THE WAY OF THE WRITER

REFLECTIONS ON THE ART AND CRAFT OF STORYTELLING

A useful writing guide from an experienced practitioner.

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. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

NIGHT

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

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

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS

FROM MEAN STREETS TO WALL STREET

Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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