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Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing
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Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing

3.64 of 5 stars 3.64  ·  rating details  ·  332 ratings  ·  91 reviews
For more than forty years, distinguished author Roger Rosenblatt has also been a teacher of writing, guiding students with the same intelligence and generosity he brings to the page, answering the difficult questions about what makes a story good, an essay shapely, a novel successful, and the most profound and essential question of them all—why write?

Unless It Moves the Hu
ebook, 176 pages
Published January 4th 2011 by HarperCollins e-books (first published December 15th 2010)
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I went to the library for another book, but I picked this one up because Rosenblatt wrote it. I’m sure he was my section leader in an English class at Harvard half a century ago. Subsequently he became Senior Tutor and then Master of Dunster House, my residence hall. This little book is really an extended essay, told in the first person, about a somewhat fictional writing class he taught, constructed from his memories and typical students. He uses this setting to discuss principles of writing an ...more
I took a class with Roger as an undergrad. I consider myself to be one of a very fortunate few who were able to do this. I look forward to continuing to work with Roger. He didn't talk about what he was writing often, but when he did, we always approached it like we were being given a very special treat that required a great reverence. He didn't talk about this book, though. I found out about it when he published the last part: a letter to his ungrateful students in the New Yorker. This book doe ...more
James Murphy
I'd expected this book to tell me more about the experience of writing, and reading, than it does. It's constructd in the form of a memoir in which Roger Rosenblatt recounts a semester of a writing class he teaches at Stony Brook University. Through his teaching points and the loosely remembered and constructed conversations of his class he discusses the elements of writing good fiction, essays, and poetry. My introduction to Rosenblatt and his book came through an interview of him on the PBS Ne ...more
I have a nonfiction bookshelf here and it feels weird not to place this book there. It's by TIME essayist Roger Rosenblatt, after all, and about his experiences teaching an MFA writing course at Stony Brook University called "Writing Everything." Why the hesitation, then? Rosenblatt makes up the classroom dialogue between himself and his students, that's why. As he himself writes, it's "fiction, top to bottom," and, turns out, it makes the book a helluva lot funnier than it might have been if he ...more
Laura Droege
This book is everything I love rolled into one. It's a book about the writing craft, to be sure, but it's so much more than that. It's the story of one semester in Rosenblatt's "Writing Everything" class, complete with the lively, diverse group of students and the discussions about everything from their personal backgrounds to writing experiences to snippets of their writings. It's more than a how-to manual or a memoir of teaching writing or even a story of a semester in a classroom. It's about ...more
I like most books about writing, mainly because they inspire me to write more. This book was jaunty and easy to read, but kind of simplistic. It's a good evocation of a writing class' spirited repartee with an engaged (and engaging) teacher, but the format wore on me after awhile. Roger Rosenblatt, though charmingly self-deprecating, is a little too charming, and the reconstructed dialogue too glibly entertaining to be convincing (Rosenblatt freely admits that he has made up most of the dialogue ...more
Laura Leaney
I am slightly disappointed. The book is set up as a memoir of a class Roger Rosenblatt once taught, but it's a fictionalized amalgamation of students he once had and the comments he once heard from them. The re-created dialogue feels unnatural to me - and all the students are overly bright shining faces hoping to please the professor. I've always been a fan of Rosenblatt, but this little book made me a tad depressed. I've taken enough writing courses to know that there's at least one student who ...more
Last Wednesday evening I attended Rosenblatt's reading at Politics & Prose and heard much of what's on these pages, in some cases verbatim. No matter. Every word he said, every story he shared, is worth hearing again. The letter to his writing class, printed on the book's last pages, just might get taped to my wall. It moved me to tears--not impossible to do when the subject is writing and books, but I can't say it's happened in a while. I first became acquainted with Rosenblatt when he mode ...more
It is difficult for a book to capture the atmosphere of a classroom, which is what Rosenblatt tries to do here: to pass on his convictions about creative writing, developed through many years of teaching and writing, to a broader audience than fits in his classroom. He writes classroom scenes in dialogue, as if his students all have the timing of stand-up comics and one pithy insight after another falls from his lips. I enjoyed seeing how he cultivates a cranky, somewhat insulting teaching perso ...more
Rebekah ODell
This charming, compelling book follows a semester in Roger Rosenblatt's writing workshop at Stonybrook University. Part memoir and part practical writing guide, Rosenblatt engagingly writes what could easily have been a vastly inferior book.

One of the things I loved most about this book is that it is as much a book about teaching as it is a book about writing. I found myself underlining gems that I insist on emailing to other teacherly/writerly friends, writing on my chalkboard, and posting as
"Nothing you write will matter unless it moves the human heart, said the poet A.D. Hope. And the heart that you must move is corrupt, depraved, and desperate for your love."

I think "Unless It Moves the Human Heart" is Roger Rosenblatt's Magnum Opus. The final word of a life lived with countless words. It is one of the most inspiring, fun, funny, serious writing books I have read. That it is a work of fiction on the craft of writing is brillant. This is one of the few writing books that I want to
I'm not a fan of Roger Rosenblatt's prose, but I liked the title--even though he stole it from the poet A.D. Hope--and that the subject matter was the writing classes at Stoney Brook. After reading this book, I also have disdain for the author. In the first chapter he mocks a student who objected to Rosenblatt cutting his 3 hour class off at 2 hours. He says, "I can't stand the sight of students for three hours. Even two hours is stretching it" (3). I guess you can afford to be cavalier, even cr ...more
Thomas DeWolf
You want to be a writer who makes a positive difference in the world? Read this book. It will help you.

I paraphrase an excerpt:

"I do believe we write to change the world. If we look like we are trying to change the world, the writing will sink from the weight of its owner’s piety. But in the best of our work, the idealism is there, like trout below the surface of the water. Of course you want to change the world. You just don't want to show your cards. But look at the world. Who would not want t
Marco Kaye
I'm also reading, "Stanford Meisner On Acting," which is a much better book if you apply it holistically to writing than this one.

I bring up "On Acting" because it uses a similar format: a creatively edited transcript of a class in session. It's evident that formats such as these place a lot of emphasis on the personality and insights of the instructor. Duh. But where in "On Acting" you get a sense of Meisner's humor—sometimes a little old man lecherous, if you're into that kind of thing—in "Unl
Roger Rosenblatt is a huge name in the world of writing. He's written magazine columns, plays, essays, and books and is a master of language. I've always enjoyed his articles in Time-he's a favorite of mine. In this book he describes a semester of teaching several students to write, by having them experiment with different forms of fiction and poetry. In an interview for his book, he describes the concepts he wanted to bring to the classroom to inspire his students:

"In one instance, I closed th
I think 2.5 stars (solidly in the middle) would be more fair, but I'm choosing to round down.

I didn't find this book particularly helpful or even inspiring. The structure, a fictionalized amalgamation of various writing classes taught by Rosenblatt over the years, made for a decent framework and an orderly way to cover 'Writing Everything' (the title of the course), but ultimately, I don't think it was successful.

I've been in many writing classes at many levels, and none of them ever sounded lik
Rosenblatt reminds us in a tender, semi-biographical way, that great writing is not about craft alone, but as the title indicates, must be tied into some sort of usefulness, which in turn is connected to how well we can move another’s heart. This is part of the secret of the epigraph from Mark Twain, “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening.”
The ending chapter, addressed as a lett
Georgia Herod
Since I'm a writer, I try to read something on the craft of writing periodically. Rosenblatt, a renowned writer and university professor leads a group of students through his "Writing Everything" class. I felt as if I were auditing the class, learning along with the students, and found myself wanting to read and write more. The last chapter was worth it all--it's Rosenblatt's "parting shot" to the students. A writer could get all the details right, but R. says, “for your writing to be great …. I ...more
I love the way that Roger Rosenblatt, author of Making Toast as well as several other books, can squeeze so much meaning in so few words. His latest is somewhat a collection of ideas, discussions, and exercises that he has put his writing students through (he is a professor of English and Writing at Stonybrook University), though he does start off by saying "To be clear: nobody really said what I say they said in class. But the ideas expressed here were expressed there." And there is sooooo much ...more
Rosenblatt clearly loves teaching. It's obvious on virtually every page of this book. He seems to genuinely like his students as well. He also loves writing, and those reasons alone--or rather, the way he writes about these--is reason enough to give the book three stars. And, yes, he does share some advice with the reader about what makes for good writing. But possibly not enough.

What I found annoying about the book--ironic in that it's a book about how to write well--is that the voices of the s
Adam Ross
An interesting book the conceit of which is following a creative writing teacher and his encounters in class with a group of students and their conversations. It's an interesting and daring move for a writing book, setting it apart in a market saturated in "how-to's" and rule-lists. Nevertheless, the book reads in equal parts abject humility on the part of the teacher, and absolute snobbery in what it holds up as "real" writing. There is the unmistakable air about the book of upper-east-side man ...more
Kristin (Kritters Ramblings)
A quick little read that was completed in two sittings. I read it in December - but due to its release I delayed my review to post now.

This book was a great little read for two audiences - for readers who want to know more about the writing process and readers who are also writers. I am on the first group. I am a reader, NOT a writer, but I am completely interested in the writing process and how writers get into the zone and how they create the stories that I get so wrapped up into. A professor
Unless It Moves the Human Heart is a lovely book on writing and teaching the craft of writing (more on the former than the latter). It's not expansive in a sense that it's full of "Do this, don't do that" kinds of rules, but it is helpful, encouraging, and a record of delightful students in Roger Rosenblatt's class.

Though it deals with all types of writing---poetry, short stories, and exposition---in small components because the workshop transcribed is about "Writing Everything," the tips across
Roger Rosenblatt teaches creative writing, has written for Time magazine and has won numerous prizes for his written work.

This book follows several graduate students in a Creative Writing class that covers novels, essays, poetry, and novellas.

As the reader gets deeper into the book, you get to know the different personalities of the students and their distinct voices.

It is an interesting introduction into the craft of writing and how people learn something that is not straightforward and some
Favorite lines:
1. "Writing is at heart a criticism of life" (38).
2. "We write what we are, what we fear, what we love, what we believe, what we want the world to be" (58).
3. "Writing is the cure for the disease of living. Doing it may sometimes feel like an escape from the world, but at its best moments it is an act of rescue. Each of you has his own way of seeing into suffering and error. But you share the desire to save the world from its blights by going deeper into them until they lie expose
Memoir meets writing workshop in this narrative detailing one semester in a writing class. The author recalls his students and their conversations through genres and their craft. Readers are drawn into the discussion and encouraged to ruminate and analyze questions of writing as they proceed through the story. Join the exchange of ideas on craft and literature within a single book.

Find it here:
Susan Rothenberg
A book well worth reading even if one isn't thinking of writing. Rosenblatt writes of a writing class he taught including his lessons as well as things he learned from his students. Reading about what should go into good writing fine tunes how one should read as well.
I liked it. It is a prose work, a fictional memoir reimagining a class of writing students to whom the author taught writing, mostly poetry and essays it seems. In an epilogue, he punctuates the book with a heartfelt sendoff to love the world, and tell the truth from your own knowing, that can give the world something it doesn't already have. In saying these things, we learn nothing that is new but everything said is timely. The title was true to the content: "unless it moves the human heart." I ...more
Milton Brasher-Cunningham
I found this book in Letters, our downtown used bookstore and brought it home because of the title. The small volume was full of big ideas and wonderful insights into what it means to write and what it means to be a writer. I will come back to this one.
J.T. Robertson
I'm in the middle on this book. On the one hand, I really enjoyed reading it. The "narrative" sections about his class and their interactions were quite enjoyable. The writing advice itself was nothing new. I was surprised to see the author admit he prefers a more minimal style, while keeping an open mind. You don't see that type of honesty very often, and that was one of this book's strengths; the absolute feeling that the author truly believes what he's saying. That said, I didn't come out of ...more
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Roger Rosenblatt’s essays for Time magazine and PBS have won two George Polk Awards, a Peabody, and an Emmy. He is the author of six Off-Broadway plays and 13 books, including the national bestseller Rules for Aging and Children of War, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has written two satirical novels, Beet and Lapham Risi ...more
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“Why do we write?
"To make suffering endurable
To make evil intelligible
To make justice desirable
and . . . to make love possible”
More quotes…