9 Writers On Their Non-Literary Obsessions

Sometimes a passion is just too strong to ignore. In between writing some of the most well-known books of the past couple of decades, these writers found time to create works of nonfiction about the things they deeply care about. Heads up for books about butterflies, the Talking Heads, and the 2004 World Series.

Image: Fotolia

Elizabeth Berg on knitting

Esteemed writers like Ann Patchett and Barbara Kingsolver expound on the wonders of yarn and needles in Knitting Yarns: Writers On Knitting , a brand new collection compiled by Ann Hood. It makes sense that writers would also enjoy knitting, as both activities require the same things: patience, the willingness to do something over and over again, and of course, the appreciation of an finished product, whether lumpy or perfectly stitched. As Open House author Elizabeth Berg writes of her first scarf: “The joy of knitting… is in the act of using one’s own bodily skills to make something for someone else’s body.”

Haruki Murakami on running

“For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor.” So writes Haruki Murakami in his 2008 running memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running . The novelist and former jazz club-owner details his passion for the solitary physical pursuit, including the time he entered and completed a 62-mile supermarathon. Murakami does not brag and he does not gloss over his accomplishments — everything is told in perfect calmness.

David Foster Wallace on hip hop

Long before DFW published his mammoth Infinite Jest, he co-authored a book called Signifying Rappers: Rap and Race in the Urban Present ; in it, he applies his hyperanalytical point of view to the hip hop artists of the late ’80s that fascinated him, from Schoolly D to Public Enemy. Thanks to Wallace’s legacy, the book got a reprint earlier this year, though Slate called it “less interested less in the subject of rap per se than the distance between its authors and that subject.” Regardless, Signifying Rappers deserves a nod as one quirky piece in Wallace’s fascinating puzzle of chosen interests.

Roald Dahl on cooking

The author of delightfully twisted stories like James and the Giant Peach also had a cookbook called Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes published four years after his death. If standard delicacies from the Barefoot Contessa or Martha Stewart don’t tempt you, try making Dahl’s Snozzcumbers, some Stink Bug Eggs, or perhaps Mr. Twit’s Beard Food.

Ralph Ellison on jazz

One of the most legendary one hit wonders of literature, Ellison never produced a follow-up to his 1952 novel Invisible Man; an unfortunate fire and a lack of confidence in another attempt at a second novel contributed to this. But Ellison never stopped writing about jazz, and his deep love for the art form fills his collection Living With Music . In it, he adds a little something extra to a Händel lyric: “Art thou troubled? Music will not only calm, it will ennoble thee.”

Geoff Dyer on Tarkovsky

Dyer’s novels are clever and seductive, and his other nonfiction is pretty delightful too, but you get the sense he was waiting a long time to write Zona , a book about Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film Stalker. Dyer stalks Stalker, a movie he’s seen over the course of many years, with characteristic fervor. He’s the kind of writer who can make his readers feel as passionate about the movie as he is himself.

Image: Mosfilm

Vladimir Nabokov on butterflies

Nabokov’s Butterflies , a collection of observations by the author on his lepidoptural passion, proves that homeboy was as single-mindedly obsessed with butterflies as Humbert Humbert was obsessed with nymphets. But at least it isn’t illegal to capture a butterfly and display it in a little case, right?

Jonathan Lethem on the Talking Heads

You might know Lethem for Motherless Brooklyn or maybe his new-ish Dissident Gardens, but recently, he took the time to pen a book for the 33 1/3 imprint. 33 1/3 is an anthology series, with each book focusing on a single album that’s significant to the author. Lethem picked Talking Heads’ Fear of Music and wrote about it fearlessly.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Stephen King on the Red Sox

The king of horror novels takes a little time away from grimness and gore to co-write Faithful , a book about the Red Sox’s triumphant 2004 season, from its April beginnings to the curse-breaking World Series. This isn’t the first time the Carrie author has broken from the horror/suspense genre; his memoir On Writing has the same refreshing lightheartedness.