Notes from An Alien

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Tag Archives: Susan Sontag

“The Violet Hour” ~ #Writers Facing Death . . .

If you put — What does “the violet hour” mean? —  into Google, you’ll get, right at the top

“Violet hour is the time when the sun is setting and the sky turns purple. The sunset scene and the violet color is usually representative of sadness and something fading away…”

That statement is followed by a link to a Wiki about a poem T. S. Eliot wrote—The Waste Land—which contains “the violet hour” twice; plus, “the violet air” and “the violet light”

There’s also a place in Chicago, Il, USA called The Violet Hour that serves “artisanal cocktails”

Here are a few books called The Violet Hour—by Katherine Hill, by Andrea L Wells, by Richard Montanari, by Whitney A Miller, and a play by Richard Greenberg

There is at least one more book with that title—The Violet Hour by Katie Roiphe—which is subtitled, Great Writers at the End

Here are excerpts from three reviews of that last book

First from Rachel Cooke on The Guardian:

“Katie Roiphe began writing The Violet Hour, her sixth book, when she was 12 years old – or at least, that was when the thread of the idea burrowed its way, wormlike, deep inside her head. She was then gravely ill, so unwell with pneumonia she was coughing up blood.”

“Her subjects are Susan Sontag, Sigmund Freud, John Updike, Dylan Thomas, Maurice Sendak and James Salter, names she chose mostly by instinct: ‘I’ve picked people who are madly articulate, who have extraordinary and abundant imaginations or intellectual fierceness, who can put the confrontation with mortality into words – and in one case images – in a way that most of us can’t or won’t.’”

“…I put down her book with the feeling – how to put this? – that she had blinked, that her ordinarily fierce heart had at some point grown faint.”

Next from Jennifer Senior on The New York Times:

“Ms. Roiphe does not claim there’s any special logic underlying her selections. She chose her subjects primarily based on love, admiration and a feral intuition, knowing they were ‘especially sensitive or attuned to death’ not just in their work but ‘in their letters, in their love affairs, in their dreams.’”

“She scotches the traditional linear narrative for something more epigrammatic and associative — a wise choice, seeing that death turns time into a jumble and occasions all kinds of reflection and stray reminiscences.”

“…these essays, at their finest, are often literary analyses.”

“But the point is: Her main interest is in looking at how her subjects wrestled generally with aging and dying, not the moment of death itself.”

And, last, from Heller McAlpin on the Los Angeles Times:

“Katie Roiphe’s The Violet Hour…is an analytical blend of journalism, literary criticism, and memoir that…tackles a personal obsession….an early brush with mortality…”

“Each essay begins at death’s door, rolls back time to explore the writer’s attitudes toward mortality before they were up against it, and finally describes their final moments on this mortal coil. Like death, the essays end with startling abruptness.”

“…her book is at once scholarly, literary, juicy — and unabashedly personal.”

“To reconstruct her authors’ dying days, Roiphe had to press their survivors for private details, resulting in some intriguing portraits of a variety of caregivers.”

“This unconventional, engaging book is clearly a form of therapy for Roiphe.”

Reviews of books are always colored by the personality of the reviewer, just as my reportorial excerpting of these three reviews depended on my personality (each of the reviews has more detail on some of the authors in Roiphe’s book)

I thought about getting the book but will decline (mostly because I have what just might be the World’s Largest To Be Read List…).

But I have read a book about facing death by an author I greatly admire and I can unhesitatingly recommend it to Anyone reading this post

It was written by John S. Hatcher, Professor Emeritus in English literature at the University of South Florida in Tampa (USA).

The title is Understanding Death: The Most Important Event of Your Life.

You can find it here:

Amazon (USA)

Google Books

Book Depository (free shipping, “world-wide”)

wordery (also, free shipping)
POST PUBLICATION EDIT: Well after I thought I’d finished this post I realized that back on March 20th I did a short shout-out about an interview with Katie Roiphe on National Public Radio
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There are 66 posts about writing advice on this blog and they include this one since I tag my posts with keywords; so, if you take that last link, you might see this post again at the top of the list, unless I’ve written another post about writing advice before you take that link—ah, the ins and outs of the Internet :-)

Today’s post features another blog’s articles about writing advice

The blog is Brain Pickings and the blogger is Maria Popova and I wrote about her in my post, A Blog for All Seasons.

However, she has a particular post, Famous Advice on Writing: The Collected Wisdom of Great Writers, that may have a somewhat flamboyant title but does pack a severe punch

It’s essentially a link-post—as she says:

“By popular demand, I’ve put together a periodically updated reading list of all the famous advice on writing presented here over the years, featuring words of wisdom from such masters of the craft as Kurt Vonnegut, Susan Sontag, Henry Miller, Stephen King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Susan Orlean, Ernest Hemingway, Zadie Smith, and more.”

Maria has 109 links to various authors’ advice; and, here’s just a bit of advice from this author (especially, if you’re relatively new to the craft of writing)—it’s much better to read the books of other authors that have no writing advice than it is to read writing advice and not apply you’re own judgement to it.

Naturally, that would mean I’m actually sharing two pieces of advice:

  • Read a lot.
  • Write a lot

If you don’t do the second one, you can’t generate your own judgement to apply to the advice of other writers.

I know, that may sound quite convoluted; but, we’re talking about writing, not about baking bread—though, there may be a few tricks that can be transferred from baking to writing
If you don’t see a way to comment (or, “reply”) after this post, try up there at the top right…
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