cover image Writers and Company

Writers and Company

Eleanor Wachtel / Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt P $12.95 (3

Amy Hempel believes that ` ` personal catharsis is a terrible reason for writing fiction.'' Amy Tan says she writes about things ``for my own reasons, not for literary reasons.'' Who's right? Don't expect any answers from Wachtel: her job isn't to pass judgment but to draw out her subjects, a skill she's honed as host of the Canadian Broadcast Company's (CBC) radio program from which the book's 21 interviews have been taken. The conversations follow a fairly predictable pattern, covering each writer's (often traumatic) childhood, an overview of his or her work and the occasional social commentary. There are some funny insights and some surprising ones. Margaret Atwood describes her teenage poetry as sounding ``like Edgar Allan Poe on a very bad day,'' Amos Oz jokes he hadn't been aware of the Wizard of Oz but ``now of course I'm aware that he must have been my great-uncle or something,'' and Cynthia Ozick flouts the ``write what you know'' theory, demanding, ``Why can't I write anything I goddamn please?'' It's a fine introduction to some of today's best authors and an ideal teaching tool--these up close and personal looks at what successful writers go through is at least as helpful as those you've-lived-it-now-write-it guides proliferating in bookstores everywhere. (June)