Conventional wisdom has it that writing comes second to life. Young American journalist Elif Batuman has a different idea. ‘What if,’ she suggests, ‘instead of moving to New York, living in a garret, self-publishing your poetry and having love affairs in order to – some day – write it up as a novel for 21st century America – what if instead you went to Balzac’s house and read every work he ever wrote, dug up every last thing you could find about him – and then started writing?’ In her remarkable and very funny début, The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, Batuman has done just that (though not specifically on Balzac) and written a book primarily about her relation to books.
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