Gifts for Writers
By Belinda Acosta
DECEMBER 14, 1998:
If the writer in your life is fortunate, he or she makes a living writing. More
often than not, the writer has a tolerable day job that's related to writing. But
the real writing takes place in the wee hours of the morning or night, after kids,
spouses, and household chores are attended to. What would be a suitable holiday gift
for the writer you know? Here are some suggestions:
Still stuck? Chocolate, coffee, and real estate are always dependable choices.
- Time. OK, you can't buy time, but if the writer lives with you, and
he or she inexplicably turns into a cabbage, as poet Naomi Shihab Nye suggests to
writers as a tactic for guarding their writing time, let them be cabbage.
- Writing tools. While most people think a fine pen is the ideal gift
for a writer, what they don't know is that writers have a persnickety devotion to
their writing utensils. You can spend top dollar on that Waterman or Mont Blanc pen,
but you might want to make sure the writer in your life isn't likely to store it
away in favor of a 12-pack of stick pens. The same is true of paper and journals.
Why not cut out the guesswork and offer the writer a Levenger catalog along with
a gift certificate? The Levenger catalog is chock-full of items for serious readers
and writers to pine over (http://www.levenger.com). Consider gift certificates to
Austin's own Paper Place, or an office supply store. And don't forget photocopy stores.
Writers kill many trees.
- Books on writing. There is no shortage of books on writing. There are
those that therapeutically coach writers. Books with a stubborn allegiance to the
canon and a rap on the knuckles to any writer who glances in the direction of the
nontraditional. The opposites of these are the books that celebrate the muse, the
imagination, breathlessly urging the writer to write. There are books written by
fiction writers and editors after long and distinguished careers, and books written
by writers who appear to have written nothing but books on how to write. Some are
clap-trap and some are quite good. Here are five suggestions:
On Writing Well, by William Zinsser (Harper Perennial, $14 paper). First
published in 1976, the newest edition (the sixth) was released earlier this year.
It still rings with Zinsser's warm and accessible wisdom.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, by Anne Lamott (Pantheon
Books, $15 paper). A primer for approaches to fiction and the writing life, in a
casual, humorous style.
Writing From the Center, by Scott Russell Sanders (Indiana University Press,
$12.95 paper). Winner of the Great Lakes Book Award in 1996, this book of handsome
essays is grounded in Sander's Midwestern upbringing and discussions of identity
shaped by place, geography, and home.
Writing, by Marguerite Duras, translated from the French by Mark Polizzotti
(Lumen Editions, $14.95 paper). There is something elegant and noble that glows in
this slim volume, written at the end of Duras' 60-year career.
The Observation Deck, A Tool Kit for Writers, by Naomi Epel (Chronicle
Books, $19.95). An unusual and very different writing guide. The kit includes a small
handbook of writing advice from a variety of authors, accompanied by a deck of 50
cards with suggestions like "write a letter," and "visit a dictionary,"
meant to kick writers out of the rut they have scribbled themselves into. The
Observation Deck is also good for teachers of writing.
- Subscriptions. Most writers wouldn't turn down a gift subscription to
Poets & Writers, The New Yorker, Bomb, or the literary journal of their choice. Boswell: Voices of Contemporary Thinkers is a new magazine that is as visually appealing as it is stimulating. The summer '98 issue featured interviews and writings by Dorothy Allison, Barry Lopez, Michael Ondaatje, and A.S. Byatt.
The upcoming issue will feature dialogues on race and writing. Boswell
is published by Burnside Press of Oregon. Single issues are $5.95 and subscriptions are available for $28.