Sylvia Plath and bees

Nabokov Collected Butterfly Genitalia and 5 Other Strange Hobbies of Classic Writers

When we think of writers like Vladimir Nabokov or Agatha Christie, we probably imagine them sitting at a desk with a pen, possibly a quill if they’re fancy. Maybe they have a single candle lit next to them. Maybe a cup of tea. You can almost imagine them, geniuses on a cold winter’s night, drafting their next great work.


But writing is a job at the end of the day. There’s still downtime, even for the greats. Nobody can write 100% of the time, except for maybe Stephen King. So the question of how classic writers spent their time arises. Luckily, we’ve got you covered. Here are the strange and wonderful hobbies of several classic writers.


1. Vladimir Nabokov was a lepidopterist



Nabokov in his lepidopterist robes. | Image Via the New York Times


Not only was he interested in lepidoptery (the study of butterflies), Nabokov was a pretty legitimate taxonomer. Nabokov loved lepidoptery so much that he became the curator of lepidoptery at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology.


He was a bit of a conservative for his time, though, ignoring genetics as a way to differentiate species. He preferred the old-fashioned method of differentiation: studying butterfly genitalia. In fact, the Harvard Museum of Natural History still houses Nabokov’s “genitalia cabinet.” Can you guess what’s inside Nabokov’s genitalia cabinet? The answer is blue butterfly genitalia.


2. Sylvia Plath was a beekeeper



Image Via Harris County Beekeepers


Plath took up beekeeping with her husband Ted Hughes, which isn’t super surprising considering Plath’s father, Otto, was also a bee expert. In an exuberant letter to her mother, Plath wrote:


Today, guess what, we became beekeepers! We went to the local meeting last week…We all wore masks and it was thrilling…Mr. Pollard let us have an old hive for nothing which we painted white and green, and today he brought over the swarm of docile Italian hybrid bees we ordered and installed them…I feel very ignorant, but shall try to read up and learn all I can.


3. Agatha Christie was a fairly accomplished archaeologist


Agatha Christie

Max Mallowan and Agatha Christie | Image Via Wikipedia


Having married famed archaeologist Max Mallowan in 1930, Christie spent twenty years in the Middle East embroiled in the world of archaeology. A woman of action, she didn’t stay at her writing desk the whole time.


In fact, some of the best preserved ivory artifacts in the world likely remain in such good condition thanks to Christie’s archaeological work. Specifically, she used face cream to preserve the ivory. John Curtis of the British Museum commended Christie’s efforts, saying, “Face cream in fact is quite a good thing to clean (artifacts) with.”


4. Ayn Rand collected stamps


Ayn Rand

Image Via Blank on Blank


She didn’t only collect them. She used them for their little-known restorative abilities. Having written behemoth books like Atlas Shrugged, Rand needed a little help unwinding. She found solace, as so many do, in postage stamps.


In a 1971 article she wrote for the Minkus Stamp Journal, Rand stated, “If I feel tired after a whole day of writing, I spend an hour with my stamp albums and it makes me able to resume writing for the rest of the evening. A stamp album is a miraculous brain-restorer.”


Add stamps to your list of home remedies.


5. Jack Kerouac was really into fantasy sports


Kerouac playing football

Jack Kerouac playing some football. | Image Via Pinterest


Kerouac’s fantasy sports were literal fantasies. Beginning as a teenager and continuing until adulthood, Kerouac tracked the careers of imaginary athletes. Their names were spectacular, as a New York Times article notes: Wino Love, Warby Pepper, Heinie Twiett, Phegus Cody, and Zagg Parker.


Kerouac was also a solid athlete in his own right, having played football during his time at Columbia University.


6. Emily Dickinson loved baking


Emily Dickinson

Image Via Academy of American Poets


Not only was Dickinson an avid baker, she was a beloved baker. She was awarded second prize in the Amherst Cattle Show of 1856 for her round loaf of Indian and Rye. Let it be noted that her sister was one of the judges. But still.


Additionally, many of her poetry manuscripts were scrawled on kitchen papers. The folks at the Emily Dickinson Museum seem to believe the kitchen was one of the rooms Dickinson felt most at home, and probably most creative. Not exactly what you’d expect of her.


Feature Images Via Poetry Foundation and Slate