Reading Notebook #1: You Can Write Well & Behave Badly

From “Slang-Whanger” by Arthur Krystal in New Yorker (May 18, 2009)

We don’t for a moment believe that Hazlitt is inept, or unattractive, or capable of behaving like a lunatic. You can’t write well and behave badly.

But, of course, you can, and Hazlitt did. He cheated on his wife, alienated friends, and when Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo he stayed drunk for weeks. For all the insouciance of his prose, Hazlitt could be a social disaster. His friend said that he entered a room “as if he had been brought back to it in custody.” Coleridge famously described him as “brow hanging, shoe contemplative, strange.” He was obviously combative, but he was afraid of his housekeeper. He could stare down publishers but was reluctant on a cold night to ask a stranger to shut the window of a coach. Perhaps that’s one reason bookish people are drawn to Hazlitt: he’s terribly self-conscious in public and acutely conscious of the self in private; like them, he gets buffeted by fate or by people with more power, but unlike them, he buffets back, which makes him, well, heroic.

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Posted in Reading.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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