Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: E.L. Doctorow

Writing and Surgery


The title of this post might make folks who aren’t writers turn away; but, from my perspective, readers only increase their appreciation for writers when they learn more about the writing life.

Are writers like Surgeons?

Image courtesy of Adam Ciesielski ~ http://www.freeimages.com/photographer/adamci-33882

I decided to do this post because Alec Nevala-Lee wrote a post called How is a writer like a surgeon?

I may also have leaned toward it because I had a critical surgery not all that long ago; and, while the attending doctors nearly crippled me with the pharmaceuticals they gave me, I’m very happy the surgeon saved me from the blocked artery I created from years of poor eating

As I usually do (to entice you to go read a full post), I’ll share a few excerpts.

Alec quoting E.L. Doctorow (who was an editor before becoming a novelist):

“Editing taught me how to break books down and put them back together. You learn values—the value of tension, of keeping tension on the page and how that’s done, and you learn how to spot self-indulgence, how you don’t need it. You learn how to become very free and easy about moving things around, which a reader would never do….You’re at ease in the book the way a surgeon is at ease in a human chest, with all the blood and guts and everything.”

Alec quoting John Ruskin:

“There is but one question ultimately to be asked respecting every line you draw: Is it right or wrong? If right, it most assuredly is not a ‘free’ line, but an intensely continent, restrained and considered line; and the action of the hand in laying it is just as decisive, and just as ‘free’ as the hand of a first-rate surgeon in a critical incision.”

And, Alec himself:

“…while it may seem like a stretch to compare a patient of flesh and blood to the fictional men and women on which a writer operates, the stakes are at least analogous….it’s not just a stack of pages, but a year of one’s existence that might feel like a loss if the operation isn’t successful. A story is a slice of mortality, distilled to a physical form that runs the risk of disappearing without a trace if we can’t preserve it.”

And, just one of the Comments after Alec’s post (from Ben Ezard):

“Just days ago I blogged, ‘I stand over my creative womb, gloves on and scalpal ready… there are two babies in there, conjoined twins and it is my job to separate them. Remaining together there chances are minimal, but separated they both may live healthy lives. I must extricate them from one another, sharing out vital organs and repairing the wounds the procedure inflicts.’ :)”

Does the comparison work for you—Writer as Surgeon?
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Would You Like A Hand-Annotated, First Edition of An Acclaimed Book?


Hand-Annotated First Editions

Image from PEN American’s Auction Site — Don DeLillo’s Handwriting

I’ve just begun re-reading the novel I published nearly four years ago and I’m going to annotate it with notes for my next book which will live in the same universe

After I’d decided to engage in this strange activity, I discovered that a group of authors and artists have also been writing in their own books

Christie’s (New York) is holding an auction of 75 hand-annotated, first edition books to support PEN American Center‘s work to protect the freedom to write.

PEN American Center says:
“Through annotations including notes, essays, drawings, photographs, letters to the reader, and inserted memorabilia, each contributor has transformed a first edition of a classic work into a distinct new artifact for one lucky buyer.”

The auction starts Today at 7 p.m. EST, USA and you can bid online.

There’s a link to more auction information and a Fascinating Video below; but, first, here are the books:

Marina Abramovic, “Dream Book” — Woody Allen, “Play It Again, Sam” — John Ashbery, “The Tennis Court Oath” — Paul Auster, “City of Glass” — T.C. Boyle, “Descent of Man” — Peter Carey, “True History of the Kelly Gang” — Eric Carle, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” — Robert A. Caro, “The Power Broker” — Michael Chabon, “The Mysteries of Pittsburgh”— Billy Collins, “Questions About Angels” — Michael Connelly, “The Black Echo” — Patricia Cornwell, “Postmortem” — Michael Cunningham, “The Hours” — Lydia Davis, “Break it Down”— Angela Y. Davis, “If They Come in the Morning”— Don DeLillo, “Underworld” — Junot Díaz, “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” — E.L. Doctorow, “City of God” — Rita Dove, “Ten Poems” — Jennifer Egan, “A Visit from the Goon Squad” — Louise Erdrich, “Love Medicine” — Jules Feiffer, “Little Murders” — Gillian Flynn, “Gone Girl”— Richard Ford, “The Sportswriter”— Neil Gaiman, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”— William Gass, “The Tunnel”— Malcolm Gladwell, “The Tipping Point”— Robert Gober, “Robert Gober: Sculpture and Drawing” — Sue Grafton, “‘A’ is for Alibi” — Roni Horn, “Bird” — Khaled Hosseini, “The Kite Runner” — Paul Karasik, “City of Glass: The Graphic Novel” — Garrison Keillor, “Lake Wobegon Days” — Barbara Kingsolver, “The Poisonwood Bible” — Joseph Kosuth, “Purloined” — Tony Kushner, “Angels in America” — Jhumpa Lahiri, “Interpreter of Maladies”  — Glenn Ligon, “Neon” — Peter Matthiessen, “The Snow Leopard” — David Mazzucchelli, “City of Glass: The Graphic Novel” — Julie Mehretu, “Grey Area” — Colum McCann, “Let the Great World Spin” — Jay McInerney, “Bright Lights, Big City” — Larry McMurtry, “Streets of Laredo” — Toni Morrison, “Beloved” — Paul Muldoon, “Knowing My Place” — Shirin Neshat, “Shirin Neshat: Untitled” — Joyce Carol Oates, “Them” — Yoko Ono, “Acorn” — Orhan Pamuk, “Snow” — Katherine Paterson, “Bridge to Terabithia” — Marilynne Robinson, “Housekeeping” — Philip Roth, “American Pastoral” and “Portnoy’s Complaint” — Ed Ruscha, “Past Stuff” — James Salter, “The Hunters” — George Saunders, “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline” — Simon Schama, “The Story of the Jews” — Richard Serra, “Richard Serra 2013” — Sam Shepard, “Buried Child” — David Simon, “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets” — Jane Smiley, “A Thousand Acres” — Kiki Smith, “Her Memory” — Patti Smith, “Just Kids” — Lemony Snicket, “The Bad Beginning” — Stephen Sondheim, “Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street” — Alec Soth, “Niagara” — Amy Tan, “The Joy Luck Club” — Colm Tóibín, “Brooklyn” — Fred Tomaselli, “Fred Tomaselli: Monsters of Paradise” — Anne Tyler, “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” — Alice Walker, “The Color Purple” — Lawrence Weiner, “NAU EM I ART BILONG YUMI” — Edmund White, “A Boy’s Own Story” — John Edgar Wideman, “Brothers and Keepers” — Tobias Wolff, “This Boy’s Life”

PEN American Center’s Auction Page (If you want Auction Updates scroll to the bottom of that page…)


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