Writers and their Coffee: a romantic tale

The relationship between a writer and her (or his) coffee is a complex and often tempestutous one, as seen here on my online friend Coco J. Ginger’s blog:

My french press looks awfully smug today. Queenly and defiant (like myself at times), I feel like she’s mocking me for giving into her toxic consumption yet another day. She see’s what’s happening– I haven’t paid her near the amount of attention that she requires in order to keep me happy. I fill her daily with the best smelling organic coffee beans a French Press of any real class could wish for….but the last few days I’ve left the coffee to grow cold and stagnant while I write ferociously unable to recognize real life, real people or my usual object friends that entertain me daily. (Read more of Coco’s blog here)

I think such a passionate relationship with a French Press could be the subject of an opera or at least a short story. Coco’s post was actually more about writing, but it’s interesting that it should begin with coffee, as the two activities are obviously closely linked.

For another romantic look at coffee, my friend and former classmate Rachel Wright reminisces about coffee, writing and good times in Europe:

 I imbibed the juice of the enchanted bean with the fervor of a religious zealot.  And the pages and pages I filled with enthusiastic scrawl while I sat along the canals of Venice, sipping an espresso — those felt to me like a gift from another plane.  I had met the gods, and they were highly caffeinated. All those people shaking in their pews in small, rural churches, the ones bowing down again and again and again at the Wailing Wall, the whirling dervishes spinning around and around and around in their white skirts — I felt something like that. (Read more of Rachel’s blog here)

As for me, I believe my relationship with coffee is less dramatic. It’s more of a working relationship. We work well together. The problem is stopping… Once caffienated, I will write for several hours, and even when I’m long since too tired to write, my brain will chatter away and come up with the most ridiculous ideas. “Hey, I’ve got the best idea!” my brain often says, “Wouldn’t it be cool to make a comic strip entirely about teapots? (my brain forgets that I don’t know how to draw) How about this: there’s this prince of Denmark… no, that’s been written already.” But once in a while, my brain will come up with a good idea like “How about we revise Count Morelli, that novel we wrote? It’s been sitting there waiting, and now we’re ready to get back to it.”

So the brain’s caffeine-fuelled chatter is a small price to pay for great ideas that contribute to the creation of an amazing swashbuckling novel.

One small cup for a writer, one giant novel for mankind!


Historical Book Review: The Elephant’s Journey

I haven’t actually finished The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramago, but I couldn’t wait to blog about it because this is the best book I’ve read in a long time. I highly recommend it for anyone who is a fan of elephants or historical fiction.

It’s based on a true story of an Indian elephant given by the king of Portugal to the Austrian Archduke Maximilian as a wedding present. The elephant must make the journey from Portugal to Austria, accompanied by Subhro, his trainer (or Mahout) who has been with him since India, an armed guard of 30 people, and an ox cart with provisions. The elephant, however, is the main character, as the narrator specifically points out.

The narrator himself is very interesting. Apparently he detests capitalization and punctuation of any kind, so the entire narrative flows together with minimal friction, and the reader eventually gets used to it. He also has a coy habit of addressing the reader directly at intervals, (which is exactly what I did in my first yet-unpublished novel, and I had been criticized for it many times. Hmph!) As a fellow compulsive reader-addresser, I can’t help but appreciate such lines as:

The wolves appeared the following day. Perhaps they had heard us mention them earlier and finally decided to show up.

The narrator is happy to take frequent breaks and digressions from narrating in order to reflect on the story. There is an incredible amount of funny and quotable phrases, such as the following, which occurs when the king is inspecting the neglected elephant and finds that it’s covered in dirt:

The king muttered some inaudible remark, then said in a clear, firm voice, I want that animal washed, right now. He felt like a king, he was a king, and that feeling is understandable when you consider that never in his entire life as a monarch had he uttered such a sentence.

Overall, the novel gives the impression of someone looking at very distant history through a fuzzy lens, trying to sort out what actually happened. At the same time, the reader also feels very close to the characters, as we’re allowed a glimpse into their thoughts and feelings. It’s a very touching story, maybe because there’s an animal protagonist who is kinder and wiser than the people around him. As I said, I haven’t quite finished reading, so I don’t know whether the elephant survives the difficult journey, but I hope he makes it!


The Dostoevsky Blog?

Image courtesy of Maira Kalman, from her book The Principles of Uncertainty

A while back, I wrote about Dostevsky’s The Idiot, and it still remains my most popular post. Yes, contrary to all expectations, Dostoevsky is more popular than seagulls, Jim Butcher, and Socrates combined… not bad for a dead white guy! I briefly considered renaming this “the Dostoevsky Blog” but that would make it hard to promote my own writing, unless I pretended my name was Dostoevsky.

Without going too extreme, I will see if we can have something of a semi-regular feature on Dostoevsky books. Also, if you have any questions about Dostoevsky or his writings, you can email me or leave a comment, and I’ll post the answers on this blog.