Short Reviews #1: Writing Books and a Bit of Mystery (4 titles)

WRITING DOWN THE BONES by Natalie Goldberg
Shambhala Library, 2010, 288 pages, 978-1590307946, Paperback, $18.95

Genre: Non-fiction/Writing

This is, of course, one of the staples of the writing reference section. I’d been hearing people praise this book for years, but it wasn’t until I felt that I needed some new inspiration that I decided to read it.

There’s something about this book that makes it go beyond being just a reference for writers. I’m sure others who’ve read it can understand what I mean. The short snippets of advice in this book feel as if they’re not just about what to do it in your story or essay, or how to break out of a slump. Many of them appeal to a broader range of topics–to life in general, in fact. I especially liked how Goldberg related her writing to her Zen practice, using bits of her history as examples of where she has succeeded or failed, in writing and in other things.

Writing Down the Bones was incredibly enjoyable–I’d even call it relaxing. It was also inspiring in so many ways. It helped me to look at my own writing differently. Since reading it I’ve struggled less because I simply stopped fighting. I just let the words come or go, as they please, and if I’m writing nonsense for ten minutes, that’s okay, because eventually…somewhere along the line…that nonsense turns into something useful.

CRAFTING THE PERSONAL ESSAY by Dinty W. Moore
Writers Digest Books, 2010, 272 pages, 978-1582977966, Paperback, $17.99

Genre: Non-fiction/Writing

Crafting the Personal Essay, while equally easy to read, was quite different from Goldberg’s book. Here Moore introduces several types of essays, from the personal essay to the gastronomic essay to travel writing.

Going in, I expected this book would break down the elements of these specific types of essays, but that wasn’t Moore’s approach to the topic at all. Instead of explaining, he focuses on demonstrating how these essays work. To do this he gives numerous examples, both in the text itself and as references for those who want to search on their own (oh, and I did…). In fact, the examples are quite illuminating, and probably my favorite aspect of the book.

Writers interested in writing bits of creative non-fiction will, indeed, find this book useful as it shows the reader where it might be best to add detail or emotion or thought. It discusses writing to your audience and what you might like to add in order to speak to readers not familiar with your essay’s subject matter.

This book is definitely worth a read, and then a reread. I suspect that when going through it a second time, I’ll pick up even more useful information that I didn’t quite catch the first time around.

PSYCH: A FATAL FRAME OF MIND by William Rabkin
Obsidian, 2010, 288 pages, 978-0451231598, Mass Market Paperback, $6.99

Genre: Mystery/Detective Fiction

William Rabkin’s fourth Psych novel is, shall we say, not quite as entertaining as the first (I skip back to the first only because I haven’t read the second and third), but it has its good qualities. The banter between Shawn and Gus is hilarious, as always. In fact, the characterization of these two is, in my opinion, one of Rabkin’s greatest strengths.

I didn’t find the detective case quite as riveting, however. Oh, I wasn’t bored, but then I can’t be as objective as others might. Why’s that? Because the story involved Dante Gabriel Rossetti and William Morris. As an editing/literature major and art history minor, this is just ASKING me to fall all over myself trying to read this book. I would have found it entertaining under most circumstances, and did, but I still feel that the concept was better than the execution.

Overall, the book moved quickly, and I enjoyed it, but I think it was trying to stretch a little too far.

THE VESUVIUS CLUB by Mark Gatiss
Scribner, 2005, 230 pages, 978-0743283946, Trade Paperback, $14.00

Genre: Mystery/Espionage

I worried about my ability to read this book when I first began. Never mind that I’d been meaning to do so since 2006. My recent lack of reading focus has made it nigh impossible to get through anything of late, and I was going to be incredibly disappointed if that happened while I was reading The Vesuvius Club.

I needn’t have worried. In fact, I had just the opposite problem. The Vesuvius Club demanded my attention at all times of day, often to the exclusion of other, more pressing assignments. But when my options were dry communications textbook or delightfully arrogant spy and assassin getting up to all sorts of fun things, could you really blame me for giving in?

This book was delightfully fun, fast-paced, humorous, and cheeky. Lucifer Box is the sort of devilish protagonist that I can’t help but adore (which he’d, no doubt, find appropriate) because he’s simply so terrible. Wonderfully terrible.

I’ve heard some complaints about what, to some, seemed a mish-mash of incredible inclusions: zombie-esque creations, secret organizations, insane science that involves blowing up large areas of the planet.

Well…I don’t find those to be things to complain about. Are they far-fetched? Of COURSE they are. It’s that’s kind of novel. It’s supposed to be a little bit out there.

This book was hilarious, entertaining, and generally fabulous. I’ll be reading The Devil in Amber and Black Butterfly, most definitely.

~

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