SOLSC: March 16, 2016:Watching a writer at work


Yesterdaybrookner I learned that one of my favorite authors, Anita Brookner, had passed away.  The New York Times obituary, which I read as I was making my way from one class to another, summed up her literary life beautifully.   At my hall duty desk, I scrolled past other obituaries and long ago reviews, remembering Brookner’s work.

I never much cared for the women at the center of any of Brookner’s novels, nor the way she was determined to create women who were destined for unhappiness and disappointment. But I loved the way she wrote; she could make the simple acts of lifting a tea cup, drawing the curtains shut, or buttoning a blouse important moments.  Brookner noticed details, and invested exquisite care in even the smallest of those details.

As luck would have it, she lived in the same Chelsea neighborhood of London as my parents.  For many years, when our children were young, we would spend a month of every summer in London, and one of my favorite memories is of what my mother and I would call “Brookner sightings” (my mother was a fan,too).  At some point in the week, I would be sure to see the famous writer making her way to and from our local grocery store, Waitrose:

waitrose chelsea

She was always dressed beautifully: skirt, jacket, silk shirt, sensible but beautiful heels and a sensible and beautiful handbag. Her hair was always styled in the same way: every lock in place and immovable no matter how blustery.  She walked deliberately, looking straight ahead and avoiding any eye contact.  No one would have dared to trouble her anyway – Anita Brookner radiated reserve.

Just once, I happened to see her on the bench in the store, waiting to pick up some item she had ordered.  She sat  very still, as one would imagine she would, feet crossed neatly and her handbag perched resolutely on her lap.  But her dark eyes were scanning the scene closely, and every once in a while she would pause to watch some shopping scene closely.  You could feel the intensity of her gaze, the way she was taking note of every detail.  I knew that I was watching a writer at work.

“You never know what you will learn till you start writing. Then you discover truths you never knew existed.

― Anita Brookner


19 thoughts on “SOLSC: March 16, 2016:Watching a writer at work

  1. “A writer at work” reminds me to think about how to honor every student’s process and individuality when they are “at work.” Lovely post and tribute to one of your favorites.

  2. What a wonderful quote from Anita. I am so glad that you showcased this author and benefitted from her way of observing and writing. Writing is a window to the soul of life.

  3. I love what you’ve written here. Your description of Anita Brookner makes me think about my assumptions about how writers look and act and dress. She seems so different in some ways- until you get to the part about her watching the scene around her from the bench in a store. That is just what I picture a writer doing.

  4. What a lovely collection of memories for you…and for us to read about. I’m assuming you didn’t approach her because of that…reserve. Am I right? I have never read anything of hers. It’s funny how each of us stumbles across different writers on our reading journeys.

  5. I am not familiar with this writer’s work, but you wrote such a lovely description of her that it made me want to know more. And I love the quote – wrote it down immediately in my notebook. Thanks for sharing this touching slice.

  6. I adore her writing. It is haunting and I don’t care for how many of the women appear to be forever sad with no respite in sight, but I do love her voice and style of writing.

  7. That’s a great quote. My mother grew up in the same neighborhood where Eudora Welty lived. She would see her at the Piggly Wiggly. I’m not sure she was as recluse as Brookner, though.

  8. I think a big part of how all writers learn their craft is how the observe and more important how to recall it on to paper/pixels for us to share in that moment. Brookner was amazing at such.

  9. Such a lovely quote at the end of your slice. It resonated with me on several levels. I’m not familiar with Anita Brookner’s work but you have piqued my curiosity.

  10. Oh my, Tara, this tribute to a favorite author is written so beautifully. You are a writer at work!!! I felt like I was watching Ms. Brookner, sitting on the bench in the store, taking in the details. This was absolutely a pleasure to read!

  11. Can I add my name to Lori’s comment? She said what I was thinking as I read your description. What an impression this author left on you. I thought it was interesting that you didn’t really like the way she developed women, but you noticed the minute details of her writing.

  12. I felt like I was beside you watching her. Her perfect hair, bag and shoes. Understated, private, purposeful. Those images you created will stay with me. Thank you for your beautiful remembrance.

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