Lines & Literature | Good Prose

8/7/13

What I've been reading (off-line, that is): 

I first became acquainted with Tracy Kidder on a hot winter break in Uganda. Always hungry for new reading material, I stumbled across Mountains Beyond Mountains unexpectedly in Dad's office, and promptly plopped myself down on the living room futon to read through the heat of a January afternoon. 

In those day, I kept scraps of paper tucked within the recesses of my desk, hidden but accessible. The fragmented slips contained phrases and sentences, sometimes only a few words, that I'd read in novels or articles, words that I considered profound and beautiful enough to remember and (somehow) attempt to incorporate into my own writing style. After Mountains Beyond Mountains, the majority of those paper scraps contained quotes from Tracy Kidder. 

When Good Prose: The Art of Nonfiction was first published, I tucked the title away for future reading. A few weeks ago, I saw Kidder and Todd's book displayed proudly on our local library shelves and immediately snatched it up.

"Good Prose is addressed to reader and writers, to people who are about writing, about how it gets done, about how it gets better. That you can learn to write better is one of our fundamental assumptions. No sensible person would deny the mystery of inspiration. But if it is vain to deny these mysteries, it is useless to depend on them. No other art form is so infinitely mutable. Writing is revision, All prose responds to work" (pviii).

Good Prose is about writing. And as one who has sampled many books on that subject, I can say that few are as engaging as this one. The writing is clean and neat (I expected no less), and the prose is (obviously) very good. As a reader (and a writer who knows next to nothing about publishing), I appreciated the opportunity to observe the relationship between a writer and his editor (or an editor and his author, if you prefer). Kidder's remarks on being edited are as insightful as Todd's comments on editing, and their conversation surrounding narrative strategies, the ethical challenges of nonfiction, and the realities of making a living as a writer are uplifting in a way that only the honest-to-goodness truth can be.

If you are writer, a blogger, a journal-er, or simply a reader interested in the art of nonfiction, I would certainly recommend Good Prose. It contains just enough revelation to mull over without being esoteric enough to prohibit you from calmly reading on a train on your way to a music festival (as I did). After I drop this volume back at the library, I intend to see if the bookstore down the street has a copy that I can buy and call my own. You should too. 

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