, tea for Tash Aw and Benjamin Markovits. And there are Arthur Bradford's dogs, Nicholson Baker's earplugs and Jay McInerney's 500,000-year-old hand ax. Each writer's short explanation of his or her relationship to a particular talisman is accompanied by a full-page color photograph of the device, making this handsome coffee-table book an intriguing object in its own right. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

"How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors" (RIzzoli, 186 pages, $35) offers a compendium in which 78 writers are asked the standard questions: Where do you get your ideas How do you deal with writer's block? What are the highs and lows of a day? Behavioral quirks rule, to no one's surprise. A talismanic aura of one sort or another touches these writerly days. -- The Wall Street Journal August 2007

"We expected to give it a glance and put it down, but instead we were captivated..." -- Arizona Republic

"gives you voyeuristic glimpses" -- Black Book

HOW I WRITE is going to appeal less to writers than it is to design freaks, because, like a book in the hands of Chip Kidd -it's an exceedingly well-designed tome for your coffee table, playful with typography and smart with the art, whether drawn or photographed. You can read it if you want to, but you'll be blown away by Vince Frost's design job -- Bookgasm.com

How I Write edited by Dan Crowe (Rizzoli) 192 pages Jonathan Franzen uses a squeaky, battered green office chair. Will Self uses Post-it notes. Douglas Coupland uses chocolate. Jay McInerney uses an axe. What for, you ask? To write. That's right: to write. And that's what this charming book is all about. Not why these people write, but how. It's about their habits and, more importantly, their talismans. Where do they get their inspiration? Their ideas? How do they keep those ideas organized? Imagine walking into the office of Joyce Carol Oates or A.S. Byatt, and you'd see portraits in the office of the former, a cabinet of curiosities in the latter. Written in short bursts of chapters by the authors themselves, the book comes across almost as a confessional, a "come in and see what I'm all about" sort of thing. It's embarrassingly addictive and impossible to put down. Movie stars. TV stars. Sports stars. Just about any early evening entertainment news program will tell you everything you need to know. But authors? Nah. To what they're really all about, you need this terrific book. Give it to someone you know who is as addicted to Nicholson Baker and Melissa Bank as others are to Brad and Angelina. -- Tony Buchsbaum -- January Magazine, December 3, 2007

That's why books like How I Write: The Secret Lives of Authors tend[s] to ...appeal to the literary voyeur in all of us..." (with images form the book) -- Chicago Sun-Times

What makes this book so interesting? Crowe asked well-known writers to submit descriptions of the "object, picture or document inyour study (that) reveals most about the relationship between living and writing." Sounds gimmicky at best. We expected to give it a glance and put it down, but instead we were captivated, and we've figured out why: The texxt in the book was written by competitive, creative people who really know how to tell a story. JOnathan Franzen sent a paragraph about his old office chair, which seems to be made primarily of duct tape. Melissa Bank sent a New York Times photograph of a blindfolded rhinoceros being-lifted from floodwaters. It captures, she said, "the ungainly struggle, the possibility of rescue, the blind faith writing requires." Douglas Coupland offered a scintillating essay on chocolate as a cure for writer's block. Other contributors include Jane Smiley, A.S. Byatt, Will Self, ZZ Packer, Tom Robbins and David Guterson.

-The Arizona Republic -- The Ledger, Lakeland FL. June 24th, 2007

on themorningnews.org "...lighthearted and visually exciting romp through the cornfield of literature..." -- Identitytheory.com

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Rizzoli (April 24, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0847829421
  • ISBN-13: 978-0847829422
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 0.9 x 10.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #993,211 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on June 25, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The creative process is a mystery to all of us. Scientists study it, creative writing classes try to bring it out, and when artists are asked about creativity they often say something akin to "The idea just came to me." My few creative ideas certainly just came to me, a kind of insight that popped into my head. What Editor Dan Crowe has done with more than 65 writers is ask what helps their imagination while they are creating. The title, "How I write" is a bit misleading because I thought this well designed volume would be about how plots are laid out and "formulae" that are followed. It is not.

Rather than a book on how to write, it is a series of curious vignettes about the behavior of writers, perhaps better stated as the superstitious behavior of writers: what objects and sensations they surround themselves with as they work. For example Amy Holmes requires natural light and music by Jimi Hendrix or Glenn Gould, Janine Di Giovanni recalls how she keeps a Maglite found in the midst of Serbo-Croatian war, Jane Smiley seeks inspiration in a hot shower, while the very honest Tibor Fischer hits the nail on the head with "money." These dozens of short tales give less of an insight into how to write than they do into the writer. What the editor might have done is tell the reader how he came up with such creative idea for a book. What talisman did he use? The layout and design alone should make it a highly desirable coffee table book, but not one that will lay unopened. It is a book that makes you want to open it, peruse a bit, and ultimately read.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robin Benson on September 23, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book seems to have polarized reviewers. I tend to agree with the reduced star folk because it really appears more of a marketing project rather than a title with lots of meaningful content. To get round the fact that all the text for the sixty-seven writers would have made a really slim book the publishers have let lose an Australian design group to fill out the pages with a visual extravaganza of photos, graphics and expressive typography.

The problem is the look of the pages totally overpowers the text but this maybe is what was wanted anyway as there is so little readable content. So, a book about the thoughts of some writers becomes an exercise in design but I think it fails because good design is presenting information with clarity and style which the reader should not notice. Design in How I Write is anything but unnoticeable, for example: the page numbers don't exist, instead each left-hand page has, near the spine and turned sideways: How (I) Write ++++++++ ONE HUNDRED AND SIXTEEN etc, the back of the book bibliographies are set in one solid block of run-on type with the writer's names in red (and not even bold face) over nine pages, throughtout the book various letters of the alphabet, seemingly chosen at random, are so enlarged that they run of the edge of the pages.

I must admit that as a publication designer (thankfully retired) had I seen this book some decades ago I probably would have been mightily impressed with its flash look but now it seems so obviously a triumph of style over substance. Really not much more than designers having fun with a software graphics package and on that basis I'll keep it as a flamboyant example of that. If I was interested in learning a bit about writing style I would stick to David Lodge's `The Art of Fiction' (ISBN 978 0140174922) a Penguin paperback that really delivers and without a graphic in sight.

***SEE SOME INSIDE PAGES by clicking 'customer images' under the cover.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Lisa Jones on June 2, 2007
Format: Hardcover
How I write is a stunning example of top notch writers whose work looks all the better thanks to the beautiful design. The submissions come from a wide variety of writers from the semi-obscure to the household names. The design was done by Vince Frost, one of the world's most famous art directors. The objects the writers selected gives a unique insight into their characters and the mystical process of writing. A perfect gift for anyone who likes writing or reading. It's the ultimate coffee-table book for the literary set.
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14 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Allan H. Clark VINE VOICE on May 21, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First and foremost this is an immensely attractive book in design. In fact it seems a bit overdesigned. Typography and graphics vary throughout. The occasional page numbers are to be found near the crease, where they are not useful and hardly decorative. (On verso pages they are printed correctly, but the recto ones are printed with letters reversed. Why?)

Consequently you pick the book up hoping to discover within its lusciously designed pages a few delectable secrets of how writers manage their magic. You get some charming comments (A.S. Byatt, Joyce Carol Oates, and Ian Rankin were ones I enjoyed) but you don't get enough for your money. Tibor Fischer's one word submission (money) seems hardly worth spreading out over two pages--even as a joke or refreshing example of honesty.

The book compares poorly with Jill Kremenz's book, The Writer's Desk, of a few years back. She had better authors, they talked more about writing, and you got a black and white photo of the author in his scriptorium. (Joyce Carol Oates is the only overlap I found between the two.)

All the design effort seems a bit wasted. There is even a bookmark ribbon to mark your place, but you won't need it--there's nothing to remember here.
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