A useful writing guide from an experienced practitioner.

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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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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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UNTAMED

More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

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The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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