Fresh off of the success of her documenting the strange origins of some of the world's most fabulous stories in Dancing with Mrs. Dalloway, Celia Blue Johnson is at it again with Odd Type Writers: From Joyce and Dickens to Wharton and Welty, the Obsessive Habits and Quirky Techniques of Great Authors. As the extended title would make easily apparent, the novel creeps back into the bedrooms, studies, libraries, and cabins of even the most reclusive of authors, to figure out how, exactly, they did what they did. From self-mandated house arrest (Victor Hugo), to storing rotten apples in his desk drawer (Friedrich Schiller), to what surprising companionship both Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe had in common in their practices, this book investigates that integral step in the writing process: what actually helped these classic names to sit down, and write!
I've already been a fan of Celia Blue Johnson's, and her work continues on in this book as well. She does an excellent job with scholastically gathering citation-worthy facts about the private lives of many different authors, and stringing them together to form glimpses through the windows of time and place, to see how these writers lived, in a way that's interesting, exciting, and easily approachable, even if you haven't read the works by all (or any) of these writers before.
If anything, sometimes the writing style is done with such a clinical baseness that it completely overshoots the bounds of scholarly accessibility, and lands somewhere near the lower rungs of the reading comprehension ladder. For a work that extols the virtues of some heavy lifters of the literary world, Johnson's writing is decidedly vanilla, non elaborate, and un-distracting from the information presented within the context of the work itself, rather than crowding fact with ornate prose and interest. This depending on your own reading preference, can be a godsend, or, if you're anything like me, almost distracting in itself.
However, the information-gathering is, after all, the highlight of the book. From Charles Dickens playing with kittens to Agatha Christie eating apples and solving mysteries from the comfort of her bathtub, from pen color choices to pencil sharpening methods, standing up, sitting down, or lying straight on their stomach, this is compelling stuff. And then, you can judge for yourself how the method of these greats compare to your own chosen method of getting the words out.
Unfortunately, the book itself is rather short, and was barely the work of one afternoon for this reader. However the topic presented was imagination-sparking enough, that I'm sure I'll be imagining my favorite authors at their means of occupation as they were described in this book, every time I take a trip back into their best works.