Forty-one essays on writing and reading, culled from the pages of the New York Times. Darnton, the Times’s culture editor, brings forth the cream of the writerly crop with anecdotes, suggestions, musings, and meditations of such illustrious authors as Russell Banks, Saul Bellow, E.L. Doctorow, Louise Erdrich, Jamaica Kincaid, Barbara Kingsolver, David Mamet, Annie Proulx, Jane Smiley, Kurt Vonnegut, Alice Walker, and Elie Wiesel. We get insight into these writers' minds and their craft: Proulx advises writers to take advantage of garage sales and to research with card catalogues rather than the Internet; Sue Miller tackles the question of the line between fiction and autobiography. Personal anecdotes abound, from Ed McBain's memories of being paid three cents per word for stories that begin with a dangerous blonde to David Leavitt's confession that he cajoled his mother into buying him Playboy, despite his young years, supposedly for the charms of the hidden bunny on the cover.
The eclectic nature of the essays in subject matter and tone are all unified by an overwhelming sense of generosity of spirit, of writers offering encouragement, reflection, and introspection in order to help untangle the often bewildering complexities of the writing process.