Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category


Book Review: Writing in An Age of Silence, Sara Paretsky

November 4, 2009

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.


Book Review: How I Became a Famous Novelist, Steve Hely

October 13, 2009

In a word, hilarious. I haven’t laughed this much reading a book in years.

Peter Tarslaw is a recently graduated English major working for a fly-by-night college essay “polishing/editing/writing” company. Writing essays by day and drinking cheap beer by night, he might have settled in for years of the same. But, in quick succession, his former girlfriend, Polly, announces her wedding plans, his employer folds and lays him off, and he sees an interview with Preston Brooks, best selling author of books with titles like Kindness to Birds (description in a faux New York Times Book Review: “On a journey across the Midwest, a downsized factory worker named Gabriel touches the lives of several people wounded by life.”).

Peter takes this as a call to action and decides to manufacture a best seller. His adventures navigating a world of pharmaceutically enhanced writing, desperate book publishers, horny writers, book tours, campus visits, Polly’s wedding, and a meeting with Preston Brooks himself are both hilarious and sadly plausible. He is a wonderfully self-aware, but clueless narrator, and his journey to–well, you’ll need to judge for your self if it’s success or failure–is a hoot. Highly recommended.