Where Writers Write – Jonathan Lethem

Jonathan Lethem’s study in his summer house in Blue Hill, Me.

I’ve written portions of six or seven books in this study, but it doesn’t really belong to me. The alcove in which the desk is set, the field and tree line through the windows, the surrounding acres, all of these are borrowed from another writer, named Esther Wood, whose grandfather built this farmhouse. She lived and wrote in this house for many years, and then for a long time after she’d lost her eyesight she went on living here, until she, at age 97, died in the bedroom upstairs, as had her father and grandfather, in all likelihood. Her books have titles like “Deep Roots: A Maine Legacy” and “Saltwater Seasons.” For decades a columnist for The Ellsworth American, Wood was a descendant of this town’s 18th-century founders, and the local historian; really, a living emblem of the town’s relationship to its own history, which remains fierce. In our neighborhood Wood is a more famous writer than I could ever possibly be. I’ve long since learned that if I want a plumber or electrician to visit the place, or simply in explaining where I live to someone local, it’s best to cut to the chase and say “Esther Wood’s house.”

We’ve altered the house as little as possible. I commissioned the built-in bookshelves, which were carpentered to keep to the look of the molding; the room seemed to have been waiting for them. While sitting here writing my mostly urban books I’ve watched deer, fox and bobcats cross our field, which must be some sort of forest freeway. I always figure the creatures are auditioning for a cameo in Esther Wood’s latest book or column. They’ve got the wrong writer.

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