I goofed on Friday Fun when I didn’t read the question carefully, seeing only the headline, What One Book Would You Recommend? I didn’t see the fine print: it was supposed to be one book about writing.
I can heartily endorse Bird By Bird and If You Want To Write, recommended by my colleagues Diana and Jamie. I’m not familiar with Outwitting Writer’s Block and Other Problems of the Pen, Lisa’s recommendation, which I’ve added to my Must Read list.
But I’m also going to stand by my recommendation, this year’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. It’s important for writers to read widely, and it’s especially important to read in the genre in which you write.
Reading others’ work helps you recognize what you like and don’t like, what you think works and what doesn’t.
Long ago, I heard a radio commentary I didn’t like. I thought, I can do better than that! So I tried. I’ve been a commentator for Vermont Public Radio ever since.
I’d like to think that people listen to what I have to say on the radio. While I hope that my commentaries initiate thoughtfulness about the issues I raise, I know that some listeners will not only disagree, but be inspired to write an even better commentary. Power to them!
Positive motivation is even better, which is why I’m inspired when I read a brilliant book.
All The Light We Cannot See is such a book. I read it with awe and uninterrupted concentration in a single day. I remember being swept into the story by a riptide of language. (I’d give you an example if I had the book in front of me, but I returned it to the library.)
The story is set during the bombing of St. Malo in August of 1944. The details of the events are all so particular and so credible, I googled the event to see if it really happened. It did.
But the story also goes backward in time to the childhoods of the two main characters, one a German orphan destined to be a miner, and the other a blind French girl cared for by her loving father, a master locksmith at the Museum of Natural History. The chapters alternate between the boy and the girl, and between the past and the days of the bombing.
There are two through lines as well: one is how the characters are connected by radio, and the other is how they are caught by a curse of a prized jewel.
Believe me, it all works.
As a writer of literary fiction, I found myself reading the book both for its story and to see exactly how Doerr ties these disparate lines together with such deft. It’s a book I’ll read again, just to study craft.
So in the end, I think my answer to Friday’s question is a good one: Any piece of writing that you loathe or love is worth inspecting and tearing apart to discover exactly what makes for exasperation or excellence.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.