What’s the food that sends you into paroxysms of delight? What’s the music that moves your hips? What’s the first place you’d visit again? Who’s the person you most want to spend an hour with over coffee? With whom would you most like to get drunk? What grave can’t you bear to visit? Which books have you reread more than twice?
If I ever get the chance, I’ll revisit the Basil SSB Railway Station in Switzerland, the place where one hungover New Year’s morning I had the perfect cup of coffee, a brew I’ve been trying to recreate ever since.
My first concert was at the Rainbow Theatre in London, 1973, row seven, when after two silent years Eric Clapton, in rehab, was welcomed back to the stage to play with his friends Pete Townsend, Steve Winwood, Ronnie Wood and Jim Capaldi. The concert was recorded but my memory of “Layla”, live, remains my ultimate musical experience, pure transcendence that even now can send me into a reverie.
I’ve sailed in many waters but the bay to which I’d return is breezy Little Pleasant Sound on Cape Cod, where I took my son for his first gusty day sail on a fast catamaran. We nearly broached but his shrieks of glee and cry, “Do that again, Dad!”, made me as happy as I’ve ever been.
I return to Powell’s World of Books in Portland, Oregon, as often as I can. Honestly, I could live there. (One can survive on Americanos and marionberry muffins, I’m convinced.) But it was seeing a Guttenberg Bible at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University that connected me to the history of printing and publishing and made me feel that what I do for a living matters.
Patisserie Valerie is today a chain bakery across England, but back in the day it was a lone, battered and beautiful café on Old Compton Street in Soho, London, where the black tea was thick and the pastries were brought to your table on three-tiered trays. There I showed my wretched adolescent poetry to British poet Hugo Williams. In his long hair and leather jacket he opened my eyes to revision and made a writer out of me.
Books. There are books in which I’d like to live. Harvard in the 1940’s of The Last Convertible by Anton Myrer. London in any of the decades covered in Anthony Powell’s twelve volume social saga A Dance to the Music of Time. The café society of New York City in 1939 in Amor Towles’s Rules of Civility. River Heights, Ohio, the original, in the 1930’s. (River Heights? Think Nancy Drew.)
There are everyday delights and then there are the delights of a lifetime, the ones we never forget and which remain as vivid and meaningful now as they were originally. Our lives give us those pleasures but so do our most treasured books.
So here’s my question: What are you putting into your work in progress that will provide that kind of delight for your readers? [Read more…]