A useful writing guide from an experienced practitioner.

THE WAY OF THE WRITER

REFLECTIONS ON THE ART AND CRAFT OF STORYTELLING

A pithy guide for writers and those who teach them.

In a series of short essays, Johnson (Emeritus, Creative Writing/Univ. of Washington; Taming the Ox: Buddhist Stories and Reflections on Politics, Race, Culture, and Spiritual Practice, 2014, etc.), a MacArthur fellow and winner of the National Book Award, Writers Guild Award, and many other honors, draws on his experience as a writer (of novels, essays, screenplays, and philosophy); editor (of the Seattle Review); fiction judge for the National Book Award (twice), PEN/Faulkner Award, Los Angeles Times Book Award, and Pulitzer Prize; and longtime teacher and mentor to offer practical advice on the writing process and the writing life. Although he refers frequently to his mentor John Gardner—“a bluff, combustible, and brilliant teacher”— Johnson admits that he never took a college writing workshop and, in fact, looked on them with disdain. “To my eye,” he writes, “they were dominated by the instructor’s personality and unsolicited political opinions, and took an approach that was highly subjective,” encouraging immature students to “write about what they know.” When he took on the task of teaching creative writing, he designed his workshops to be demanding, with rigorous exercises meant to free students from solipsism. “A Boot Camp for Creative Writing” offers examples of those exercises; “Opening Sentences: A Hundred Rays of Light” includes examples of admirable first lines from mostly canonical novels, including Moby-Dick, Kafka’s The Trial, and Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Echoing many other writing guides, Johnson focuses on the power of precise words, the importance of developing voice, and the joys and challenges of revision. “Sometimes, he admits, “my ratio of throwaway to keep pages is 20:1.” Revision, he adds, “is a combination of cutting away (like sculpting the sentence from stone) and also a constant layering of the language (like working with the sentence as you would clay).” Throughout, Johnson’s voice is generous and warm, even while he is cautioning writers to be their own ruthless editors.

A useful writing guide from an experienced practitioner.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-4721-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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