Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle 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:

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

Still stuck? Chocolate, coffee, and real estate are always dependable choices.

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