These are not typical book reviews as such, maybe more of book summaries? but lately I’ve been trying to read some books about the writing life and I thought I’d offer some thoughts about three of them.
The first is one that often comes highly recommended: Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (do you still underline book titles? Just go with me on this, okay?). This is a look into why we write, what to write and how to write. She is one crazy lady, painfully honest about the times when she is full of self-doubt and hypochondria. There are times when that wears a little thin in this book, but overall I think it is a good primer on being brave and writing honestly, and how to approach the blank page without listening to the internal censor we all have. One freebie I’ll tell you about her tactic of viewing a story through a one-inch picture frame — describe that one inch the best you can and don’t worry about all the other details of where it will lead you. She also offers sincere advice about the life of a published author, and that it cannot fulfill a person if she wasn’t fulfilled before she was published. Wise words to an anxious audience, many of whom hold publication as their primary goal, no matter what the cost.
The next book I’ve found referenced frequently is On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King. Yes, that Steven King. I’m not a big science fiction/ horror/ suspense reader, but he is such a household name and has published so many books, that one must allow that he knows what he’s doing. He is a fan of some certain crass words throughout his writing (and Anne Lamott doesn’t hesitate to drop quite a few bombs in her work either), but when you move past that, his book is chockabrock full of insights and encouragement. The first portion of the book is a short memoir, the main section is about the process of writing, and the third is written after he had a terrible accident and came back to writing five weeks after being hit by a minivan (he was not in a car, by the way, when he was hit by the minivan). I marked up this book more than Anne Lamott’s and will definitely come back to it along the way as I try to keep plugging away at my own writing. (Doesn’t “my own writing” sound official? It’s so very not official! But I’m having fun, at any rate.)
The third book I found worthwhile was The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner. She is an editor and author, and this books walks through the entire process of being published, from the rejection letters to the release date and promotion tour. It reveals answers to the many mysteries surrounding the steps of publication, things that are a bit tricky to find if you don’t know exactly what you ought to be asking — she even describes the way book jackets are chosen. She is sympathetic to writers and reminds them that editors aren’t trying to be jerks by sending them rejection letters or taking a long time to get back to them. I found her book very interesting, even from a reader’s position, since I’ve always wondered how some books get such lame covers that seem to have nothing to do with the contents of the book inside.
None of these, I’m afraid, are holiday reading. But if you’re tired of the ‘T’was the Night Before Christmas’ and want something outside the current season, I think any one of these could be a good distraction. And if you’ve never thought about writing, they may even motivate you to give it a try, even just as an exercise in the possible. Best of luck, and I’d love to hear what books have spurred you to action over the years.
Mostly Just Fluff: A Review of Karen Kingsbury’s Like Dandelion Dust
The author of this book makes sure that the readers all know it has been made into a Hollywood movie. Did you see it? The book claims it came out in August of 2010, but I sure didn’t see anything about it, even though the book cover highlights the fact that the movie version stars two nominees/winners of prestigious acting awards.
And that’s how we start the book Like Dandelion Dust, with pages of dedications, thank-yous, and self-congratulating acknowledgements. Now, I don’t see this as an over-arching pet peeve of mine, but I do find it a bit tacky to drag out the beginning of a book in this way. It requires the reader to page through extra material in order to even find the first page of the story. I wish she had included it in the back of the book, rather than assuming that I am one of her loyal readers who feel an emotional attachment to her career. If a book is worth it, I will read these types of things in the back once I’m done reading it. But to place them ahead of the story seems presumptuous.
Is the book worth the trouble of flipping the extra pages to find the beginning? Well, sure, I guess. How’s that for a half-hearted endorsement? On the one hand, I read it quickly since the story moved along and it had a very limited number of characters. In that sense, she made some smart, strong choices: characters with definite personalities, a terrible crisis they had to face, growing tension between the characters, and a pleasing denouement.
However, there was a cute kid at stake, which seems like a cheap shot to me – I mean, what heartless cynic would you have to be to not be moved by hardship experienced by a child? I know that Kingsbury wanted to connect with the emotions of her readers, but I couldn’t help but feel a tad bit manipulated, even as I felt bad for the poor kid and the situation he and his family faced.
It was clear that Karen Kingsbury wanted the characters to struggle with their relationships with one another and with God, which I’m all for, but the treatment she gives God is abbreviated and doesn’t go into much real detail. I thought the way she handled the child’s interest in God was the most accurate, an organic growth from a single seed of observation. The adults are more herky-jerky, falling into more stereotypical roles – even when these stereotypes are true to life they can still be written with more attention to the specific individual and why that person holds that viewpoint. Oh! I almost forgot one more detail: on page 223 there is a glaring mistake. Suddenly Bill’s wife and Molly’s sister is referred to as Brenda. Before and after this, she is called BETH. Big whoops. I figure that if I, the reader, can catch this, the people making their living by proofreading novels really should have seen it.
All in all, the book was light entertainment, much like a soap opera when there’s nothing else to watch on a summer afternoon. It has some action, intrigue, and stories, and if that’s what you’re looking for, this will do you fine.