In 12 short thematic essays and an interview, all previously published, the hyper-prolific author of novels (Blonde), story collections (Faithless), plays (In Darkest America) and poems (Tenderness) examines the writing life, aiming to focus on "the process of writing more than the uneasy, uncertain position of being a writer." Oates advises young writers to read widely, takes a nostalgic glance back at childhood influences, waxes poetic on the joys of running and its relation to writing, and tackles the inner trajectories of the creative process. The essays are peppered with anecdotes concerning writers' trials, doubts and influences; these well-selected snippets form the most enjoyable and illuminating aspect of the book. If Oates's own insights don't always live up to the wit and beauty of such quoted authors as T.S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence, it may be because she gives herself comparatively little room to wrestle with such broad concepts as inspiration and failure. Oates's suggestion that writers as a breed apart may irritate the "ordinary reader" she refers to (whom, she suggests, might not know that "no story writes itself") and may even make writers uncomfortable (to write, she says, is to "invite angry censure from those who don't write, or who don't write in quite the way you do....Art by its nature is a transgressive act, and artists must accept being punished for it"). But Oates obviously understands the faith that writing, that "juncture of private vision and the wish to create a communal, public vision" takes, and young writers especially may find words of wisdom here.
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Few can match Oates in the breadth, depth, and passion of her literary experiences and expertise. In her newest and most confiding essay collection, she generously shares the private side of her story-steeped life, musing over the one-room schoolhouse in rural New York State she so loved, the now cellular influence of Alice in Wonderland, and the nearly symbiotic connection between running and writing ("Joyce runs like a deer!" she recalls a boy exclaiming, a memory not as benign as it might seem, given the brute intentions of her pursuers). Art is a mystery, born most often of pain, Oates attests as she shrewdly and beguilingly dissects the quirkiness of inspiration and the unexpected felicity of failure, the enigma of the imagination and the necessity of craft. Gloriously well read and unfailingly curious about those who have shared her obsession, most notably Woolf, Lawrence, James, and Faulkner, Oates is commanding in her knowledge and deeply moving in her candor, such as when she notes that people always ask how she writes so much, rather than why. Donna Seaman
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I puzzled for a time on how many stars to give this book -- I find that some of what she says does not apply to me. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Thomas C. Fletcher
This book is about the art of writing. Oates tells us that 'writing is not a race ... the satisfaction is in the effort. Read morePublished 8 months ago by Paula Cappa Reviews
It's a good book for young aspiring writers. It's also a kind of literary guide to particularly American writers as Oates uses classical and well-known writers as examples. Read morePublished 10 months ago by LENA BRUSELID
JCO offers unique insights into the creative process and her own personal love affair (with all the attendant feelings) with writing. Read morePublished 13 months ago by Avid reader
As a widely-published, but largely self-taught writer, I collect and study books on the craft. My library is fairly extensive. Read morePublished 14 months ago by John L. Moore
It's like taking a course with JCO! So many insights, ideas, commentaries on the great writers of our time. I love it and hope it will help me refine my own work.Published 14 months ago by Margaret
The books came on time. I had reserved the book from the library but wanted to own it. One for me and one as a gift.Published 18 months ago by trish
JCO does her thing ... in this case offering her experiences about how to become an engaged writer; what it means to put your visions into language. No one does it better. Read morePublished on July 11, 2013 by Trineman
As someone who is trying his hand at writing fiction for the first time I was relieved to learn from Ms. Read morePublished on April 12, 2013 by Sugafoot