Friday, June 25, 2010

The Creative Writer's Survival Guide: advice from an unrepentant novelist by John McNally

Review based on ARC.

There is an abundance of information in this small, quick read. It is well written, funny, and even moving at times. Wait, am I talking about a nonfiction "how-to" book directed at creative writers? You bet. Somehow, McNally entertains while giving golden nuggets of ... well, gold. I hesitate to call it advice or information because those words do not seem to quite cover how valuable the information contained within this book is.

I signed up to read the book on Early Reviewers because I'm a "someday, maybe" sort of hopeful writer who has several (so many severals...) actual-hopeful writers within my immediate circle. I thought that I would enjoy the read, but that my friends/family would (hopefully) benefit from it. I was spot on.

The book, as implied by the subtitle, will not inspire the weakly-motivated, somewhat ambiguous, would-be writers to take on the enormous and often disheartening world of writing and/or publishing, but it proceeds to give information (gold) upon information (gold) upon information (and more gold) to those writers who legitimately could not imagine a life without writing. I appreciated the honesty... the sometimes very brutal honesty that McNally employs to impart his "guide." And, really, it appears as if it is all there.

For those of you who are tentatively considering writing: read the book. It will not dissuade you, but it will allow you to consider the many different aspects of publishing and, perhaps as it did with me, spark an idea for a slightly-alternative career path. Or it might convince you that writing really is the path for you. Either way, it will inform you. Read it.

For those of you who have no choice but to write: read the book. It provides a logical, practical, manageable path, with advice about how to tackle every step along that path. It is realistic without dashing hopes. It is hopeful without permitting starry-eyed naivety.

For those of you who aren't interested in a career in writing: read the book anyway. It is a fascinating view of the life-of-a-writer and the world of publication. It is eye-opening and, somehow, inspiring, even to those without intention to write.

The only criticism I have is *very* minor. There occasions where I felt that McNally was just a *little* bit snarky about the academic snobs. While I agree that there is no need or even use for that type of academic snobbery (whether it applies to what kind of degree you have, what you have published, with whom, where you are in the writer "hierarchy", etc.), McNally came off as just a little bit bitter despite his successful career. Most of the book is straightforward, optimistic, realistic, positive. But every once in a while, I got just a little hint of a tone of "bounces off of me and sticks onto you" ... but it never lasted long and it's certainly no reason to disregard such a useful tool.

The book is also chock-full of good reading ideas. And I look forward to reading The Book of Ralph...

Overall, excellent. Highly recommend.
FOUR AND A HALF of five stars.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz

Review based on ARC:

This dense little book took me much longer to read than I had anticipated by both the length and the description. I expected a light romp through the everyday experiences of the islanders and a longer foray into the "book" around which the island appears to be focused. Instead, I found an intellectual, philosophical, and incredibly thoughtful mock travelogue. The island of which the narrator speaks has an influential method of living, which pervades every aspect of the islanders lives, from their history, to the food that they eat and how they prepare it, to their so-called occupation, to their architecture, etc. This is initially described by the narrator, but as the travelogue proceeds, it becomes ever more apparent how pervasive the islanders' life view is.

The only exception to the islanders' seemingly lackadaisical and irreverent style of living seems to be their "book" -- the one "artform" that appears on the island. The book is what most of the reviews seem to focus on, logically so. Although "the book" itself is not really discussed and experienced until at least halfway through the travelogue, it is the most interesting and even unique aspect of the islanders life. Yet, even though "the book" is not really discussed until later in the travelogue, the first half of the travelogue is clearly necessary as background, so that "the book" is fully understood and appreciated. "The book" itself is interesting, but the tales within are absolutely fascinating. The reader almost feels as if he is losing sight of the beginning of any given tale, as it spins and diverges, but Ajvaz is skilled at bringing his reader full circle -- even if we need to wait a few more pages than is common. The wait, as Ajvaz himself notes, is often worth it, and the tale (within the tale within the tale...) is always rewarding.

Michal Ajvaz is a master at his art and has created a world that operates almost completely outside of most societal norms. He is adamant that he imparts no overall judgment either on the islanders or on the rest of the world, and I was convinced of his assertion. For me, the best parts were the divergent tales, both within "the book" and without. However, although the rest of the travelogue was not as "fun" as those tales, they were interesting and necessary to the whole.
I would not categorize this as "light reading," but I would highly recommend to anyone who is looking for something different, something a little chewy, and something to make you pause and think.

FOUR AND A HALF of five stars.