Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A writer, an editor, or something in between?

kw: book reviews, nonfiction, writing, reviewing

I seldom read writing about writing. As I hope this blog gives evidence, the way to learn to write is to write (and considering the very few pieces that have been published, to say nothing of remuneration, it is clear I am not destined to rank among the pros).

However, seeing the dust jacket almost forced me to take the book—In Other Words by John Crowley—home to read. Dust jacket, endpiece, and at section heads, the book is illustrated with old etchings by Grandville and others, similar in tone to this one. Picking early 19th-Century illustrations does neatly avoid copyright dust-ups.

Author Crowley has quite a bit to say about writing, and quite well put. As it happens, after four essays in fifty pages, the rest of the book is book reviews. Giving it another look, three of the essays are reviews of a sort as well, but of a body of work rather than a single volume.

This is sort of like, "who watches the watcher?"...I am reviewing a book of reviews! It's a good thing they are smashing good reviews.

One section contains reviews of a few works each by the authors Robt. Louis Stevenson, Thos. M. Disch, T.H. White, Vladimir Nabokov, and Anthony Burgess. Having read at least one book by each of the five, I found myself nodding in agreement as he extracted something essential from each author. For example, though no single review brought this out, the several reviews of Burgess's work make clear his later torments, and how they showed in the quality of his later writing (rather bad with one stellar exception).

After that section, the reviews are mostly single, ranging over quite a bit of history, including Daisy Ashford's The Young Visitors, written at age nine in 1890 (first edition 1919); comic-book writing (and a bit on illustration) by Walt Kelly (Pogo series) and others; to a posthumous publication of Italo Calvino's unfinished autobiography, reviewed in 2003 but written and gathered over a few decades, and edited by the author's widow.

Considering the way our minds work, I can't help but be influenced by Crowley, but it will be without conscious intention. He thinks very differently...and that's very good.

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