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Soul at the White Heat: Inspiration, Obsession, and the Writing Life

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  80 ratings  ·  17 reviews
A new collection of critical and personal essays on writing, obsession, and inspiration from National Book Award-winning and New York Times bestselling author Joyce Carol Oates

“Why do we write?”

With this question, Joyce Carol Oates begins an imaginative exploration of the writing life, and all its attendant anxieties, joys, and futilities, in this new collection of seminal
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published September 20th 2016 by Ecco
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3.69  · 
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 ·  80 ratings  ·  17 reviews

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Eric Anderson
Jan 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Joyce Carol Oates is such a prolific writer that it may surprise some of her readers to discover that she is also a committed and voracious reader. It’s easy to imagine the perennial question which Oates is asked “How do you write so much?” being quickly followed by “How do you read so much?” Soul at the White Heat is a sustained and fascinating collection of nonfiction chronicling not only her reflections as a writer, but her engagement with a wide range of books by authors —some of whom are “c ...more
Steve Donoghue
SO thoughtful and rewarding - one of our greatest living writers is also, unsurprisingly, one of our greatest readers
Dec 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
This collection of previously published essays, mostly book reviews which examine biographies, and sometimes autobiographies, of creative people--writers classic and contemporary, artists—there’s a review of a collection of the letters of photographer Alfred Steigliz and painter Georgia O'Keefe, lovers, husband and wife, and lifelong mutual muses--even the autobiography of boxer Mike Tyson.

I found these essays well-written, all subjects of passionate interest to their author. However, like a ca
Sep 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is a treat for writers; written by a prolific writer, analytical reader, and dedicated teacher of the craft.

Having made that pitch however, I would like to qualify that this book also appears to be a loose collection of essays and reviews, previously published in journals and newspapers, that have been put together in a rather disjointed three-part anthology to add another book to her considerable oeuvre.

In the first part—the best part for me—we explore the writing life. The central q
Britta Böhler
Sep 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Oates' new collection of essays - a compilation of her more recent literary criticism-essays (classics and contemporary authors) and some texts on the writing life - focusses on her quest to understand the source of a writer's inspiration, while analyzing and srutinizing her own writing and that of others. For fans of JCO and those who love to read thorough, in-depth essays about books and writing.
M. D.  Hudson
Sep 11, 2016 rated it it was ok
"The three saddest words in the English language: Joyce Carol Oates." Gore Vidal said this, apparently. Vidal was often bitter and nasty and unfair, but I think I know what Vidal means. Take the title of this book: "Soul at the White Heat: Inspiration, Obsession, and the Writing Life." Sad sad sad. The first, "soul" part is a quote from Emily Dickinson. The "inspiration" part is sheer Poets 'n' Writers magazine schlock. So what have we here? The back jacket blurb says it is "an imaginative explo ...more
Paula Cappa
May 25, 2017 rated it liked it
Is the uninspired life worth living? What are the five motives for writing? Let’s talk about the anatomy of a story. And, what kind of writing room do you have? This is the opening of an amazing book about writing, creativity, process, the Muse, and the human imagination. Not a fast read, I will tell you because you need to read it carefully to fully absorb. Perfect for writing teachers, serious writers, and students of literature who want an intimate perspective about Charles Dickens, Lovecraft ...more
May 15, 2017 rated it did not like it
Pedantic. The best thing about this book was the title. I know literary people and college professors love Oates, but I feel she is overrated. I've studied writing and everyone says to revise to make it leaner, take out unneeded words....but she seems to only add more unneeded words and it comes off as being pretentious. (Sorry, but that's my truth.)
Alison Lilly
Jun 09, 2017 rated it liked it
I find myself somewhat ambivalent about this book, in part because it's misleadingly framed as a book that examines the writing process and the writing life, when actually it is mostly a collection of book reviews. Only the brief early chapters deal with Joyce Carol Oates' own approach to writing -- these are mostly taken from lectures she's given, so they are somewhat oddly organized, full of asides, tangents and parentheticals that at times make them difficult to follow. The book reviews thems ...more
Pamela Scott
May 07, 2017 rated it really liked it

I thought Soul at the White Heat was great. This is the third Joyce Carol Oates book of non-fiction I’ve read and I loved it as much as the other two. I definitely need to read more of her non-fiction. As a writer myself, I loved Soul at the White Heat. As I reader, I love knowing where writer’s get their ideas and inspiration from. As a writer, I love seeing echoes of my own methods. I enjoyed every section in this book. I enjoyed the essays about classic
Carolyn C.
Oct 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Essays mostly about the writing life. An odd assortment: reviews of books about writers' lives, bios, autobios, novels. And a few boxers thrown in. And San Quentin.

Enjoyed most the Classics sections - recent books about the usual writers.
I The Writing Life
II Classics
III Contemporaries
IV Real Life
Jul 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
Good but not great. A few gems. I could do without all the essays on boxing.
Lenore Riegel
Dec 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essay-collection
My favorite essay is JCO's wonderful review of Jerome Charyn's "The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson." So glad it made this wonderful collection.
Howard Cincotta
May 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Every notable writer of literary essays either aspires to, or ends up writing for The New York Review of Books, and Joyce Carol Oates is no exception. In this collection, her interests are ecumenical: from Emily Dickinson’s poetry and Louis Erdrich’ s Native Americans to H.P. Lovecraft’s shambling monstrosities and the short-story artistry of Ralph Ellison and John Updike.

The extended Lovecraft essay is worth the price of admission for anyone interested in horror or fantasy fiction — or familiar
Taylor Church
Oct 20, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Although I loved the title, and ate up this long book about writing and obsession and inspiration, I felt a little misled. There were moments were the focus was on the craft of writing and that unique thing that makes creatives tick and wane one way or the other. But the majority of the book were critical essays about not authors, but specific works. They were essentially long. poetic, and sometimes polemic book reviews. This is not to say I did not enjoy the book reviews, many discussing books ...more
Leo Robertson
Oct 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
So great to read the product of a great mind when it's been fed so many other great works!
Nicole Caron
rated it really liked it
Jun 08, 2017
Apr 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Fans of Joyce Carol Oates
Shelves: non-fiction
Not quite what I was expecting. I mistakenly thought thered be much more focus on the act of writing, or at least, on the subject of what it means to be an author.

Still, an interesting collection of essays and reviews from a well-established, and highly esteemed writer.
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Janice Wittenberg
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Jul 26, 2017
Mark Rudman
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Pamela Scott
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Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is also the recipient of the 2005 Prix Femina for The Falls. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University, and she has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978. Pseudonyms ... Rosamond Smith and Laure ...more