Rebekah O'Dell's Reviews > Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing

Unless It Moves the Human Heart by Roger Rosenblatt
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's review
Nov 03, 2010

really liked it

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 my Facebook status. For example, I gave my students Rosenblatt's words, "Most nouns contain their own modifiers ... and they will not be improved by a writer who wants to show off by making them any taller, fatter, happier, or prettier than they are" (15). Eureka! Semi-snarky writing critique that I have been dying to give my students in a beautifully eloquent package! He continues,

"I tell them not to stretch to find a different word for the sake of difference. 'Read Hemingway's short stories, where he uses the same words over and over, and the words gain meaning with every repetition. IF you have someone say something, let him 'say' it -- not aver it, declare it, or intone it. Let the power reside in what is said" (15).

It didn't my hurt my appreciation of the book that Rosenblatt references my long-time boyfriend Hemingway. Often. :)

Lots of teacherly jewels reside within this little (less-than-150-page) text. Rosenblatt warns students against "throat-clearing" in their writing -- the tendency to avoid a strong begining by overwriting. He derides the quest for voice as the "latest cliche to signify good writing", and more simply defines it as knowing what you want to say.

I absolutely loved this book. True to his own admonitions, there is no sappy overwriting here, which I was sort of expecting from the subject matter and the cover of the book. While he does chronicle his students' writing forays, they are not dramatically written so as to feel cheesy.

Today on my chalkboard was another Rosenblatt quote, "If you have the goods, there's no need to dress them up. The reader will do that for you." Indeed, Rosenblatt's book has the goods.

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