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The Writer's Notebook II - The Book Report

Updated on November 26, 2012

Craft Essays from Tin House

Author: Various; see Description, below.

Publisher: Tin House 2012. Paperback; cover price $18.95; 236 pages exclusive of contributors' biographies and copyright notes; 246 pages total.

Purpose: According to the book's cover, the articles examine "not only important craft aspects" of writing, "but also explore creating fractured and nonlinear realist narratives and the role of dreams in fiction." Obviously, the book is designed to inform the writing process for authors, mostly of fiction.

Description: The book is a collection of essays based on the Tin House's summer workshop, magazine contributors and authors, with an introduction by Francine Prose. Writers and the titles of their chapters are: Ann Hood (Beginning), Bert Anthony Johnson (Don't Write That), Steve Almond (An Exploration of the Comic Impulse), Anthony Doerr (The Sword of Damocles: On Suspense, Shower Murders, and Shooting People on the Beach), Maggie Nelson ("A Sort of Learning Agreement": Writing, With, From, and For Others). Adam Brave (The Experience In Between: Thoughts on Non-linear Narrative), Aimee Bender (On the Making of Orchards), Benjamin Percy (Get A Job: The Importance of Work in Prose and Poetry), Antonya Nelson (Short Story: A Process of Revision), Mary Szybist (There Interposed a ____: A Few Considerations of Poetic Drama), Jim Krusoe (Story and Dream), Christopher R. Beha (Do Something), Karen Russell (Engineering Impossible Arcitectures), and Elissa Schappel (Endings: Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow).

Discussion: If nothing else, one may conclude from the book's article titles that subtitles are necessary if the cleverness of an author's catch phrase obscures the point to be made. I was particularly drawn to Benjamin Percy's article entitled Get A Job: The Importance of Work in Prose and Poetry. The title sounds like another precis on getting down to work, and is that, too, although Mr. Percy writes of "point of view." Another in the series of "write what you know/know what you write" discussions, Mr. Percy emphasizes the necessity of understanding the actual, real-life job of your speaker/protagonist/voice; that is, what they do for their living. From Mr. Percy's point of view, this "job" is more than perfection of diction -- it is setting, character, plot. Indeed, in Mr. Percy's words, "it sets into motion every element of your story or essay or poem." I think he's right. Mr. Percy makes his point in 16 pages, clearly, with examples from the writing or others, providing a way in to storytelling worth the trouble to examine.

Christopher R. Beha's article Do Something, is a logical companion to Mr. Percy's. Mr. Beha relates his experience as a writer and teacher, analyzing his own method of crafting sentences to advance his job, the job of saying something meaningful to his story. Mr. Beha's exposition on making a point likewise is valuable.

In sum, although I have picked just two of the book's articles to brief, each article provides its own interesting and significant insights.

Rating: Obviously, these folks can write. Tone is professional/conversational; reportorial/conversational. Achievement of purpose: Achieved. Recommendation: Yes.

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3 out of 5 stars from 1 rating of The Writers' Notebook II


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