31 August 2012

Review of Alone With All That Could Happen

Alone with All That Could Happen: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom about the Craft of FictionAlone with All That Could Happen: Rethinking Conventional Wisdom about the Craft of Fiction by David Jauss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just finished this; there is much to absorb, but for starters Jauss, as is hinted at in the subtitle, comes at writing from a different angle. At least one I haven't seen. There are several chapters dealing with many aspects of writing, but none of it is prescriptive: I loved that.

Not that I dislike prescriptive books on writing. They have their place. But, sometimes, you have to be reminded why you're doing this (beyond the "I just have to write" thing). Jauss shows some ways to make the connection between craft (which is necessary) and art (which is vital). Without art, fiction feels plastic: and I'm not talking about the good kind, i.e. flexibility. I'm talking about it feeling fake, lifeless. Art without craft makes for some tough, and let's be honest, boring reading on occasion. So, we need both, and Jauss helps.

It was refreshing to read a book about writing that isn't trying to make you sit down and write a set number of words everyday, or to write for a set number of hours. Jauss brings out different aspects that many beginning writers probably never even get around to thinking about. And I know some published writers haven't gotten around to them, either.

One of my favorite parts was the last chapter: in it Jauss argues that writers, in order to really be creative, must learn to think differently: they must learn to hold contradictions in their mind; they must learn to negate themselves in certain situations in order to spark the creativity.

That may sound weird, but I don't want to give away too much. If you are a writer, or are even interested in literature, this is an excellent read.

I'm going to read it again....

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17 August 2012

Review of Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury

The Sound and the FuryThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Faulkner was not afraid to break from mundane and predictable writing; that which later leads to obscurity. If you are looking for a nice point A-to-point B type story, this is not it. This leans more toward something like a mixture of his other work and Joyce/Woolf amalgamation. Yes, it has that in it (stream of consciousness writing). That said, it isn't Joyce or Woolf. It is Faulkner rollicking in the intoxicating power of words, at the height of his game. I love it because of that. Stick with it and you will see that there is a method to the madness; it is not for the faint of heart, to be sure (please excuse the cliché); it requires breaking out of the trained-laziness that much of contemporary literature and internet reading is breeding in us.

On that note, it is disheartening and nauseating to read about people who get bored because there wasn't tension in the previous two sentences, or because an author wants to take some time and really have a play with language. Editors, agents, publishers, writing gurus all spew the same thing: tension, tension, tension. It's as if the entire world is suffering from learned ADHD (not to take that disease lightly: I struggle with this condition myself, so I understand the pain it can cause; but, we cannot allow it to govern everything: i.e. make literature easier, more exciting, tension, tension, tension; but instead, we must make ourselves stick to something and why shouldn't that something be great works of literature?). If this is to change, we have to change it. Reading great literature requires sacrifice and sometimes it requires breaking out of the the blasé expectations of how literature "ought to be." "Oughts" are very ugly things....

Faulkner's writing, especially in this case, is more art than craft. Many of his other works are very tight, craft-wise (as is The Sound and the Fury; but it's tight in its own way: i.e. when there is what seems like a lot of jumping around, it really should not bother a contemporary reader, whose attention span has been hacked down to nearly nil by television and internet; this part of the book is very much like a movie: quickly switching from scene to scene, bringing into the reading the dizzying effect that the character is experiencing on the page).

The Sound and the Fury is one of Faulkner's more difficult books and didn't really catch on until after he had published Sanctuary. It isn't my favorite of those I've read of his works, but it is a strong book and has a lot to recommend it: chief being the way Faulkner plays with language and builds his characters.

Don't give up, it's worth the time you put into it.

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