I have a weakness for books about writing and am a fan of Sara Paretsky’s fiction, so her memoir, Writing in An Age of Silence, was a natural choice. While it was not at all what I expected it to be, it is a compelling read. Yes it’s a memoir, and it reveals much about Paretsky’s background and how she came to be a writer, but there’s much more going on here.
If you’ve read her books, you won’t be surprised to discover that Paretsky is an unapologetic liberal, with a strong sense of social justice. She rails against the then-current Bush administration (the book was published in 2007), and expresses her views on civil rights, Chicago politics, feminism, the Patriot Act, women writers, and mystery writing.
This slim (138 pages) volume is cogent and concise. It reminds me of Molly Ivins books, though Paretsky lacks Ivins’ wit. Both write clearly (or wrote, in the case of Ivins, who died in 2007) about politics, but without the maddening over-simplification that characterizes so much political writing these days. Paretsky uses her skills as a story-teller to create compelling, and sometimes hair-raising arguments. Her indictment of the Patriot Act is particularly effective. I’ll admit that about two-thirds of the way through, I got a bit bogged down in a somewhat repetitious argument about women’s reproductive rights, covering points she’d made more effectively earlier, but for the most part her arguments are to the point and strong.
Regarding writing, she talks more about her personal motivation for writing and how she created her characters than about writing per se. This is not the place to go to get tips on tightening your prose or step-by-step instructions on how to create a passionate protagonist. But, if you pay attention, the book itself is a case-study in both. And, along the way, she has some fascinating insights. Her analysis of Dashiell Hammett’s books and how they influenced her writing has put a re-reading of The Maltese Falcon high on my list, and she may have even convinced me to tackle a book that “real men” wouldn’t be caught dead reading, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women.
While I found the political arguments compelling, it was her personal story and her insights into literature that kept me reading and in the end lead me to recommend this book.