Literary Crushes

I have three. My literary crushes are a combination of admiration for the person’s writing, along with being drawn to the person, the public person obviously, by qualities I respond to. I find something original, compelling, accomplished—or likely all three—in their published work and their persona.


In the case of Gertrude Stein, it’s her certainty about herself, and her role in the literary world, taking writing to somewhere it had never been before. The sheer cheek of believing so thoroughly in her own genius and her persistence in the writing she so thoroughly believed in, is compelling. Something about the definiteness of her opinions and  conceit appeals, even when biographers point out that she wasn’t always in charge in her relationship with Alice B Toklas.


I first saw Susan Sontag in the film of “Town Bloody Hall” the famous New York debate chaired by Norman Mailer in 1979. (The one where Jill Johnstone snogged with a woman—or was it two?—onstage.) Sontag stood up from the audience to ask a question. I don’t remember the question, I do remember the woman I later found to be Susan Sontag, standing there, asking it. Since then I’ve read all her books and now I’m devouring the  journals edited by her son; so far, two volumes. I love her conviction about her ideas, her persona and style, her insistence on being a public intellectual, without an institutional base.


And now I’m taken with Eleanor Catton, in spite of my initial inclination to dislike her and her writing; call it writer envy if you like, she’s young and successful. I remember being mystified by The Rehearsal, and liking it a little bit. My notes from 2010 when I read it (yes, I keep a reading journal) don’t say a lot. I bought and started The Luminaries, which I wrote about in an earlier blog (23 September 2013) when it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and had long finished by the time it won.

I’m impressed by her thoughtfulness throughout countless interviews, her clarity regarding the complicated structure of The Luminaries and her capacity to respond to sometimes silly questions with apparent calm and common sense. She’s deeply intelligent, I think. So, I’ve moved from a somewhat petty envy to outright admiration.

PS Actually, I’ve got more than three literary crushes and they do vary a bit. Stein and Sontag are, so far, the most enduring.