January 22, 2009


Before I leave to go back to Paris for more research, I have a lunch with my friend Sabina Murray, in which she describes what I think is the perfect method for doing research for fiction: “I read everything I need and then when I start writing I reread the parts that are necessary in the afternoon or evening, and write in the mornings, rereading more research in the afternoons.” She also tells me she plans, on her research trip to Ireland next month, to take long walks.

I fly to Paris on a last-minute discount fare I found on Icelandair via priceline.com. As I sit in Reykjavik, I  contemplate a disgusting bottle of flavored vodka I bought in a spirit of tasting the country I visit, something I have as a principle. The Icelandic version of Tab is also not very good. There I decide to try Sabina’s method, in particular the walking.

I bring The Goncourt Brothers journal with me to reread it, the NYRB edition, and read about 19th Century French authors complaining about lack of publicity or running afoul of government censors or sexual content, running out of money, being happy a bookstore is full of just their book—and I think about how it is all basically the same. “I walked into a bookstore filled only with my book,” they write.

And this quote, which is eery, and reminds me of our times, as the Presidency changes hands, a quote from Victor Hugo, from December 30th of 1870: “Yes, this Empire did nothing to provide a defence against foriegners; everything it did was designed to provide a defence against the population.


  1. This perfect method for research is so interesting and useful. I flew Icelandair to London once, and really liked that airport. I liked the big windows with the tundra view and all the wood. I mailed postcards from the little post office they had there, and kept the empty juice box I bought. Plus, on the second leg to London, I sat next to a man who was the mayor of a small town, a trumpet player, and who was going to London on his business of beginning to make the first large-sized clothing line for women in Iceland. I had the best conversation with him that I’ve ever had with stranger on an airplane. I think of him in their current troubles.

  2. Thank you for the post–it got me to do even more walking while I was in NYC soaking up what I could, for my novel. And I hope you got what you needed from your journey (sounds like you did from your next post).

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