Donald Maass punctuates each chapter of this encouraging textbook with a list of writing exercises that could overwhelm even a seasoned author (a singDonald Maass punctuates each chapter of this encouraging textbook with a list of writing exercises that could overwhelm even a seasoned author (a single prompt among dozens might read something like this: "Write a scene in which X happens! Now write it where the opposite happens! Now from a different person's perspective! Now..."), but his voice and suggestions are refreshing if you're feeling blocked.
So what does Maass think defines 21st Century fiction? Raw honesty. Painful truths drive sales, and more and more they are to be found in a hybrid of genre and literary fiction. He asks you to reap your stories from your heart -- preferably not your specific past, unless you are a memoir master, but from what moves you, what keeps you up at night, what last made you cry. So it's kind of a fun book if you like therapy and self-examination; and I think he's right. If you are truly compelled by a topic and can write it well enough, you can get me to care about it too. Maass has helpful tips for writing series (go ahead and put your MC through the wringer as many times as you can -- EVERY book!) and for specific genres. ...more
Has your English degree gone stale? Refresh that bad boy with The Art of X-Ray Reading. You'll remember how to close-read, to see how the themes of anHas your English degree gone stale? Refresh that bad boy with The Art of X-Ray Reading. You'll remember how to close-read, to see how the themes of an entire novel are present in the very first paragraph. You may also pick up some good writing tips. Each chapter examines passages from one or two literary classics to elucidate the sources of power that mark these works as outstanding, and recaps main points in a bulleted list at the chapter's end.
Most of the insights and tips are well-conceived, though one irritated me a lot. In the x-ray reading of The Bell Jar, Clark showers Plath with compliments for making her protagonist's first name the same number of letters as the author's own. He brings this up a couple of times. It's the most mundane realization you could have about the book, especially since Plath herself proffered this clue to her readers: when Esther conceives of her own fictional heroine, Elaine, and notes that they share six letters in their first names. It doesn't take "x-ray glasses" to go from there to noticing that "Sylvia" is six letters; that Clark harps on this obvious self-reference suggests that he was struggling to come up with any stronger points, which, given the source material, seems improbable, and made me worry that he was patting her on the head a little too much. Her work stands on its own quite sturdily.
But overall, good stuff, especially if you miss deep examination of texts and want to get back into that headspace.
Notes if you are sensitive about diversity of perspectives: Clark does a decent job of being inclusive of women writers, but with only two Black authors represented - Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison, - the majority of examples come from white, male writers. This is also primarily a text on modern English and American writing (which, given the presumed audience, probably makes sense); only Nabokov and Garcia Marquez are not native English-speakers (though Lolita was, of course, written in better English than most native speakers could hope to manage). ...more