One of the things that’s been bringing me joy during, y’know, all of this is The To-Read List podcast. Today, I’m drawing inspiration from one of their episodes (which, in turn, was inspired by a Tweet from LitHub). The idea is to come up with a list of authors you’d want to be in lock-down with, or in quarantine with. You might love Virginia Woolf’s writing, but could you really stand living with her 24 hours-a-day for weeks on end? Ernest Hemingway might be brilliant, but what would it be like to share a bathroom with him? I put my thinking cap on and came up with my very own list (technically two, one for living authors a la The To Read List and one for dead authors a la LitHub): my ultimate lock-down author share-house.
Important note: this isn’t about the authors whose work I love the most. I had to scratch a whole bunch of brilliant writers for various reasons: I’d be too nervous to talk in front of Helen Garner, I’d be too intimidated by Sally Rooney (and only a little bit sour that we’re the same age), I figured I’d be cheating if I chose Elena Ferrante so that I could be one of the select few who know her secret identity, and I’d be scared of distracting Carmen Maria Machado or Roxane Gay from writing their next book. This is about the authors I reckon I could live with for an extended period under share-house circumstances.
Living Author Lock-Down Share-House
First thing’s first: I’m going to want someone around who can make me laugh. Someone who can find the funny in the mundane, someone who can make fun without being cruel, someone who will regale me with entertaining anecdotes when the days get too long. I can’t think of anyone who fits the bill better than David Sedaris. Read my full review of his essay collection, Me Talk Pretty One Day.
Next up: I’m going to need somebody who won’t judge me if cocktail hour comes early. No one likes to drink alone, and I’m no exception! I reckon Susan Orlean and I would make for brilliant drinking buddies (if her Twitter feed is anything to go by). Plus, we could discuss niche true crime to our heart’s content, even if the others got sick of us. Read my full review of her investigation into the Los Angeles Central Library fire, The Library Book.
I’d also want someone around who can teach me some stuff, and I reckon Colson Whitehead fits the bill. The guy didn’t get the MacArthur Genius Grant for nothing! He’s written about everything from history to Harlem to politics to poker. If we were in lock-down together, I’d struggle not to constantly pepper him with questions… Read my full review of his Pulitzer Prize-winning Obama-recommended book The Underground Railroad here.
It can’t all be work and no play, though. We’d need someone with some aesthetic sensibilities to brighten up the place – and maybe draw us, just for lols. That’s why I’d call Mira Jacob up to the plate. I never thought of myself as a graphic novel reader until I read Good Talk. I’d happily take all of her dish-washing and laundry duties if she captured our lock-down conversations in return. Read my full review of Mira Jacob’s graphic memoir, Good Talk, here.
Dead Author Lock-Down Share-House
Whenever something crappy happens in my life (and I reckon getting locked down in a share-house during a global pandemic would count), I hear Nora Ephron‘s voice in my head, saying: “Everything’s copy”. I reckon she’d be the queen of making the best of a bad situation, and she’d get us all working on collaborative creative projects to release once regular business resumed.
And, it’s a combo deal: I’d love to have Anita Loos (sans her shit-head husband) in my author lock-down share-house, because I’m sure she and Nora would get along. Sure, I’d probably end up the odd-one-out, watching them write brilliant screenplays while I sipped my wine in the corner, but it’d be worth it to get them in the same room and watch the magic happen. Read my full review of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes here.
Speaking of entertainment: I reckon Anaïs Nin would be captivating. She was adventurous, generous, and by all accounts, fun! I mean, anyone willing to write gloriously literary smut on commission has got to be worth talking to. And, if we didn’t get along, I’d feel less guilty about sneaking into her room and reading her diary… (I mean, I’d never do that. Ahem. Probably.) Read my full review of Delta Of Venus here.
And, finally, I’d want George Eliot in the share-house, and I’d want to ask all manner of questions, about writing and politics and life… but the one that’s front-and-center in my mind at the moment is: have we been mis-gendering George all this time? This has come up as a result of the “Reclaim Her Name” project, for which Baileys (the major sponsors of the Women’s Prize) is re-publishing a collection of works they’ve determined were written by women under masculine pseudonyms, including Middlemarch. In the (inevitable) backlash that ensued, I came across a couple of accounts that suggest George might have adopted the name that more accurately reflected their identity, rather than purely bowing to the patriarchal constraints of the time for publishing writers. Essentially, I’d want George to have the opportunity to decide for themselves, with today’s sensibilities and understanding, how they wish to identify. And then I’d start digging for dirt, like the gossip-hound I am deep down, on all their high-falootin’ Victorian friends… Read my full review of Middlemarch here.
Who would you want in your lock-down author share-house? Living or dead, dream big! Let me know in the comments below.
September 18, 2020 at 7:52 PM
Love the rationale for your list. It’s a tough choice. You want people who can entertain with sparkling conversation but what if they just talk about themselves all the time? or what if they are too intellectual and my brain can’t keep up?
September 18, 2020 at 10:46 PM
Right?! It’s such a tightrope act!
September 20, 2020 at 2:12 AM
Well, this is an interesting challenge. My mind immediately went to Lewis and Tolkien, but I might be afraid I’d end up in a corner with a dunce cap on around two such brilliant minds. 😂
September 20, 2020 at 1:43 PM
Ha! Maybe it’d be better to be a fly on the wall in that particular share-house 😉
September 23, 2020 at 9:21 PM
Such an interesting thought experiment! You’ll have me pondering long and hard on this one…
September 24, 2020 at 9:09 AM
Would love to hear who you come up with, Marina! 😉
September 24, 2020 at 8:40 PM
I read a recommendation for this guy https://www.amazon.co.uk/s?k=Mark+Watson
I have never read him so I’m not biased by his writing but I do wonder what he would be like as a person. Although being a lot younger we might have friction in areas I can’t predict.
September 25, 2020 at 6:44 PM
Gosh, that’s an interesting one! Nearly all of my favourite writers have been dead for ages, but I think Jane Austen and F. Scott Fitzgerald would have to be at the top of my list!
September 25, 2020 at 8:16 PM
Oooh, Austen would be particularly fascinating! Great picks!