Ep. 23. Beyond The Codex: Unorthodox writing surfaces
I figure that when writers have a compulsion to put a story down on paper, and paper, as we might think of it, is not readily available, their urge to get the story out will improvise a writing surface out of anything. After listening to this episode you will see that the surfaces and materials used by authors to write their books might not always be pristine, convenient, picturesque, portable, or big enough to contain too much text; but when inspiration strikes, any available surface is up for grabs.
Photo by Volodymyr Hryshchenko
📗 Finnegans Wake by James Joyce
It is not the first time we talk about Finnegans Wake in the show. In Ep. 9. Blurry Lines, we mentioned that this novel had taken Joyce 17 years to complete due to his gradual sight loss. Despite this difficulty, Joyce did finished his novel, he just had to use unconventional writing methods. Finnegans Wake, Joyce's final masterpiece, was completed by writing its text on cardboard with crayons. As colorful as the crayons used to write the novel are the characters in it, its circular structure, and the language employed by Joyce.
Finnegans Wake is one of those books that require a Guinness stout to complement its reading. And, you can make it a party and add to that pairing a Finnegan's Cake. We have found the recipe to this chocolate Guinness cake at Amy Patricia Meade's blog and judging by the pictures it must be delicious! The book has also inspired the Finnegan's Wake cocktail that we have found in Town & Country magazine. This green drink, along with several others in the same article, would be perfect for the upcoming St. Patrick's Day celebrations.
Photo by Tata Zaremba
📗 Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Vladimir Nabokov was an avid lepidopterist; he studied butterflies methodically, to the point that even the Nabokov's wood nymph was named after him. In the 1950s, Nabokov travelled extensively in the American West with his wife Vera, the de facto driver, since Nabokov never learned to drive. During this trips, Nabokov would use index cards to collect the information about the butterflies he encountered. But he used the back of those same index cards to write his book Lolita.
Wyoming is one of the states that the Nabokov's spent the most time traveling during the 1950s. Today, more than a century after Lolita was completed, several of the motels and landmarks Nabokov visited while writing the book are still standing, as evidenced by Landon Jones' article for the Footsteps column of The New York Times. What that means is that, guided by Landon Jones' article, today, bookworms with wanderlust can read Lolita while following on the footsteps of Nabokov throughout Wyoming.
The subject matter of Lolita is an unpalatable one. Nabokov himself was so worried about the book reception that he attempted, unsuccessfully, to burn the aforementioned note cards twice. It is also because of the topic covered in Lolita that designers might panic at the task of creating a cover for this book. But Jamie Keenan did not panic, he excelled when he designed the cover for Lolita as part of the contest launched by John Bertram to "re-cover" Lolita. His cover present us at first sight with a photo of the corner of a room with white ceiling and pink walls. But when the observer takes a second look, something more disturbing is revealed. You can appreciate Keenan's cover in our Cover Gallery or in the book Lolita: The Story of A Cover Girl, which captures Keenan's and other entries for the contest.
📗 Petter Moen Diary by Peter Moen
Petter Moen was part of the Norwegian resistance under German occupation during WWII. He was the editor of an underground newspaper, and his activities led him to be arrested In 1944. During his time in prison, Moen would use a pin to write diary entries in toilet paper which he would hide in the ventilation shaft. Moen perished in the shipwreck of the Westphalen as he was being transported, but before this event he had confided the location of his diary to some of his fellow prisoners. One of them, who survived the shipwreck of the Westphalen, returned to Oslo once WWII was over and found Petter Moen's unorthodox diary, allowing for its later publication and translation into several languages.
Mollergata 19, in Oslo used to be the location of the Nazi police headquarter and jail during occupation. It is in this location that Moen wrote and hid his diary.
📗 Dark Carnival by Ray Bradbury
Bradbury started writing his short stories when he was 11. But he was not filling out notebooks with stories; instead, he used butcher paper to write and lay out the plots of his short stories. I am sure that at least some elements made the jump from the butcher paper to his first short story collection, Dark Carnival. The collection includes 27 short stories that all center around a dark theme.
Some of the 27 stories have been reprinted in other short story collections, mostly in The October Country. For this reason, Bradbury was opposed to reprinting Dark Carnival for several years. But in 2001, Gauntlet Press released a limited edition of Dark Carnival which included the original 27 plus 5 extra ones.
As you can imagine, any of the editions of Dark Carnival are rare and expensive. If you are a Bradbury fan and have some money to spend, we have found a first edition published by Arkham House in 1947 and signed by Bradbury himself that would set you back $2,500. We also found the edition published by Gauntlet Press for $500.
📗 Marvel Comic Super Special #1
From 1977 to 1986, Marvel released 41 issues of comic books that mainly included film and TV adaptations and music-related fictional adventures. The first of these Super Special issues featured the rock band KISS. If you have seen the cover of Marvel Comic Super Special #1, you might have notice an unusual boast which reads: "Printed in real KISS blood". The announcement is not comic book fantasy, it is completely true. The band members had their blood withdrawn and mixed with the red ink that was used to print the comic, and the process was authenticated and witnessed by a notary public.
In 2020, KISS announced their teaming up with Marvel one more time for the release of merchandise celebrating their previous collaboration during the Super Special issues. Among the merchandise there are several t-shirts with albums and comic covers featuring the legendary rock band and marvel superheroes.
📗 The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether by Edgar Allan Poe
One of his earliest manuscripts, The System of Doctor Tart and Professor Fether, was initially written by Poe in his beautiful handwriting in a long scroll of paper. The scroll was created by Edgar Allan Poe himself as he used sealing wax to attach individual sheets of paper. The scroll is a dramatic touch to add to a gothic short story, in which a naive narrator visits a mental asylum that has become known for a new treatment for mental illness.
The 2014 movie Stonehearst Asylum, starring Kate Beckinsale Ben Kingsley, and Michael Caine, is an adaptation of The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether. Both the movie and the short story are recommended bibliotherapy for readers looking for some dark gothic humor.
Almost century later, another writer favored scrolls, just like Poe. If you have listened to Episode 1, you might have already heard that Jack Kerouac typed the manuscript of On The Road in a gigantic scroll he created adjoining individual sheets of paper. He did so to avoid interrupting his flow every time he had to stand up to change the paper.
📗 A Fable by William Faulkner
The outline of A Fable was scribbled by Faulkner in the walls of his writing room at Rowan Oak, his estate in Mississippi. The notes on the wall later became A Fable, the novel about Holy Week during WWI that won him his first Pulitzer in 1955.
His writing in the wall of his office has been preserved, and it can be appreciated by visiting Rowan Oak. When Faulkner purchased the oak-lined estate, it was dilapidated, and he personally did much of the renovation himself, creating his own haven. He lived in the property for 40 years, until his death in 1962. His funeral reception was held at Rowan Oaks.
Rowan Oak, William Faulkner's Estate. Photo by Gary Bridgman
📗 The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
Faulkner and Hemingway did not see eye to eye when they co-wrote the screenplay for the movie adaptation of To Have and Have Not (1944). Faulkner even said of Hemingway that "he has never used a word where the reader might check his usage in a dictionary.” However, Hemingway's style has been prized for that same reason. Hemingway's "iceberg theory", using words straightforwardly which appears simple on the surface but revealing deeper meanings underneath, is best represented in The Sun Also Rises.
Speaking of the iceberg theory, it is Hemingway that is attributed with the famous story using only six words: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." The anecdote goes, that Hemingway bet he could write a story containing a beginning, a middle, and an end using only six words. Then he grabbed a napkin and wrote the famous story and won the bet. It is that anecdote, of a story written in a napkin, which gave the name to our section Six-Word Review. So, it is fitting that we choose one of his books for this section, and we have picked The Sun Also Rises. We have reviewed it using the following six words: Sparse prose recovers the Lost Generation
Readers who have enjoyed The Sun Also Rises, would be delighted with a visit to Madrid. The protagonists of the novel, in the last scene, visit Restaurante Botin, a restaurant that claims to be the oldest restaurant in the world, operating without interruptions since 1725. Hemingway himself frequented the restaurant and even wrote in here at times. I can vouch for the food being absolutely delicious and the ambiance being unforgettable. If you have trouble finding this gem, look for the restaurant with a painting of Hemingway and a quote from The Sun Also Rises etched in one of the front windows. You can cap the night at the bar of the Westin Palace Hotel, which was frequented by Hemingway and the characters in The Sun Also Rises as well.
For Book vs. Book, this week we have chosen two poets who found unorthodox ways of recording their words.
📗 The Collected Poems by Wallace Stevens
The poet Wallace Stevens used to take walks during the morning or lunch time. During this walks, he would write in scraps of paper that he would pocket and later hand to his secretary to be typed.
The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens are great for introspection and reflection, as suggested by one of the quotes from the poet himself: "The house was quiet and the world was calm. The reader became the book."
📗 Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings by Emily Dickinson
There was a period in Emily Dickinson's life, in which the poet used to stay home and use any old scrap of paper she might have found around to write her poems. One of these odd paper scraps were envelopes. They were not discovered until 130 years after they were penned, when historian Martha L. Werner found 52 envelope fragments with poems in Dickinson's handwriting. The "envelope poems", as they came to be known, have been published in the book Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings.
There is very popular book which was born as the author started writing in a motion sickness bag when inspiration hit during a flight. For GuessWork this week, would you be able to identify this book by its first line?
With new and fast-developing technologies to communicate and record our words, we wonder whether any of these will be the inception of a new novel or even the media in which a whole new book is written. We know, so far, about the Twitter Novel Project, in which Shawn Kupfer has created six 140-characters long novels in the social media platform. This might not be the last unorthodox surface writers use to write their novels.
To buy books covered in this episode, visit our TBR Bundles.