Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from The New York Times (Writers on Writing (Times Books Hardcover))
 
 
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Writers on Writing: Collected Essays from The New York Times (Writers on Writing (Times Books Hardcover)) [Hardcover]

The New York Times , John Darnton
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

After 30 years as a journalist, John Darnton decided to try his hand at writing a novel. If he wrote 1,000 words a day, he discovered, he'd have a book in a matter of months. But wouldn't it be nice to learn a few tricks of the trade from other writers as well? Thus was born The New York Times's Monday-morning Writers on Writing series. In embarking on the series, says Darnton, he learned that the writers he most wanted to hear from were not necessarily the same ones who most wanted to hear from him. But there couldn't have been too many who turned him down. The 46 columns collected in Writers on Writing are by the likes of Saul Bellow, Mary Gordon, David Mamet, Annie Proulx, Carol Shields, and Paul West. Though many of them have not much more than the occupation "writer" in common, Darnton says that in one way he found them all to be alike: "They wanted to hear, right away, what you thought of their work."

Here, Richard Ford explains why he finds not writing to be a terrific thing. Alice Hoffman describes the effect illness (her own and that of others) has had on her work. Barbara Kingsolver grapples with writing an "unchaste" novel. Louise Erdrich explores the effect a second language, Ojibwe in her case, can have on one's involvement with the first. And Russell Banks learns the hard way that "when you meet a witness to your distant past, your memory tends to improve." The most hilarious piece is Carolyn Chute's "How Can You Create Fiction When Reality Comes to Call?" In it, she describes one day, in which "X-rated stuff happens," the cuckoo clock goes off incessantly, dirty dishes beckon, political cohorts come calling, a dog has a couple of seizures, laundry needs doing, and guests constantly arrive. Once Chute finally does get down to writing, the "n" breaks off the daisy wheel. But at least the phone doesn't ring. "Its bell is broken. It never rings. Thank heavens." --Jane Steinberg

From Publishers Weekly

Unlike many assemblages of previously published works, this collection of 41 essays from the New York Times's "Writers on Writing" column is more than the sum of its parts. Just as Times culture editor Darnton hoped when he devised the series for writers to "talk about their craft," the result is a thoughtful examination of writers' concerns about the creative process and the place of literature in America. Appropriately for works commissioned for a major newspaper, the essays are immediately engaging and compelling all the way through. Some writers accomplish these ends through a good story, as does Russell Banks writing on the limits of memory and his lost chance at a career in crime. Or they are darkly entertaining, as is Carolyn Chute as she talks about obstacles in trying to switch from "life mode to writer mode." Sara Paretsky compels with her Dickensian belief in the value of writing for people "who feel powerless and voiceless in the larger world." There's also the sheer comfort of recognizing known voices: the seriousness of Mary Gordon, the combativeness of Kurt Vonnegut Jr., the sting of Joyce Carol Oates. As steeped in writing as this book is, it is not a manual: advice includes only general rules to observe well and write regularly and axioms from writers like William Saroyan, who counsels, "There is no how to it, no how do you write, no how do you live, how do you die." Overall, the writers' pensiveness and amity make for a thought-provoking yet reassuring read a good bedside book. Fans of writers-on-writing anthologies and close readers of the New York Times who may have bypassed these essays for the immediate payoff of a front-page headline should pause to enjoy this rich collection.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From School Library Journal

Adults/High School-Teens interested in writing fiction will find inspiration, advice, and humor in these 43 essays from the column of the same name, published in the Book Review section of the Times. Carl Hiaasen, whose many hilarious novels include Sick Puppy, describes the trouble he had killing off a bad guy who was threatening to take center stage in one of his novels. Barbara Kingsolver, author of the electrifying The Poisonwood Bible, admits to extreme discomfort in writing explicit sexual scenes, but does it anyway. Gail Godwin writes of crossing over into nonfiction, at the request of her publisher, and finding it challenging but not as difficult as she first thought. Mystery writer Walter Mosley advises, "If you want to be a writer, you have to write every day-" even if that means only reading over what you've written and thinking about it. And Kent Haruf, author of Plainsong, lovingly describes the room he writes in, and then goes on to describe writing his first draft blind, typing with a stocking cap pulled over his eyes. Teens will be familiar with some if not all of the writers in this collection, but all of these fine authors have something enlightening to say.

Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

New York Times culture editor and novelist Darnton (Neanderthal, LJ 5/15/96) has compiled a collection of essays on authorship from the Times column of the same title. Contributors to this intimate, chatty collection range from literary icons Saul Bellow, Kurt Vonnegut, and Alice Walker to writers who are not yet household names. Louise Erdrich chronicles her journey with language lessons in Ojibwemowin, the language of her people. Mystery writer Sara Paretsky meets a group of harried, overworked wives of laid-off Chicago steelworkers, for whom the author's V.I. Warshawski is a source of courage and honor. Here is Mary Gordon on favorite notebooks and pens and Barbara Kingsolver, wise and entertaining as always, on the sexual content of the American novel (including her own current best seller). What emerges is a sense of the mysterious way in which fiction chooses those with not merely good stories to tell but dedication to the physical act of writing itself. Readers will want to break out the special caffeine stash for this one. Recommended for most collections. Susan A. Zappia, Paradise Valley Community Coll., Phoenix
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

Pulitzer Prize winner Darnton is the New York Times culture editor and the instigator of one of the finest series of literary essays found in newsprint, the column "Writers on Writing," which is now, hallelujah, preserved in book form. Darnton conceived of the idea while he was writing his first novel and struggling with matters of craft, art, and intent. He sensed that readers, many of whom wish they were writers, would enjoy reading about writers' lives, and his subsequent invitations to stellar literary talents to write about writing resulted in piquant, bracing, and virtuosic essays that are as much about life as they are about creativity. Russell Banks explains that writing saved him from a life of crime. Carolyn Chute and Richard Ford ponder the necessity of not writing. Mary Gordon praises paper and pens. David Mamet celebrates genre fiction. Alice Hoffman writes of writing with cancer. Barbara Kingsolver muses on the challenge of writing about sex. And Scott Turow marvels about how the work of trial lawyers and novelists are "shockingly similar." Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

From Writers on Writing:

"In a time when everything around me seemed completely out of control, when lives were being cut short and fate seemed especially cruel, I had the need to get to an ending of something. I was desperate to know how things turned out, in fiction if not in life. More than ever, more than anything, I was a writer."—Alice Hoffman, from Writers on Writing

"The trial lawyer's job and the novelist's were, in some aspects, shockingly similar. Both involved the reconstruction of experience, usually through many voices. . . . But there the paths deviated. In this arena the universal trumped; there were no prizes for being rarefied or ahead of the times. The trial lawyer who lost the audience also inevitably lost the case."—Scott Turow, from Writers on Writing

About the Author

John Darnton, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the George Polk Award for his journalism, is culture editor for The New York Times and author of two novels.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

"In a time when everything around me seemed completely out of control, when lives were being cut short and fate seemed especially cruel, I had the need to get to an ending of something. I was desperate to know how things turned out, in fiction if not in life. More than ever, more than anything, I was a writer." --Alice Hoffman, from Writers on Writing

"The trial lawyer's job and the novelist's were, in some aspects, shockingly similar. Both involved the reconstruction of experience, usually through many voices. . . . But there the paths deviated. In this arena the universal trumped; there were no prizes for being rarefied or ahead of the times. The trial lawyer who lost the audience also inevitably lost the case." --Scott Turow, from Writers on Writing
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