September 14, 2013

A monument to prolific writing and the aversion to travel.

And I thought I was prolific and averse to travel. Check out this profile of Peter Ackroyd. Excerpt:
Ackroyd writes nearly all day, nearly every day. Each morning he takes a taxi from his London home, in tony Knightsbridge, to the office he maintains in Bloomsbury, where he typically divides his workday between three books. He begins by writing and doing research for a history book, turns to a biography sometime in the afternoon and finishes the day reclining on a bed in a room adjacent to his book-lined office, writing a novel, in longhand....

In the past decade alone, he has published some two dozen books. These include four novels; a prose retelling of “The Canterbury Tales“; a magisterial “biography” of the Thames River; “London Under,” about the world beneath London’s streets; “The English Ghost,” about the national obsession with specters and spirits; a cultural history of Venice; a beautifully written series of history books for children; biographies of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Newton, J. M. W. Turner, Edgar Allan Poe and the Victorian literary oddball Wilkie Collins; and a handful of other books....

Ackroyd is a provincial and proud of it, with a hermetic lifestyle that supports his writing regimen. He hates to leave London, professing a strong dislike for the countryside (“It’s too noisy, too dangerous, I don’t trust their food”) and no interest in traveling to other cities (“I don’t understand their histories”). 
He's written multiple, massive histories of England, especially London, so he's vastly interested in history, but he's all about depth of understanding in his particular place. 
Ackroyd says that when he walks London’s streets, he will sometimes lapse into a time-travel reverie, toggling backward to envision, with crystal clarity, how a street, an intersection, looked two or three centuries before.
Those of you who argue for travel because it's broadens your mind, makes history "come alive," and foments complex understanding, please contemplate Ackroyd.

22 comments:

Shouting Thomas said...

You might want to check out the writing of my favorite, Henry Miller. Miller was an outrageously prolific writer. Most people think of him and it's all about sex. My favorite book is his Book of Friends. My life has resembled his in this respect. The great, completely expected gift of my life has been my wonderful men friends, some musicians, but most just guys I met on the job or at school or on the road.

I'm not really a fan of vacation travel. I like to travel to places and stay there for a while.

Miller's travels took him from Brooklyn, to Paris to the Greek Islands to Big Sur. I lived for some years in the same neighborhood in Brooklyn where he grew up. I visited the whorehouses on Rue St. Denis to honor his memory. And, I've visited his museum in Big Sur. Haven't yet been to the Greek Islands.

I wasn't thinking of any of the intellectual reasons you list when I did this. Miller just excited my imagination. When I lived in San Francisco, I read his great trilogy of the Rosy Crucifixion, and dreamed of meeting the wild and brilliant women who populate his work. My dreams came true decades later when I met Myrna.

Michael K said...

Yes,make the history of Madison "come alive" and you have at least 15 seconds of reverie.

Veronica Windholz said...

I don't think there's any "right answer" to this, or any "correct" way to be.

Writers and other artists and creators travel vast distances in their minds, imaginations, and souls.

Traveling out of our own paradigm allows us all to see many things, including ourselves, from a different perspective. Some people find that useful, helpful, and beneficial.

All around the world throughout history, and continuing through today, there have been and are people who are forbidden to travel---think North Korea, Cuba, Burma, Vietnam after the war there, all of Eastern Europe until the Berlin Wall fell, etc.

It's a privilege and a luxury to have the choice. We are blessed to have it.

Different strokes ...
Me ... I love to travel and to come home.

John Burgess said...

Yeah, that's one way of living life. With enough depth, it's a whole other place. After all, isn't the phrase "The past is a foreign country"? So Ackroyd is traveling... traveling in time.

Traveling to foreign places has its values, too, if only for showing that there actually are a lot of relative things in this world. A little in-your-face demonstration of "It ain't necessarily so" is almost always useful.

IntellectuallyCurious said...

Travel for me is an escape from the tedium of everyday work and life. For those whom everyday life is not tedious, I suppose there is no need to travel.

Shouting Thomas said...

I've led such a rough and tumble life, Althouse. I sometimes wonder if this is the reason we find ourselves in such bitter disagreement about whether gays were persecuted or harmed in some way.

I enjoy that rough house life. Insults, bruises and, sometimes, pretty severe injuries are just part of the game. I'm only speculating, but it looks to me like you live a very soft life. Insults and injuries that seem huge and traumatic to you might well seem trivial to me.

I expect name calling and strife as part of the game. Big Joe is a relentless practitioner of what he calls "breaking your balls," which I think might appear to you to be very nasty verbal attacks. It's his way of reminding me, and the Dawgz, to keep the ego in check and not get carried away with the adulation from the audiences. For musicians, the adulation can be just as serious a problem as bitter criticism.

SteveR said...

He hates to leave London, professing a strong dislike for the countryside (“It’s too noisy, too dangerous, I don’t trust their food”)

OK that's just weird. He doesn't have an aversion to travel, he has an aversion to reality.

Kirk Parker said...

The he apparently thinks the countryside is "too noisy" compared to a big city like London speaks volumes about his provinciality (none of it good.0

MayBee said...

He sounds agoraphobic.

Lionheart said...

Anyone can be prolific, just keep the fingers tapping the keys.

Expat(ish) said...

"Victorian literary oddball Wilkie Collins"

I object to that characterization. Collins's novels are fine and, for their day, were transformative. He really laid the groundwork for the modern mystery novel, muck like Heinlein's plots form every SciFi novel since.

-XC

bandmeeting said...

That you follow this paragraph: Ackroyd says that when he walks London’s streets, he will sometimes lapse into a time-travel reverie, toggling backward to envision, with crystal clarity, how a street, an intersection, looked two or three centuries before.

With this: Those of you who argue for travel because it's broadens your mind, makes history "come alive," and foments complex understanding, please contemplate Ackroyd.

indicates that you do not believe that Ackroyd is, well, broadening his mind and making history come alive. He is simply content to do it in London exclusively, very likely, as MayBee says, because he is agoraphobic. SteveR and Kirk Porter also nail it. His statement about the countryside is nonsensical.

If Ackroyd wants to spend the rest of his life never leaving London, that's his right. But to try and use this peculiar man's dislike for getting out of the small world he is confining himself in to justify the fact that you seem to be militantly against ever going to the top of the Eiffel Tower, walking through the Forbidden City, or The Hermitage, strolling through the Gamla Stan in the snow, etc. is not all that persuasive.

Michael K said...

"The he apparently thinks the countryside is "too noisy" compared to a big city like London speaks volumes about his provinciality (none of it good."

This reminds me of a trip to England when my kids were teenagers. We stayed at a guest house on the Isle of Wight that was run (I think it was part of the Osborne House museum) by a couple who were part of the London art and music scene. The husband's family ran one of the three big auction houses.

The kids had a great time and one of the guests was a music producer from London who complained of being awakened each day by "birds twittering." He had a lisp and it was hilarious.

I had six teenagers in England for two weeks. While on the Isle they saw the rick group Duran Duran which was at the time unknown. One of the rock producers took the girls on a tour of rock clubs until 4 AM. They loved it.

In London, Cats was playing and one of the cats sat in one of the girls loved that. Experiences like that stay with kids all their lives. Too bad you missed out.

My son Joe was offered a job the following summer by the owner as a bus boy. I was was annoyed when he didn't follow up the next year but several years later he finally told me they had been busted for growing pot in the back yard. Joe's now 43 and still talks about that summer.

eddie willers said...

He sounds agoraphobic.

Or content.

bandmeeting said...

Eddie Willers. If he is content, why does he have to make things up? Doesn't trust their food? What does that even mean? The countryside is dangerous.......how, exactly? Noisy? Bah. Crickets aren't noisy compared to traffic.

David said...

His "London: A Biography" is one of the most wonderful books I ever read.

Part of his thesis was that, sooner or later, nearly everything wonderful or important comes to London.

So partly he's a snob. He does not need to travel. The world will come to his place.

David said...

Next week I travel for 7 days. One trip to see grandkids. One trip for a job responsibility. Back to back, and at my age. Dreading it.

MayBee said...

Yes, perhaps he is content although Wikipedia says he has had a nervous breakdown and suffers from frequent bouts of alcoholism. His partner died of Aids in Devon, which may explain his aversion to the countryside.

Luckily, there is no reason for him to travel if he doesn't choose to.

Skeptical Voter said...

London is a great place to visit; I've been in London for periods ranging from two or three days to two or three weeks maybe 20 times since 1983. I spent five weeks there this summer visiting my new granddaughter.

I picked up one of Ackroyd's books in August. This particular effort was supposedly a history of the London Underground. I found it to be thin gruel, not well written and derivative. If you're going to grind out three books at one time, some of them are going to be clunkers.

dustbunny said...

This makes me want to travel to London.

dustbunny said...

This reminds me of Woody Allen's decades long obsession with Manhattan. However, he finally started making movies about other cities and the films got better. He was in a rut

Anglelyne said...

David: Part of his thesis was that, sooner or later, nearly everything wonderful or important comes to London.

Exactly. It shouldn't take much deep thinking to figure out how being a "provincial" and "hermetic" native Londoner is not the sasme kind of experience as being a sessile native of B.F., Upper Midwest.

The case can be made that a provincial and hermetic life in Wherever can be as rich and well-lived as a life lived out in a great metropolis. It woudn't rest on invoking Peter Ackroyd's travel preferences, though.