Writing

  • The Half-Known World

    Robert Boswell

    While mainly written for writers of fiction, The Half-Known World is almost like a literature class in a book, as each chapter references certain novels or stories, indicated at the beginning, though reading them is also not necessary to understand the concepts presented in the essays. I hadn’t read most of the referenced pieces, or hadn’t read them recently, but can see how that may have elevated the experience.

    The first few essays are really great, but the themes feel less profound as the book progresses. Boswell’s theory of “the half-known world” in the opening essay is that writers can try to know too much about their characters and scenes at the outset, to the point where the writer has nothing...more

  • Reading My Father

    Alexandra Styron

    Alexandra Styron is the daughter of William Styron, the novelist best known for Sophie’s Choice and The Confessions of Nat Turner. Her book Reading My Father is part memoir and part biography, focusing at times on her experience growing up with a well-known writer as a father, and at other times providing a straightforward narrative of his life. Every so often it gets meta and zooms in on Styron’s research of her father while writing this book, finishing with a few chapters that detail his long decline in health related to two episodes of severe depression and his long-time alcoholism. All these different parts are interesting individually, but they don’t entirely cohere.

    Though the general conceit of this...more

  • Speaking and Language

    Paul Goodman

    I can’t remember how this book arrived on my to-read list, but I went through the trouble of tracking down a used copy, so it must have been a convincing recommendation.

    The “Defense of Poetry” subtitle is largely a tease — a reference to other works with similar titles that Goodman was apparently thinking about when he wrote this. Most of the book is about linguistics and speech, and it’s not uninteresting, but I still struggled to get immersed in the ideas presented. Eventually he proceeds to looking at language in literature (not just poetry), and I found a little more to latch on to there, but only in disparate pieces. Strangely Goodman himself explained exactly my experience in reading his book...more

  • Reality Hunger

    David Shields

    You know you’re in for some bold and broad declarations when a book starts off, “Every artistic moment from the beginning of time is an attempt to figure out a way to smuggle more of what the artist thinks is reality into the work of art.”

    Reality Hunger calls itself a manifesto, yet it feels less a call to arms to me — it’s more of a collage of thoughts that are numbered in the hundreds and organized into 26 themes that all circle around the intent to deconstruct artistic creativity. Some of the thoughts are Shields’s but many of are quotes or partially comprised of quotes. He wanted to publish these unattributed but was legally required to include a list of...more

  • On Writing

    Stephen King

    It’s been a while since I read a book focused on writing. Many writing books are useful for thinking about creativity in general or for applying to any type of writing, but this one is geared toward fiction, at least in the specifically advising sections that are technically the core of the book. I actually skipped much of those, as I didn’t find much of the advice helpful and appreciated the memoir parts more. Both the beginning section of how King became a writer and the “On Living” postscript that tells the tale of getting hit by a car while he was working on this book are more interesting to me than a few paragraphs about how adverbs should...more

  • What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

    Haruki Murakami

    I really loved this memoir, though I have to say that the translation probably isn’t the best. It’s hard for me to be entirely certain since I can’t read the original in Japanese, but I’m guessing it’s no coincidence that Philip Gabriel has translated two of my less favorite Murakami novels (Kafka on the Shore and Sputnik Sweetheart). I kept feeling like there were nuances that I was missing.

    Even still, I found this little memoir inspiring. It’s about running, but it’s also about writing. It’s about finding focus and keeping momentum. I kind of wanted to start running right when I finished it, even though I’ve never been able to figure out how to breathe right. I...more

  • Journal of a Solitude

    May Sarton

    I got this from the library after Keri Smith made reference to it a few times. I thought maybe it would help me figure out how to start writing in my journal more consistently again, to remind me how to think on a page, and so far it seems to be working. Also it has been good to remember how to enjoy solitude, which is obviously the main recurring theme in this book. Reading this also reminded me that I once had the idea of reading the diaries of Anaïs Nin, but couldn’t ever catch the early diaries at the library. I went through a little Nin phase in college but have barely even thought of her since then....more

  • One Writer’s Beginnings

    Eudora Welty

    For some reason I had the expectation that this book was more specifically about writing, but instead it is a loosely sketched memoir of how honing in on her senses led her to be a writer with a lot of family history. It was far more interesting as a memoir than as any kind of guidance for fiction writing.more