Do we really need another book on writing? Maybe.
Edmundson (English/Univ. of Virginia; Self and Soul: A Defense of Ideals, 2015, etc.) previously published Why Teach? and Why Read? His latest is as much about reading as writing. He covers some “lightly drawn” autobiographical material and a little how-to (he’s especially good on the importance of a writer finding his/her voice), and he offers plenty of encouragement. This book is very much a pep talk. The author is an optimistic, enthusiastic cheerleader on the sideline, encouraging us to sit down and try. Along the way, he enlists as co-cheerers other writers, mostly the older, usual suspects: Shelley, Byron, Austen, Melville, Joyce. But he also manages to recruit Roth and Kerouac and others. Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections “rang the bell,” while David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest “slammed down the hammer.” Edmundson warns budding authors: it’s lonely, it’s hard, and it can be depressing, but it’s “one of the best acts a human being can turn his hand to.” It brings pleasure and its own rewards, and it can be a “spiritual discipline” like meditation or even prayer. The author tends to get repetitive during the course of the book, repeating some version of the idea that “writing is about writing.” Publication isn’t the goal; writing is: “writing is thinking; thinking is writing.” Try writing a memoir; it’s the “genre of our moment.” Writers must read (a lot) and be willing to revise (a lot). In this and other areas, Edmundson sounds like Stephen King. Even though his own books have been fairly well-received, he’s pretty harsh on book reviewers. Those critics who are wannabe writers will sometimes “clasp your book in their hands, embrace it, and then slap you across the face.”
This has been done better by others, but it’s never a bad thing to encourage reading and writing.