"LEARNING A TRADE: A Craftsman's Notebooks, 1955-1997" by Reynolds Price
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"LEARNING A TRADE: A Craftsman's Notebooks, 1955-1997"

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KIRKUS REVIEW

What Price describes humbly as ""the ongoing minutes of one craftsman's effort through more than four decades to learn his business"" is, in fact, a monumental entree into the extraordinarily restive, creative mind of the South's great elegist and one of America's preeminent moral novelists. Starting in 1955, when the North Carolinian was a young student at Oxford meticulously thinking through on paper his early stories and first novel, A Long and Happy Life, and continuing through the first draft of his latest novel (Roxanna Slade, 1998), Learning A Trade provides a day-by-day record of the evolution of a novelist. Though the prolific writer produced poems, plays, and essays, fiction dominates his attention here. Early on, the notebooks were his de facto writing school, ""the place where I've worked to teach myself the needs and duties and daily procedures of a competent writer."" We see Price learning his strengths and limitations, discovering how best to work, and developing the rich, poetic language that is his trademark. The notes are a source book (a central repository for ""anything I heard or thought that seemed of possible use to the writer I meant to be"") and sounding board. He tries out bits of dialog, last lines, and first lines; engages in self-debate about possible plot developments; and (a recurring theme) hashes out reservations about similarities between new work and old. For readers, much material will be meaningless without first reading the fiction itself. Price scholars will rejoice in the wealth of detail regarding the inspiration for characters, images, and tums-of-phrase (the title for A Long and Happy Life comes from Bridge on the River Kwai, for example). Writers--particularly beginners--will savor Price's lucid address of the mundane but essential issues of the writing life. An estimable desktop companion for reader and writer alike--a volume remarkable more for its durable flame than for any pyrotechnic flashes.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0822325888
Page count: 640pp
Publisher: Duke Univ.