Roger Rosenblatt has written a surprisingly enjoyable book on the subject of writing. Just don’t try to categorize it.
It isn’t nonfiction, but it isn’t fiction. Not a how-to manual, though he does, at times, lend great advice for writing. Nor is it a theoretical exploration on writing but it does discuss writing theories.
Reading Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing is akin to sitting in a college creative writing workshop. Or so I imagine. Having never been in a college level CW class I’d expect it to be something like this. If it wasn’t I would be entirely disappointed.
Rosenblatt took one semester of his creative writing class and fictionalized it. Here’s how he explains it:
What I present as a word-for-word account of the conversations [in my class] is fiction, top to bottom…but the ideas expressed here were expressed there. The samples of student writings are genuine. And the students themselves were just as gifted, lovable, and annoying as I have drawn them.
And so, the dialogue takes on a very fast, fun shape. It is friendly banter that moves the story through the joys and frustrations of writing. The students struggle and challenge. The teacher teaches, explains, prods, questions, and challenges in return. The engaging style of this book really made me feel like I was a part of this class, and it was a joy.
The discussions move from essay writing to prose to poetry to novels. And though the author is not telling how to be successful at any one of these forms, he is describing the writing process that one goes through when engaging in any form and showing that being successful is due to focused, hard work.
The narration is really Rosenblatt writing out a perfect lecture that he would give to his students. His students become his characters that he uses to prove his point. But he also uses them to show he is only one man with his ability, and others are just as capable of matching or surpassing him. He maintains a very likable, approachable tone, even as he asserts his authority as the professor and as the New York Times bestselling author.
There are times when I feel so very depressed with the overwhelmingly difficult task I face of trying to teach my students to write basic paragraphs. As I read this book, it seemed like such a distant dream to be able to discuss the philosophical merits of writing with my students. Instead, I have to constantly remind them to capitalize names and use and apostrophe with I’m. Still, his small little book was inspirational. Though I may not sit around with my students and argue form over function, I can still help them find their voice. This book was a great encouragement towards that end.
Who is this book for? It is for the writer. It is also for teachers that teach writing. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for inspiration to pick up a pen and begin composing. Quicker than a semester long class, this book (155 pages) is fun and easy to get through.
The few criticisms I have of this book are short and rather insignificant. He makes many references to east coast places that I had no clue about. He also makes many references to books and authors that I don’t know about. I imagine that if I were to read those books with this book, though, I would get a complete creative writing education.
This book will be released January 4th, and would make for a great pre-order gift for the writer in your family.