Tag Archives: Agatha Christie

Into the Hut

Gertrude Stein did it in her Model T Ford while her partner, Alice, drove the car. Virginia Woolf did it standing up. Saul Bellow stood up as well. Whereas, James Joyce preferred to lie on his stomach in bed.

Nude and cold, Benjamin Franklin did it in a dry bathtub. Agatha Christie, a bathtub filled with warm water.

E.B. White did it in a boathouse on a saltwater farm in Maine. Rita Dove, by candlelight in a cabin. And Annie Dillard, in a tent pitched in her yard on Cape Cod.

Where writers write.

What are the chances? Two friends on two coasts, landing in their respective writing huts. But that is just what is happening.

Dulcie's cabinHers in Maine

Kim's hut Water

Mine on San Juan Island, Washington

In his introduction to Jill Krementz’s photographic book, The Writer’s Desk, John Updike notes “… the requirement of any writing space is that it disappear from the mind’s eye of the inhabitant, to be replaced, by the verbal vistas of poetry and prose.”

Apparently some of us build it so it can disappear.

For me, “a hut in the woods” had always been hypothetical. Nevertheless I coveted it, the proverbial writing hut. What a formidable writer I might be, I thought, if I only had a hut in the woods!

So much more than a room of one’s own, it’s a little house of one’s own.

My friend’s hut is still under construction. “The shell is done and it is insulated now from top to bottom,” she wrote last month. “But it’s still sitting beside my house waiting for walls and flooring and electricity and a bed and a fireplace and a water pitcher and a coffee pot and, well you get the picture.”

I recently asked for an update, but of course everything in Maine is frozen in place and under four or five feet of snow. I learned that she has another site in mind for her hut. Note: my friend’s hut has a gender and it’s a “she.”

“She did not make it to her pond destination before the snows descended upon us. So there she waits, very quiet, for spring thaw. She still has a lighted tree on her porch, like a twinkle in her eye, waiting for the next chapter of life to unfold.”

“So do I,” adds my friend.

My hut sits in an old growth forest at the edge of a bay. Both of us will have water views, water sounds, and water fowl.

My hut came with the house, as a shed. The old shed got a new roof, hardwood floors, French doors, new windows, electricity, insulation, cedar shingle siding, tongue and groove pine ceiling, beaded board walls. More than I ever dreamt.

I had hoped to keep the oars that were up in the rafters, but I lost the rafters when we insulated the ceiling.

And I too wanted to bring a daybed into my writing hut, but an overflow of living room furniture bumped the daybed. To make up for the missing daybed, we put an Aerobed in the hut’s loft, sleeping double.

With a settee, a pair of upholstered French chairs, and a small marble topped coffeetable on guilded legs, my hut looks like a salon. The antique pine table that our family once dined at morning, noon and night is now my writing table. A dresser holds my papers. And books, books, books are piled on an enormous baker’s rack and in a glass-fronted legal bookcase I found in a thrift store on island for forty dollars.

Investments in my writing life are starting to stack up. The MFA at Goddard, attending various writers conferences, a travel writing workshop in Tuscany, and now this. I don’t know how my friend in Maine is going to feel when her hut is up and running, but I am a little afraid of it.

In part, because it is so much more than I, or anyone, needed. And in part, because writing is hard work.

“Our task as we sit (or stand or lie) is to rise above the setting, with its comforts and distractions,” explains John Updike, “into a relationship with our ideal reader, who wishes from us nothing but the fruits of our best instincts, most honest inklings, and firmest persuasions.”

John Cheever, who wrote in a room looking into a wood, liked to imagine that his readers were out there, in that forest.

From my hut in the San Juan Islands to her hut in Maine, we are not alone.


Filed under writing hut

Case #1, Completed

Bookcase 3

Quite the racket at our remodel on San Juan Island this week. Outside, men on beams like cats are deconstructing a deck, board by board. Throwing them all overboard. Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” plays on a portable radio that has seen better days.

What is to be my writing hut is currently at use as a construction shed. Large pieces of plywood are being ripped down for the building of bookcases in the house. At the garage, wood is being cut on a table saw, half in, half out. Booted steps on the stairs carry the boards inside. A symphony of sounds: air compressors firing up and the rapid popping of nail guns going off, followed by the buzz of an electric sander. And for a grand finale, the vacuum cleaner sound of a paint sprayer. All in a day’s work.

Our little dog is looking to hide, whereas I am over the moon. Ecstatic.

We have moved off the boat and into the house. It is still a job site, but with the construction of the bookcases the contractors will be finishing up indoors, and all out on the decks.

It makes sense that I come in with the books. Sacred stuff, books. My whole life was on hold while the books were in boxes. And the architecture of bookcases is nothing less than temples or cathedrals to me. Considering the height of the ceiling, we will be worshipping with the help of a library ladder.

How did it come to this, this wonderfully abundant bohemian love of books in the span of a lifetime? In the house where I grew up, the bookcase was stocked with regularly updated The World Book Encyclopedia, yards of National Geographic magazines in their distinctive school bus yellow binding, a set of Harvard Classics from my father’s father, Time/Life series of art history books: Medieval, The Renaissance, and so on. And although I know I’m forgetting other notable sets, Readers Digest Condensed Books.

Everything in sets, in other words. What was with that? I can’t say I remember real books upon those shelves.

Look at me now. A confirmed bibliophile. And if it seems I was a book snob before I became a bibliophile, I think you are right. For I could sense, growing up, that something was not right.

We lived close to the center of town where a Carnegie style public library perched on high over the town green, but there was no local bookstore. Today I can’t imagine living anywhere without a bookstore. Did everyone use the library then? Were people not reading as much, or just not needing to own what they read?

Nevertheless there were three good role models for me in those days. People who had to have books. Nana, Miggs, and Marcia.

A 98 lb. grandmother who devoured Agatha Christie novels in paperback. Hard to believe the English crime novelist could be so prolific, but sixty-six books flew off her desk along with a host of short stories collections. Frail little Nana had her arms-full and they kept her up late at night.

Miggs was the mother of one of my best friends. Needless to say I spent a lot of time at her house, a charming Cape appointed with antiques, original oil paintings, and books. A built-in bookshelf under the staircase, but more importantly, there were hardcover books all over the house. Where did she get these impressive books? My guess is she belonged to Book-of-the-Month type clubs, popular at the time. Her books came in the mail, much like my parents’ Time/Life sets. You had to subscribe, in other words. It was a different time, although not that different than ordering through Amazon, now that I think about it.

Marcia, my godmother and aunt. Informed by the New York Times booklist, a voracious reader in a family of men, I remember her curled up on the sofa reading while they watched sports on television. Marcia gifted me books with the Caldecott seal and the like throughout my youth. These I kept in my room, and thus began the need for books by my side.

Today half the weight of our household—as we move—is in book boxes. Books are where I can’t stop collecting, and for every book I finish I’ve found forty more. Where books, to me, make a room, and roomfuls of books make a home. Where books seem to carry on their own conversation in a room, with or without people. Where I will never be lonely as long as I have them. And where the only thing that worries me now is running out of time…

When Aunt Marcia passed away I mourned all over again with the publication of each new book I was sure she would have loved. This process started with Frank McCourt’s Angeles Ashes and continues to this day with The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd. Marcia is active in my selection of books, reading over my shoulder with me. And it’s books, books, books, that I, in turn, gift her grandchildren today.


Filed under bibliophile