Because You Have To by Joan Frank

Title: Because You Have To: a writing life
Author: Joan Frank

Genre: Non-Fiction (On Writing / Literary Criticism / Memoir / Essays / 20th Century Literature / American Writing)
Publisher/Publication Date: University of Notre Dame Press (9/15/2012)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Liked a good deal.
Did I finish?: I did, although I lingered!
One-sentence summary: Twenty-three essays on writing and reading by a passionate, sharp, reader and author.
Reading Challenges: Dewey Decimal

Do I like the cover?: I really do -- the soft colors and the spare layout really appeal to me, and, lame as it may be, I want that desk and chair and typewriter to be my writer-ly writing room.

I'm reminded of...: Anne Lamott

First line: We live in a fast-forward world.

Did... I squee a little seeing Thaisa Frank quoted in this volume?: YES. I've really enjoyed Thaisa Frank's writing, and love seeing people I love getting love, and discovered she's not related to this author (as Joan Frank explains in her Acknowledgements.)

Do... I love that she offers editing and teaching?: YES. Super cool, if you're brave enough to share!

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy if you like writing guides, authors on writing, or memoirs about creative endeavors.

Why did I get this book?: I collecting writing guides like...collectable things.

Review: I always love writers writing about writing, but this book was particularly well-timed for me as I'm trying, once again to write a NaNoWriMo novel.

I'm always curious about the decision to write a book on writing (especially, and this is bitchy to admit, but what can I say, I'm sometimes a mean girl, if I've never heard of the writer, who are they to tell me about writing?!) but I can't ever say 'no', and in this case, I'm very glad I said 'yes'.

In her preface, Frank says straight out what her book is, acknowledging the plethora of books on this subject as well as software and websites devoted to the hobby/job/make-it-rich technique of writing. Her book came out of her interest in "the emotional and physical and dream-life of writing (and reading) as an inescapable calling, and in ways of inhabiting that life."

This book is actually a collection of essays, written at various times in Frank's life, all relating to writing and reading, so it really is less a how-to guide and more a meditation and reflection on the power, pain, and privilege of writing. The style and mood of the essays vary but the feel of the book is cohesive; I had a sense of who Frank might be, the kind of woman and writer she is, and why she takes such joy in writing and reading. Most importantly, every essay is readable, friendly, accessible -- I didn't feel like an unknowing outsider.

The earliest essay is from 1997; the most recent from last year. The essay from '97, a defense of the memoir, made me laugh as the provocation for it -- critics complaining about the swell of memoirs like Angela's Ashes and The Kiss -- reminded me of last year's rant about grief lit. Everything new is old, blah blah.

From the act of creation to the 'business' of writing, Frank shares her reflections, experiences, and complaints. Her essay, 'Be Careful Whom You Tell', was both hilarious and sad,and just when I was about to sigh and roll my eyes at her 'woe is me' tale, she finally shared just whom you should tell, and it was Mary Oliver-esque lovely. The following essay, 'Never Enough', had a lyrical quality, the numbered list poetical and pragmatic.

If you, like me, enjoy writers on writing, get this volume even if you're unfamiliar with Frank -- she's an interesting, warm writer to get to know, and I found her thoughts inspiring -- I wanted to read more and write more, and I love it when someone makes me feel that way.

*** *** ***

GIVEAWAY!

I'm thrilled to offer a copy of Because You Have To to one lucky reader! To enter, fill out this brief form. Open to US/CA readers, ends 11/23.

Comments

  1. This looks like exactly my kind of book. I can never get enough of meditations about writing. Good luck with your NaNoWriMo novel!

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    1. It's wonderful -- made me want to sit down and write about my own thoughts on writing -- I always love it when a book provokes that feeling!

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    2. Yes! This is the kind of book that sends me straight to my notebook....

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  2. This one is definitely going on my list!

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  3. The comparison to Anne Lamott is so appealing, and like that these are reflections on writing rather than how-to advice - love to hear other's insights on their process and experiences!

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    1. I'm not always wild about Lamott (she's tried my nerves of late) but there's a peaceful, non-judgmental quality to Frank's writing that was reminiscent of Lamott that I like.

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  4. You're writing a novel?! Soooo cool! Can you say what it's about? :)

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    1. Of course -- it is loosely inspired by Walter Scott's Bride of Lammermoor as well as Mary Lamb, set in 1919 Canada -- my heroine ends up marrying a Saskatchewan wheat farmer after her fiance doesn't return from the trenches of Europe following WWI and then all kinds of stuff happens. Hopefully interesting stuff!

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    2. That sounds *awesome*! I would (and will) totally read that. I hope the NaNoWriMo gods smile upon you. :)

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    3. You're so kind to me! So far, I'm in a bit word deficit (eek!) so this weekend I'll be scrambling to catch up! Here's hoping...!

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  5. Sometimes books on writing stress me out. It's hard to say why, exactly; maybe because they cause me to question if I have a "right" to call myself a writer? I mean, I write. I even get paid to write. But sometimes reading about the craft throws me into an existential dilemma!

    That being said, this sounds like an interesting take -- and I like that the book is comprised of essays. I'm getting more into them these days. Thanks for bringing this one to my attention!

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    1. YES -- I totally know the feeling -- and I suppose in this sense, you might feel the same insecurity (her essay on getting rejection letters from literary agents made me sigh with envy) -- but I also found her very easy to relate to, despite her published status, perhaps because she's still very much a passionate reader and aspirational writer.

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  6. Bahahaha, I love that you admitted your judgment of some person you've never heard of telling you how to write. I feel this way also.

    Oddly, her thesis about writing and reading as a calling make me think of a YA dystopia I read just last week. Pirate Cinema centered on a teen Brit who fell afoul of strict copyright laws because he HAD TO make videos using clips of his favorite actor, even though it was illegal. The compulsion to create is an interesting thing.

    That's pretty cool that it's a collection of essays from such a wide time span. I wonder if her viewpoints change as you go throughout the volume, even if the change is subtle?

    I probably won't ever actually get around to reading this, but I'll add it to my tbr just in case.

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    1. I'm a snob. I can't help it!

      I read a collection of essays in Jan that felt so dated and felt so...well, you could feel the time difference between essays, and it sort of bugged me. Not here, which was interesting -- and I'm sure her thoughts have changed -- it would be great to hear if she wanted or was tempted to edit any of her essays in this volume!

      Will have to look for that book -- interesting premise!

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  7. I am reading this one right now. I have high hopes for it.

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  8. What a wonderful sounding book: I'm always interested in books about the writing process. :)

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    1. Me too -- when done well, like this book, it really inspires me -- reminds me of what I love about writing.

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  9. I adore these kinds of writing books. I just love them to pieces. I so hope I win the giveaway, but even if I don't its going on the wish list!

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    1. :) These are my favorite kinds of writing books as well -- thought provoking, inspiring, easy to relate to -- really lovely.

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  11. Dear and amazing Audra—and dear Bibliophiliac, Kathleen, Bookspersonally, Shan, Meg, Christina, Ti, Stephanie, and Serena!

    I can't tell you how delighted I felt to hear all your comments, and feel that, for the most part, you liked and admired BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO, felt it to be something you could relate to, and found useful. Best of all was the fact that it sent a "literary quickening" through many of you, whetting that longing to make new writing.

    In a world full of noise and competition for people's gazes, I feel honored and lucky to have yours, and for your kind words of interest and pleasure.

    Please feel free to find me anytime, and if the little collection pleases you, I hope you'll suggest it to writing-loving friends.

    Warmest best,
    Joan Frank
    www.joanfrank.org

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    1. Ms. Frank -- thank you so much for stopping by -- you've made my weekend!! In the midst of my novel writing in November, your book was very welcome -- and I'm grateful I got to be on this tour. I'll be returning to your essays more than once, I'm sure.

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  12. I love that this is out there, and that it gives us a perspective on writing that we may not have seen before. I have a fancy that I will write a book one day, but I never seem to get started and I think I psych myself out too much. It would be great to read this book and see just how to go about it. Very exciting and well written review today! I need to see if my library has this book!

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  13. Good luck for NaNo! I really like that this book is a collection comprised of some essays from years ago, because even if the industry has changed, the overall atmosphere hasn't, and it must be interesting reading about the differences too. It sounds very good!

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  14. "inspiring" is a wonderful word for this book, and one I'm sure the author would appreciate.

    Thanks for being on the tour Audra!

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  15. "a meditation and reflection on the power, pain, and privilege of writing."
    Perfect, Audra :) I enjoyed this one too and never felt like an outsider either. As a matter of fact, I felt like such an insider while reading that it never even occurred to me that I was anything but...until now. I will definitely read more by Frank :)

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