Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Thurber's Daydreams

[James Thurber to Francis Brown]

West Cornwall, Connecticut
November 4, 1952

Mr. Francis Brown, Editor,
The New York Times Book Review
Times Square, New York 36, N. Y.

Dear Mr. Brown:

You astonish me by intimating that there is at least one book every year a writer wishes he had written. I cannot agree with this. In the first place, an average writer--take me--has a pretty narrow field and certainly enough humility not to include a translation of the Bible, a collection of great poetry, or "Sironia" in the wistful range of his aspirations. There have been times when I wished I could have written Evelyn Waugh's "Decline and Fall," O'Hara's "Appointment in Samarra," Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," and a hundred pieces by E. B. White, but these are daydreams a man keeps to himself. I think the average writer wishes he had done his own most recent book better than he did. He rarely has the guts to look at earlier ones.

Perhaps I am circling around a solid major truth: no writer actually wished, honest to God, that he had written anybody else's book or books. Maybe it would be easier to put down one I'm glad I didn't write. I don't know.

Sincerely yours,
James Thurber

-from The Thurber Letters: the wit, wisdom, and surprising life of James Thurber edited by Harrison Kinney (New York: Simon & Schuster,2003). p. 571.

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