Tuesday, September 01, 2009

This is a writer's life

I suspect that many of us envy the idea of a writing life. Lots of contemplation, musings, and being one's own boss. The ultimate life of thinking leisure. Mine would involve sipping sloe gin fizzes and Pimm's Cup while resting at the Lodge at Torrey Pines.

The reality of course is often far different. For many it means taking a series of soulless jobs, facing years of rejection and living with an odd mix of relationships. In Beg, Borrow or Steal, novelist Michael Greenberg describes his writers life from his early, striving and starving days to his recent successful ones.

The book consists of a series of short essays, originally published in the Times Literary Supplement, built around an anecdote from his life. They range from the tense, as when he and his wife have a run-in with the military government of Argentina, to the comic, as in his failed attempts to pay the bills working as a waiter and his visit to a polyamory group. While the subject matter varies, there is a calm sense of reflection about them that makes each of them a great pleasure to read.

Greenberg has spent most of his life in New York City and its environs so much of the stories focus on the City. You'll learn for example about the giant potter's field located not far from LaGuardia and as well as the "Negros Burial Ground," the earliest known African-American cemetery in the United States. Greenberg also writes about Jewish life, including the role of circumcision. His principal subject, though, is writing, including the perils of screen-writing and the role his writer friends and mentors have played in his life.

The essays here are remarkably concise, but are still meaningful. They are strong stories well worth reading.


Citizen Reader said...

I must get this book--thank you for reviewing it.

Whenever I think of the "writing life," I always think of John Gregory Dunne saying that it really was a lot like any other job, quite boring at times, similar to simply "laying pipe." Also that his daughter thought her writing parents had the most boring jobs in the world, as she only saw them sitting at their typewriters across from one another all day, typing, rarely talking, and only ever sometimes even taking the time to look up or around.

Tripp said...

Yes, I suspect it gets to be a lot like an office job that involves writing. Lots of frustration and pacing and staring at screens, but at least with the office job you get free coffee.