Friday, April 27, 2012

Zen In the Art of Writing

An reviewer writes that Ray Bradbury’s book, Zen In the Art of Writing, “…is the best book on writing I have ever read.” Reading this review left me wondering if I felt the same way. Is Zen In the Art of Writing the best book on writing I have ever read?

Before I answer that question, let me tell you a bit more about the book.

Zen In the Art of Writing is a collection of essays taken from Bradbury’s extensive oeuvre. This is not a book about how to write - in spite of a liberal peppering of typewriter related anecdotes. This is a book about the feeling of writing. It’s a book about Bradbury’s experiences as a writer.

Bradbury’s style is accessible and friendly. He comes in close beside his reader. He speaks in low, rhythmic tones. He is a parent encouraging his child to take heart and not give up. He is an aged rebel encouraging the next generation to shake their fists at this life-giving, death-threatening, universe of ours. He is telling us writers to be brave, to trust to our own inner voice, to practice, to practice and to practice. He is reminding us that we write for love and not for recognition or money. He is telling us to boldly go and split the infinitive for world peace.

This, then, is what Bradbury’s book delivers. It is not a book on typing; it is a book about being a writer. Is it the best book on writing I have ever read? Well, no. Is it a worthwhile read for the aspiring writer? I think so.

If you want to be reminded why you write, then buy this book. If you want to learn the difference between transitive verbs and elephants, this is not the book for you.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

How to Write a Sentence

There is a quotation on the inside cover of How to Write a Sentence that reads, “If you know sentences, you know everything. Good sentences promise nothing less than lessons and practice in the organisation of the world.” This quotation comes from the book's author, Stanley Fish, and at first sounds like a bold statement. But if you read this book, as I have, you may well end up a convert to the truth of these words.

Fish tells his reader that, while the content of sentences may be infinite, the forms and shapes of sentences are finite. If, through study and practice, we become familiar with these shapes and how they work, we can use them as vehicles for how own words, for our own message.

This method, sentence deconstruction, is preferable, Fish says, to examining sentences through the cold lens of English rules and grammar.

Fish uses examples of excellent sentences throughout the book. He cracks these sentences apart, revealing their inner workings and bones. How could we not see these things before?

This is not a simple book; at least I did not find it so. But it is useful, inspiring, and I wanted to begin it again as soon as I turned the last page.