Views from the Loft
Author: Daniel Slager, editor
Genre: Nonfiction (Writing, Literary Criticism)
Love/Hate?: I don't have the energy to hate it, but I'm feeling pretty cold toward it.
Did I finish?: Hardly.
Why did I get this book?: I'm an aspiring writer; I like learning about the craft.
Review: Books on writing are a mixed bag. On one hand, you've got authors sharing their tips and techniques with you. On the other hand, you've got authors sharing their tips and techniques with you. Unlike many other how-to books, with the easy to follow steps that provide a similar result, when it comes to writing -- and one's writing process -- anything goes.
Sadly, as I only have an ARC, it doesn't include Daniel Slager's introduction which would have been helpful in providing me with some clues as to the goal of the book. Instead, I've had to stumbled through the offerings -- short fiction, poetry, essays, creative non-fiction, interviews -- to gain a sense of what the book wishes to achieve. According to the table of contents, the book is divided into five sections: teaching, writing, critique, publication, writing for life. Helpful! Until I get to the topics addressed for teaching. The list includes: "lock picking, looking long and hard at a fish, absented minded hunting, resurrection-based research..." The irreverent and odd list continues, and I don't know if this space filler for the ARC or if the editor really is trying to be coy. (I suspect 'coy' since some of the topics covered in the section on writing include "phone book roulette, the smell of valerian root, the second emotion, and resisting faithful ugliness".)
If you ignore the subtitle 'A Portable Writer's Workshop' and view this as a collection of meditations by writers on writing, things get much better. Marilyn Hacker's "A Few Cranky Paragraphs on Form and Content" is a hefty but interesting piece that begins with her thoughts on rhyming poetry and ends with bearing witness to the greater world. Vivian Gornick's musing on memoir as literature is brief and interesting while Lewis Buzbee's "Confessions of a First Novelist" is an entertaining essay on one man's experience of being published. The interviews I skipped over: I recognized neither the interviewer nor interviewee in almost every case (the exception being Patricia Weaver Francisco's interview with Michael Cunningham).
For writers interested in both literature and how to write, I recommend Louise deSalvo's Writing as a Way to Heal instead. Less precious and more how-to.