Jan. 5th, 2010

callistahogan: (Default)
It's kind of amazing. It's making me go squee and "YES, that's it, exactly it" and "Oh my gosh, that's exactly what I think too!"

Just as an illustration of the amazingness that is this book, let me supply you with an awesome quote. The whole book speaks so truthfully about writing, and why we write, and the role writers have in society, and how writing has the power, and how our writing always has to be honest, and oh, gosh, just so great.

Just one of the little gems in this book:

"I don't know why I do what I do. If I did know, I probably wouldn't feel the need to do it. All I can say, and I say it with the utmost certainty, is that I have felt this need since my earliest adolescence. I'm talking about writing, in particular writing as a vehicle to tell stories, imaginary stories that have never taken place in what we call the real world. Surely it is an odd way to spend your life -- sitting alone in a room with a pen in your hand, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, struggling to put words on pieces of paper in order to give birth to what does not exist, except in your head. Why on earth would anyone want to do such a thing? The only answer I have ever been able to come up with is: because you have to, because you have no choice."
- Paul Auster, "Talking to Strangers," Burn This Book.

I saw that quote when I picked up this book an hour or so ago and I immediately knew I had to read it as soon as possible. And so far it has not disappointed. I should be done with it tonight -- probably in an hour or so -- and a book review will be coming shortly, where I will try to hold back my enthusiasm a tad.
callistahogan: (Books)
Book: Burn This Book, compiled by Toni Morrison
GenreNonfiction (writing)
Length: 112 pp.
Progress (pages)323/20,000 pp. (2%)
GradeB+

Amazon Summary: In 11 short essays by some of the world's premier novelists, this volume explores a simple question: why write? Contributor Paul Auster may put the query best: "Surely it is an odd way to spend your life -- sitting alone in a room with a pen in your hand, hour after hour, day after day, year after year, struggling to put words on pieces of paper." In response, Pico Iyer delivers a moving account of a Burmese trishaw driver living under political oppression, who for years composed (by candlelight) letters to the author, many of which were censored. Orhan Pamuk also explores this intense human hunger for stories and creative freedom with an anecdote from his March 1985 tour of Turkey, on which he introduced Arthur Miller and Harold Pinter to Turkish writers who had suffered "repression, cruelty and outright evil" in a military coup. Francine Prose, on the other hand, makes a lively attempt to separate literature from politics (in which she cops to her own political biases in her choice of examples). The disparate voices produce a complex of reasons that drive writers, though all agree that, as observed by Morrison (wearing both editor and contributor caps), it's a "bleak, unlivable, insufferable existence... when we are deprived of artwork."

My Thoughts: I was searching for a book like this -- something light, easy, that I could finish in an evening -- and this book delivered. My weakness in nonfiction is books about writing, and this was a perfect treat for me. I especially like to read compilations from authors, so I can see various authors' perspectives on writing, getting an insight into how they got started. It makes me realize that I am at once completely typical in the writing world and yet I feel pride that I can feel a kinship with these amazing authors.

This compilation puts together the writing of the following eleven authors: Toni Morrison, John Updike, David Grossman, Francine Prose, Pico Iyer, Russell Banks, Paul Auster, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie, Ed Park, and Nadine Gordimer. I had previously heard of most of these authors, but I have not yet read any of their writings. That is a fact that I am going to have to remedy very shortly, because there were some outstanding essays in this compilation.

While there were some that I did not quite like, as per usual in compilations, I found that some particularly touched me. In particular, I enjoyed Paul Auster's essay, "Talking to Strangers," because it expressed in a mere three pages why I write. It expresses that writers often write because they have to, because they have no choice. Nothing else explains it better than that. I don't know who I would be if I couldn't write, if I didn't want to write. I have a feeling I'd be entirely mediocre, going through life, sliding along without any discernible goal. But writing has given me that drive and ambition to strive to be better, which is precisely why I love losing myself in a story.

I appreciated the vast array of essays in this book. There were the typical "Why I Write" essays, but there was a particularly amusing essay by Ed Park that made me smile, because it was just so different. Toni Morrison's essay was the shortest of the bunch, heading up the collection, but it served as a backbone for the book. I enjoyed the stories Orhan Pamuk and Pico Iyer shared; it shows that the urge to read and write without fear of censorship is a universal desire. And last but not least, Nadine Gordimer's essay was a particularly pointed look at the writer's job to serve as a witness to world events, and brought up issues of race and the Western/Eastern division effectively.

This book would probably not interest anyone who is not a writer, though, and that is why I didn't give it a higher grade. I was hoping it would say more about censorship, but only a couple essays explored that issue in any depth. If you're a writer, I'd recommend this book, because as said, there are some amazing essays, but if you're not? This book wouldn't interest you all that much, unless you were interested in the writing process and what makes certain authors "tick."

Currently Reading: The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova (and I'm loving it. A vampire novel that goes back to the legends! Who woulda thunk we'd find one of those in the era of Twilight? Not that I hate Twilight, because I actually love it. *hides*)

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