I received an ARC of this title from the publisher via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.
Published by Amazon Publishing, January 20, 2015
What are we looking for when we look at the lives of great writers? I would assume many of us want the dirt; the broken relationships, alcohol problems, madness and eccentric behaviors we associate with artistic types. This is not a book about those things.
Process: The Writing Lives of Great Authors, is exactly what it says it is. These are not biographies of writers in the grand sense, but a focused look at the schedules, behaviors and work preferences of particularly successful and memorable authors. In the introduction, Stodola states her intent to create a book that is of interest to both writers and general readers, and while probably true, I think it may skew slightly more towards writers than fans of particular authors. The information that has been rigorously gathered by Stodola (and rigorously cited- this book is 20% end notes) is fascinating, though occasionally on the dry side. There are bits of interesting trivia to be had, and lots of encouragement if you are looking for writers that succeeded despite strange or unexpected working habits.
All of the writers chosen are novelists, in that they have published at least one novel, and all began publication in the 20th and 21st centuries. The chapters each cover a pair of writers, placed together either because of a similarity or to compare and contrast. There are the Nine-to-Fivers (Kafka and Morrison), the Productive Procastinators (DFW and Richard Price), and others defined by their particular style. Later chapters contrast the Social Butterfly Fitzgerald with the Lone Wolf Roth. The closing chapter looks at the different approaches of Margaret Atwood and Zadie Smith in relation to technology (specifically the internet and social media). Each is straightforward and mostly undramatic, with lots of quotable facts sprinkled throughout, like Virginia Woolf’s preference for purple ink, or Vladimir Nabokov’s habit of writing in the bathtub. Each author’s entry ends with “A Day in the Writer’s Life” segment, which is interesting but unnecessary, as it really just sums up what was already covered in the longer text.
In the end, what Process does, aside from providing an enjoyable look at famous authors, is show us that there is no one correct or commendable way to write. There is always a lot of talk about writers absolutely having to write something every day, establish set times and word counts, which the many examples in this book proves to be untrue, or at least nebulous. There is no one way to write, and even the hardest circumstances don’t have to limit a writer’s potential, if the drive is there. Joyce went blind, Woolf and DFW dealt with severe mental illness, Nabokov was a perpetual refugee, Morrison was a single mother, Kafka was thwarted by his family, Rushdie was driven into hiding by a fatwa- and yet they all worked within their limits to the best of their abilities, and we are still reading their work and analyzing their lives today.
Cross-posted on Goodreads:Process