Famous Authors’ Unlikely Obsessions


We tend to put our favorite authors on a pedestal, and in some ways when we do that, we turn them into characters themselves, figures whose every action, whim, and interest should fit into the tidy package of our understanding. However, authors are real people (thank goodness) and sometimes they can surprise us by being into something that seems a little off-kilter for them — or just in general. With all the recent hubbub on book blogs about Martin Amis’s resurfaced video game guide (so it’s okay to write about Space Invaders, but penning children’s books is totally lame?), we got to thinking about other authors and their obsessions, from the literary to the musical to the, um, extra-terrestrial. Click through to check out our list of famous authors’ unlikely obsessions, and try not to be alarmed at what you may find.

Martin Amis — Video Games

Clearly, Amis loved video games enough to write a book entitled Invasion of the Space Invaders: An Addict’s Guide to Battle Tactics, Big Scores and the Best Machines in 1982, though um, it doesn’t seem to be something he likes talking about. In his introduction, he writes, “What we are dealing with is a global addiction. I mean, this might all turn out to be a bit of a problem. Let me adduce my own symptoms, withdrawals, dryouts, crack-ups, benders…” Martin Amis, you nerd! We actually like you a little more now.

Tom McCarthy — Tintin

McCarthy is so obsessed with Hergé’s Tintin books that he wrote a book of criticism of his own entitled Tintin and the Secret of Literature, wherein he reads Tintin through a post-structuralist lens, and has written about the character and about Hergé in several other places. In case you were wondering, he hates the movie.

Henry Miller — UFOs

Henry Miller was a weird one — not only was he very interested in UFOs, but he even supposedly had a sighting of his own in Big Sur in the ’50s. As one of his biographers, Mary V. Dearborn wrote, “Miller was also a passionate believer in UFOs, and during the 1950s he would come to believe that an invasion by aliens was imminent. For a time he promoted a book called Flying Saucers Are Real, by Donald Keyhoe; friends like [the British novelist Lawrence] Durrell were merely amused.”

Lev Grossman — Samuel Beckett

Though anyone who’s read Grossman’s work knows what kind of books he likes (hello high-class fantasy novels), we wouldn’t have been able to call an obsession with Samuel Beckett. After seeing Waiting For Godot as a teenager, Grossman writes, “I became obsessed, not with Beckett’s work, but with his life. Somehow I got ahold of Deirdre Bair’s biography of Beckett — which isn’t even definitive now, because it was written while Beckett was still alive — and I spent the next four years reading it over and over and over again. When I got to the end, I went back to the beginning. It was on a loop.”

Truman Capote — Tap Dancing

Of course Capote was an avid dancer in his youth. As he told the Paris Review when asked if he had ever dabbled in arts other than writing, “I don’t know if it’s art, but I was stage-struck for years and more than anything I wanted to be a tap-dancer. I used to practice my buck-and-wing until everybody in the house was ready to kill me.”

Patti Smith — Brian Jones

We never pegged our favorite punk priestess as being a hopeless fangirl reaching out to touch her favorite rock stars, but she went crazy for The Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones. She even grabbed his ankle once when she was part of a writhing mass of fans. As she told Thurston Moore, “I loved Brian Jones. He was sitting on the floor playing one of those Ventures electric sitars, and these girls kept pushing me and pushing me. They pushed me right on the stage and then I felt myself going under and I was gonna be trampled and out of total desperation I reached up and grabbed the first thing I saw; Brian Jones’ ankle. I was grabbing him to save myself. And he looked at me. And I looked at him. And he smiled. He just smiled at me. (sigh) My Brian Jones story.”

Flannery O’Connor — Birds

It’s well known that O’Connor raised peacocks, since they tend to crop up in her fiction, but she didn’t limit herself when it came to her fondness for fowl. She was obsessed with birds of all kinds, and kept everything from common hens and ducks to whatever exotic species she could get her hands on, an interest that dated back to her childhood, when she loved her family’s chicken so much she taught it to walk backwards.

Victor Hugo — Drawing

Though Hugo’s drawing habit started out as a casual hobby, the art became more and more important to him, especially when he gave up writing. During his lifetime he produced more than 4000 drawings, all on paper and in muted colors. Though lots of writers dabble in the other arts, what’s surprising about Hugo’s drawings is how gorgeous they are — supposedly, Eugène Delacroix once quipped that if Hugo had chosen the visual arts over the literary ones, he would have outstripped all of his contemporaries.