Torea Frey

Editor, writer, photographer, observer on the street.

An author by any other name ...

Last night, I finished Carmela Ciuraru's Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms. A cool topic, and interesting to consider in an age where some are calling for more transparency and less anonymity on the Internet.

I read novels most of the time, and this was a good reminder of all the cool STUFF that nonfiction can teach you. I mean, did you know:

  • Lewis Carroll (or Charles Dodgson) was an early proponent of the standing desk ("He wrote most of his books, include Alice, while standing up," according to Ciuraru, and supposedly could stand at his desk for 10 hours a day). Carroll also had strange tea rituals -- he steeped it for exactly 10 minutes, and paced, swinging the teapot, for those 10 minutes -- and walked, sometimes as much as 20 miles a day, to solve problems or reflect on life (though it's anyone's guess as to why he made notes about his feet and how they held up post-walk).
  • Georges Simenon, what a whacko! Ciuraru notes, "He owned a gold watch that a reporter described as 'the size and shape of a brioche.'" [yum!] "This was a man as intoxicated by himself as others are by fine wine ... On the advice of his doctor, he restricted himself to two bottles of red Bordeaux daily. (He did got through periods of renouncing alcohol for Coca-Cola.) One friend recalled a common sight: Simenon throwing up a bottle's worth of cognac in the garden, 'two fingers down his throat, after he finished a chapter.'" (Drunkenness, many a writer's friend/foe.) Also? "... he weighed himself before and after completing each new book, so as to measure how much sweat the project had cost him."
  • Patricia Highsmith, who wrote Strangers on a Train, was altogether unpleasant, but had a strange affection for snails: "Her fondness for snails was such that she kept three hundred of them in her garden in Suffolk and insisted on traveling with them. When she moved to France in 1967, she smuggled snails into the country by hiding them under her breasts -- and she made several trips back and forth to smuggle them all."

Read it. The Bronte bits and the Mark Twain chapter felt somewhat familiar, but now I'm raring to read some Henry Greene (Henry Yorke) and learn more about the sad end of James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon).