Writers Writing About Writers: 9 Great Books About Authors

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If that massive New Yorker profile didn’t get you curious about Edward St. Aubyn’s latest novel (which did have its faults), then perhaps the notable selling point is that it’s about writers — their writerly lives as well as their hangups — and told in a way that will hold readers’ attention even if they aren’t writers themselves. That isn’t easy, as writers have tried more than a few times to clue readers in to the circles they run in, the lives they lead, and the people they know. The results, unfortunately, don’t always appeal to anybody but the writers themselves. In the case of these nine books, however, writers’ attempt to depict other writers, intellectuals, and in many cases themselves, worked out better than most.

Humboldt’s Gift, Saul Bellow

The Nobel/Pulitzer winner’s 1976 roman à clef (and his best book, in my humble opinion) uses the poet Delmore Schwartz (as Von Humboldt Fleisher) and Bellow himself as characters, in an exploration of the different paths that writers take, and how those choices impact them and the people around them.

Lucinella, Lore Segal

You should really be reading everything Lore Segal has produced, but this novella that pokes fun at the New York literary scene from the late 1970s really paints a picture of how stuffy and insufferable the era’s literati acted that’s even more vivid than any Woody Allen film.

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., Adelle Waldman

Waldman’s much-loved 2013 novel is an account of being a writer in contemporary Brooklyn generated so much discussion for a reason. That’s one of the things that will keep people reading this book for years to come.

Wonder Boys, Michael Chabon

For those of you who think writers just spend all their time writing books, Chabon’s novel (and the really good film adaptation) is one of the finest to feature an author struggling as a professor while he attempts to write his 2000-plus-page book. Chabon perfectly sums up the struggle of trying to write while also doing a job that isn’t necessarily what you want to do.

The Oasis, Mary McCarthy

McCarthy caught a good deal of flack from her literary friends for depicting some of the Cold War era’s most famous intellectuals — most notably Dwight Macdonald and Partisan Review founder (and McCarthy’s former lover) Philip Rahv, who threatened to sue McCarthy for the somewhat unflattering account.

The Bech stories, John Updike

When you think of the major post-war American white-dude writers, Roth, Bellow, Malamud, and Updike usually come to mind. What do all of those guys except for Updike have in common? They’re all Jews! In the Bech stories, Updike used his contemporaries (and to a certain extent himself as well) to create one of his best characters.

All the Sad Young Literary Men, Keith Gessen

The n+1 co-founder’s debut novel features a main character named Keith who went to Harvard and all the other sad young literary men in his life. Roman à clef? That seems very possible.

The World According to Garp, John Irving

Find us another writer who can take wrestling, bears, reasons not to get/give road head, and writers, and turn it all into an absolute masterpiece of a book.

Speedboat, Renata Adler

One of the things that I think has stuck with some readers about Adler’s 1976 classic, after it was put back into print last year, is the way it perfectly sums up how bizarre and fast-paced any job as a writer (or any job, for that matter) in New York can be. It still feels fresh all these years later.