Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: James Joyce

Authors As Fans of Other Authors


I’m a fan of C. J. Cherryh, when it comes to famous authors.

When it comes to authors I know, it’s Jane Watson

I’ve learned how to write by reading other authors.

In my previous post, The “Self”-Education of Writers . . ., I said:

“Many are the writers whose education—beyond that which is learned from living fully and authentically—comes from reading other writers—their creative fiction, not books about how to write.”

And, in the post, How To Read Like A Writer, I quoted Francine Prose, saying:

“Concerning writers reading to learn how to write—’…the connection has to do with whatever mysterious promptings make you want to write. It’s like watching someone dance and then secretly, in your own room, trying out a few steps.’

“’You will do yourself a disservice if you confine your reading to the rising star whose six-figure, two-book contract might seem to indicate where your own work should be heading.’

“’The only time my passion for reading steered me in the wrong direction was when I let it persuade me to go to graduate school….I left graduate school and became a writer.’”

So, it may be rather obvious that authors become fans of other authors and there is evidence in a post over at Flavorwire called, 10 Illuminating Fan Letters From Famous Authors, To Famous Authors.

Here are just a few snippets:

From Norman Mailer to William Styron, 1953:

“I have only one humble criticism. I wonder if you realize how good you are. That tendency in you to invert your story and manner your prose just slightly, struck me—forgive the presumption—as coming possibly from a certain covert doubt of your strengths as a writer, and you’re too good to doubt yourself.”

From Ray Bradbury to Robert Heinlein, 1976:

“…I REMEMBER, WARMLY, YOUR MANY KINDNESSES TO ME WHEN I WAS 19–20–21 YEARS OLD.”
Yes, apparently, Bradbury wrote that in all Caps :-)

From Charles Dickens to George Eliot, 1858:

“I have been so strongly affected by the two first tales in the book you have had the kindness to send me through Messrs. Blackwood, that I hope you will excuse my writing to you to express my admiration of their extraordinary merit.”

From Virginia Woolf to Olaf Stapledon, 1937:

“…sometimes it seems to me that you are grasping ideas that I have tried to express, much more fumblingly, in fiction.”

From James Joyce to Henrik Ibsen, 1901:

“I can hardly tell you how moved I was by your message. I am a young, a very young man, and perhaps the telling of such tricks of the nerves will make you smile. But I am sure if you go back along your own life to the time when you were an undergraduate at the University as I am, and if you think what it would have meant to you to have earned a word from one who held so high a place in your esteem as you hold in mine, you will understand my feeling.”

an anti-fan letter from William S. Burroughs to Truman Capote, 1970:

“You have betrayed and sold out the talent that was granted you by this department. That talent is now officially withdrawn. Enjoy your dirty money. You will never have anything else. You will never write another sentence above the level of In Cold Blood. As a writer you are finished. Over and out. Are you tracking me? Know who I am? You know me, Truman. You have known me for a long time. This is my last visit.”

If you go to Flavorwire to read the complete letters, be sure to note the [via] link after each letter, to be led to more information
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Take Back Those Words !


Have you ever read something and wished the author hadn’t published it?

Have you ever published something and wished you could wipe it off the face of the earth?

Certainly, writers (of worth) take back many of their words during edits and revisions—sometimes, of course, restoring them, then, removing them, then, perhaps, trashing the whole lot

I just read an article in The Atlantic by Maria KonnikovaWhen Authors Disown Their Work, Should Readers Care?

It’s not about the normal disowning a writer does as they’re creating, it’s about finished work that the author judges harshly.

She discusses, primarily, incidents of radical disowning by W. H. Auden, Virgil, Nathaniel Hawthorne,Thomas Hardy, and James Joyce, though other authors are mentioned.

Naturally, as Maria indicates, if a writer commits their work to digital form, it could be impossible to get rid of it

The most compelling issue in the article, for me, is whether readers should respect an author’s feelings about words they want to call back—whether authors should rank higher than readers in judgements of literary worth.

Does a writer’s work really “belong” to the reader after publication?

Should readers respect the judgement by an author that a post-publication revision is the “official”, “definitive” version?

Should authors feel defeated, even if readers love their work, because what was published becomes something they want to disown?

At the risk of your not reading the whole article—brilliantly written—I’ll quote a substantial portion of Maria’s opinion:

“At the end, we can embrace and love whatever we want of an author’s work. But we also can’t ignore a writer’s express wish just because we don’t happen to agree with it. Instead, we can use that wish to enrich our understanding of the disinherited words, by doing our best to understand their history and the reason why their author chose to cast them aside as unworthy. We can, in other words, give authors the same consideration we’d want if we ourselves come to decide that something in our past no longer suits our present selves: the freedom to rethink and reconsider, to take back and reframe as we mature and as our understanding of the world changes. And we don’t even have to unwrite history to do that.”

Do, please, read the full article

And, do share your thoughts and feelings in the Comments.
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Are These The Most Difficult Books to Read?


It appears Paulo Coelho has said (according to The Guardian) that James Joyce’s Ulysses has no content worth reading“One of the books that caused great harm was…Ulysses, which is pure style. There is nothing there. Stripped down, Ulysses is a twit.”

Some folks would also rank Ulysses as a difficult book to read.

Two folks at the site The Millions (“an online magazine offering coverage on books, arts, and culture since 2003”) have, since 2009, been working to produce a Most Difficult To Read list

In their 2009 article, Introducing Difficult Books, A Descriptive List (which has their first list), I found these clarifying excerpts:

“There will, doubtless, be those readers who look scornfully on our choices (“Psh. These aren’t that hard, you’re just not smart enough to read them“).”

“This list is for the mere mortals among us—who have found themselves reading and rereading the same paragraph of James Joyce’s Ulysses to no avail…”

“But this is also a list for those who, after breaking the spine, picked up the wounded volume, taped it back together, and finished that infuriating chapter, and another, and another… until, triumph!, it was finished at last. And, perhaps, now that we think on it again, having finished, could it be that it was worth the struggle? Could it be that in the pain of it was a tinge of pleasure, of value (not to mention pride)?”

Publishers Weekly recently posted an updated list of the 10 Most Difficult from the curators at The Millions:

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes, A Tale of A Tub by Jonathan Swift, The Phenomenology of the Spirit by G.F. Hegel, To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, Clarissa, Or the History of a Young Lady by Samuel Richardson, Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, Being & Time by Martin Heidegger, The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, The Making of Americans by Gertrude Stein, and Women & Men by Joseph McElroy.

If you go to that Publishers Weekly link you can read their reasons for listing these books as “Most Difficult”

Have you read any of these books?

Did you think them exceedingly difficult?

Are there other books you think are extremely difficult to read?
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