A well-done, accessible writing manual.




Veteran novelist, screenwriter, and Golden Globe winner DiPego (Cheevey, 1997, etc.) offers guidance to aspiring authors.

Whether writing can indeed be taught remains an open question, but enough people seem to think so that there’s a cottage industry in how-to books. Some are better, or at least more useful, than others, and this is one of them. Taking a page, so to speak, from William Goldman’s 1983 book Adventures in the Screen Trade—the ur-book for aspiring screenwriters—DiPego seeks to lead by example. He doesn’t believe in “rule books for writing or for any kind of art,” he says. Rather, using samples from his own work, he poses questions and offers exercises in a helpful, entertaining manner. His method, essentially, is to give readers an excerpt from one of his novels and then talk about the protagonist’s voice, what his journey could be, what he needs, and what obstacles might be in his way. But DiPego doesn’t just leave it at that; a few pages later, he playfully runs down a list of possible adjectives that could apply to the character—one for every letter of the alphabet, from “Awkward” to “Zen (ish),” with stops at “Patient” and “Slovenly,” among others, along the way. DiPego isn’t just an enjoyable writer himself; more crucially, he enjoys writing. He constantly reminds readers that they each have their own voice and that discovering it, through practice and discipline, is how they become writers themselves: “I can only show you how I write—just in case it helps.” He also shares a few of his own experiences in Hollywood, particularly regarding the underrated 1996 film Phenomenon, starring John Travolta, Forest Whitaker, and Kyra Sedgwick. Compromise is the name of the game when you’re writing for studio execs, he says, so don’t necessarily dismiss their “suggestions” out of hand. But sometimes, he notes, you just have to dig in your heels, as he did when the suits wanted to change the picture’s ending—not just modify it, but change it entirely. DiPego replied, “Well, please tell [Disney CEO] Michael [Eisner] that I need just ten minutes of his time, and I’ll explain to him my very strong feelings about this.” Eisner never found those 10 minutes, and Phenomenon’s ending remained intact. Sometimes, the words on the page are just the beginning of the battle—or rather, the journey.

A well-done, accessible writing manual.

Pub Date: May 1, 2016


Page Count: 148

Publisher: Book Baby

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2016

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.


Straight talk to blacks and whites about the realities of racism.

In her feisty debut book, Oluo, essayist, blogger, and editor at large at the Establishment magazine, writes from the perspective of a black, queer, middle-class, college-educated woman living in a “white supremacist country.” The daughter of a white single mother, brought up in largely white Seattle, she sees race as “one of the most defining forces” in her life. Throughout the book, Oluo responds to questions that she has often been asked, and others that she wishes were asked, about racism “in our workplace, our government, our homes, and ourselves.” “Is it really about race?” she is asked by whites who insist that class is a greater source of oppression. “Is police brutality really about race?” “What is cultural appropriation?” and “What is the model minority myth?” Her sharp, no-nonsense answers include talking points for both blacks and whites. She explains, for example, “when somebody asks you to ‘check your privilege’ they are asking you to pause and consider how the advantages you’ve had in life are contributing to your opinions and actions, and how the lack of disadvantages in certain areas is keeping you from fully understanding the struggles others are facing.” She unpacks the complicated term “intersectionality”: the idea that social justice must consider “a myriad of identities—our gender, class, race, sexuality, and so much more—that inform our experiences in life.” She asks whites to realize that when people of color talk about systemic racism, “they are opening up all of that pain and fear and anger to you” and are asking that they be heard. After devoting most of the book to talking, Oluo finishes with a chapter on action and its urgency. Action includes pressing for reform in schools, unions, and local governments; boycotting businesses that exploit people of color; contributing money to social justice organizations; and, most of all, voting for candidates who make “diversity, inclusion and racial justice a priority.”

A clear and candid contribution to an essential conversation.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-58005-677-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Seal Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

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