Reviewer: Anie Sunny UDOH


Who can unravel the essence,
the stamp of the artistic temperament!
Who can grasp the deep, instinctual fusion of
discipline and dissipation on which it rests!
– Thomas Mann, Death in Venice


How is a novel written? A masterpiece painted? A symphony composed?

Mason Currey in his book, DAILY RITUALS, presents ‘How great minds, make time,
find inspiration, and get to work.’ His focus is on people’s routines. According to Currey,
“One’s daily routine is a choice, or a whole series of choices. In the right hands, it can be
a finely calibrated mechanism for taking advantage of a range of limited resources: time,
as well as willpower, self-discipline, optimism. A solid routine fosters a well-worn groove
for one’s mental energies and helps stave off the tyranny of moods.” W.H. Auden, a stickler
to routine, avers that “Routine in an intelligent man, is a sign of ambition.” Routine is
considered an important, if not an essential enabler for success. John Updike speaks for
writers and how routine matters in attaining set goals. “There is a great deal of busywork
to a writer’s life … A solid routine saves you from giving up.” The Daily Rituals is ‘a trove
of entertaining anecdote’ according to the Daily Telegraph. The GUARDIAN assures that
“It will fascinate anyone who has ever wondered of their artistic heroes: how the devil did
they manage?”

The book records that Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) took daily naked air baths and
Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) painted in brothels. Edith Sitwell (1887-1964) worked in
bed just like Voltaire (1694-1778), the French writer and philosopher. George Gershwin
(1898-1937) composed at the piano in pajamas. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) worked
sixteen hours a day, but Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) could never write for more than thirty
minutes daily. Alexander Graham Bell (1847-1922) tended to work around the clock,
allowing himself only three or four hours of sleep a night. Ernest Hemmingway (1899-
1961) did most of his work standing up just like Victor Hugo (1802-1885) who was known
for standing at a small desk in front of a mirror to write. Hugo was also known to take his
bath on the rooftop in full public glare. It was a chronic habit of Scott Fitzgerald (1896-
1940) to write in gin-fueled bursts – he believed alcohol was essential to his creative
process. Francis Bacon (1909-1992) appeared to thrive in disorder. His studios were
environments of extreme chaos. “More agreeable interiors stifled his creativity,” he said.
Charles Dickens (1812-1870) was obsessed with orderliness. His eldest son recalled that
“no city clerk was more methodical or orderly than he…applying more business-like
regularity…to the work of his imagination and fancy.”

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was famous not only for his scientific accomplishments but
also for his absentmindedness and dishevelled appearance. He wore his hair long to avoid
visits to the barber and eschewed socks and suspenders, which he considered unnecessary.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) never had a regular job and lived in crushing poverty for most of
his 34-year sojourn in London. Despite his squalid living conditions, he managed to
complete the first volume of DAS KAPITAL, the massive work of political economy that
occupied most of his life. George Orwell (1903-1950) did most of his writings in a London
secondhand bookshop, Booklovers Corner, where he held a part-time job. Mark Twain
(1825-1910) was troubled with sleeplessness and for a while he found that going to bed on
the bathroom floor was calming. John Milton (1608-1674) was totally blind for the last
twenty years of his life, yet he managed to produce a steady stream of writing, including
his magnum opus, the ten-thousand-line epic poem Paradise Lost. Leo Tolstoy (1828-
1910) vowed to “write each day without fail, not so much for the success of the work, as
in order not to get out of my routine.”

The DAILY RITUALS contain the working routines of more than a hundred and sixty of
the greatest philosophers, writers, composers, and artists ever to have lived, who, whether
by amphetamines or alcohol, headstands, or boxing, made time and got to work. It is a
fascinating little book, full of quirks and oddities.

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