Tag Archive for 'Nonfiction'

I Dare You to Write!

I Dare You to Write! (3/9/14) Nonfiction (2013 ***) Written by Rochelle Shapiro. Presented in the form of a series of essays, Rochelle Shapiro (Miriam the Medium) gives her advice for aspiring writers. Several years ago, I had the good fortune to have Ms. Shapiro as an instructor for an online Personal Essay class I took through UCLA Extension. It was one of the better classed I’d taken and actually appreciated that she expected us to write a finished essay each week. I was very excited to learn about this new book of hers and looked forward to reading it, which I did during a visit to see family. I very much appreciated her approach, taking various writing topics like dialogue and characterization and devoting short essays to each, illustrated with writing examples and supported by personal anecdotes. I also loved the title, which represents a challenge, a call to arms for the beginning and intermediate writing students for whom this book is intended.

Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life (12/29/13) Nonfiction (1995 ***1/2) Written by Anne Lamott. This book about writing and the inner workings of the writer’s brain is really a collection of stand-alone essays masquerading as chapters. The material is grouped into 4 major sections: “Writing,” “The Writing Frame of Mind,” “Help Along the Way” and “Publication — And Other Reasons to Write.” The book is richly illustrated with personal anecdotes, including one about her procrastinating brother that served as the inspiration for the book’s title. It’s important to note that the book was written in 1995, and the publishing world has changed drastically since then. While it is certainly a good book and many writers and writing students consider it a bible of sorts, I don’t know that I can go that far. Though the book offers much in the way of advice, I think its biggest impact may be that it was the source of the phrase “shitty first drafts” which I have personally heard spoken by writing teachers or at seminars approximately one million times. The copy of the book I read was given to me as a birthday present by a friend more than a decade ago. At the time I was embarking on a novel-length project that became my first unfinished book. I’d started reading Bird by Bird then, but it would appear from the location of the bookmark that I only got only as far as the second chapter before shelving it. Over the years I’d meant to pick it up again and finally managed to get around to it, reading much of it during a trip to London for the holidays.

The Voyeurs

The Voyeurs (11/20/13) Comics (2012 ***) Written and illustrated by Gabrielle Bell. Firmly rooted in the autobiographical comics genre, The Voyeurs is presented as Gabrielle Bell’s diary in comic book form. This was my first exposure to Bell’s work, which has been featured in four volumes of Best American Comics. In addition to working as what appears to be a literal chronological telling of the events in her life, the book also serves as an opportunity for Bell to share her feelings about the human condition as well as her own introspection about herself and how she reacts to the world around her. This is best illustrated in an extended story about her visit to the 2010 San Diego Comic-Con, which made me far less interested in attending that convention. I’m saddened to say that Bell’s stories in this collection didn’t speak to me more. Examining why that is, I think it’s mostly because I’m getting on in years and it’s increasingly hard for me to listen to the (sorry) monotonic whining of people in their twenties and even thirties. Having said that, my 30-year-old self could relate to some of what she wrote, specifically her self-disappointment and feelings of detachment and borderline misanthropy. My inability to relate to it more as I am now is undoubtedly a reflection of who I’ve become in the past two decades, and I am actually kind of happy for that. In short, I respect the book for what it is and for Bell’s skill in achieving her goal, but that didn’t make The Voyeurs any less of a drag to read.

A Writer’s Time: Revised Edition

A Writer’s Time: Revised Edition (11/6/13) Nonfiction (1986, 1995 ***) Written by Kenneth Atchity. Occidental College professor-turned-Hollywood producer Kenneth Atchity instructs his readers not only how to write, but also how to manage their time while producing copy. While this book contained a lot of information I’d read previously in other books, I have to hand it to Atchity: He found an original angle on which to approach the business and artistry of writing. In particular, I enjoyed the various super-specific recipes he offered for writing nonfiction, novels and screenplays, and some of his suggestions may find their way into my writing regimen the next time I take on a book-length project. Also, I’m sure my wife would appreciate that a cornerstone of his time management approach was the taking of lots of vacations! Because it covers so much territory in a fairly concise fashion, including both the creative and business aspects of starting a writing career (subjects that are usually the topics of separate books), it might make for a good gift for an aspiring writer.

Life Drawing in Charcoal

Life Drawing in Charcoal (6/22/13) Nonfiction (1971, 1994 ****) Written and illustrated by Douglas R. Graves. Master illustrator Douglas Graves walks aspiring students through his charcoal illustration technique, one step at a time. I very much appreciated this book and found it to be one of the strongest art instruction books I’ve read. It helped that Graves was working in a realist style, and his mastery of the medium was apparent to even the most casual observer. My favorite aspect of the book was Graves’ “director’s commentary” approach, in which his thought process was articulated in incremental drawings. He wrote clearly — but without skimping on details — about all the incremental additions and changes made along the way and his reasoning for each one. His text was also a source of occasional unintended amusement: Keeping in mind the original version of his book was written in 1971, it was entertaining to read occasional editorial comments related to the increasing length of men’s hairstyles and the apparent androgyny of today’s young men and women.

Drawing (Creative Techniques)

Drawing (Creative Techniques) (6/15/13) Nonfiction (2009 **) Written and illustrated by Josep Asuncion and Gemma Guasch. Fourteen different approaches to drawing and rendering are presented by two artists. The purpose of this book was to expand the horizons of artists and students by offering them alternative approaches to drawing. However, I found the range of styles presented in this book was disappointingly narrow, even with two different contributing artists. It didn’t help that the majority of the styles didn’t particularly appeal to me or represent directions I was ever interested in pursuing. A much wider gamut would have been appreciated, and an alternative approach to the book might have been to use a different artist for each style presented. Still, even with its limitations, there were some useful ideas in the book and some artists might find it inspiring, even if it wasn’t much help for me.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print (2nd Edition)

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print (2nd Edition) (5/5/13) Nonfiction (2010 ***1/4) Written by Renni Browne and Dave King. Experienced editors Renni Browne and Dave King break the revision process into several bite-sized chunks, providing plenty of examples taken from their clients as well as well-known works. This was actually a pretty quick read, and I read most of it while flying from St. Louis to Los Angeles. There was a time when it seemed I read a different book on writing technique on a daily basis, and so I have a great deal of familiarity with the genre. This one was written in a particularly clear and light manner. While I knew much of the information presented in the book, review on the basics of editing is always helpful, and I found the section on dialogue mechanics to be especially informative. My only wish was that the chapters had given just a tad more depth. According to the Introduction, the authors’ stated goal was to create a book that could sit on a shelf with The Elements of Style without embarrassing itself. Though it’s not quite on par with that book, I feel they accomplished their mission. Its structure also lends itself to being used as the textbook for an introductory editing class.

Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb

 Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb (1/30/13) Graphic Novel (2012 **1/2) Written and illustrated by Jonathan Fetter-Vorm. This illustrated nonfiction book describes the science, engineering and personalities behind America’s Manhattan Project as well as its atomic aftermath. This was Fetter-Vorm’s first graphic novel project and at 150 pages it was a worthy effort. The content of the book was fine and clearly well-researched, and I appreciated the scope of the book and how the author was able to use the graphic novel format to dive in and shed some light on the scientific aspects involved. The presentation of the story’s narrative was a bit dry, and while there was some sense of the personalities involved, they weren’t explored with the depth I had expected. Oppenheimer was described early in the book as enigmatic and he remained so throughout. Reading the book made me want to re-watch the 1989 Paul Newman film Fat Man and Little Boy (named after the two bomb designs), which I don’t recall being a particularly great film. Reading Trinity, I became curious about how the 1989 film had handled the dramatization of real-world characters including Oppenheimer and General Groves. The weakest part of Fetter-Vorm’s book, unfortunately, was his artwork, which was at times so amateurish to be distracting. While I applaud his effort in executing a 150-page graphic novel project in the first place, I’m frankly more impressed that he was able to find a publisher.

Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellant?: And Other Amazing Comic Book Trivia!

Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellant?: And Other Amazing Comic Book Trivia! (10/6/12) Nonfiction (2012 ***1/2) Written by Brian Cronin. Cronin is the creator of the “Comics Should Be Good” blog and had previously written Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed (2009), a book I read back in 2010 and also gave ***1/2. I devoured this entire book cover to cover in 3 hours on a Saturday afternoon. While I clearly live smack dab in the center of Cronin’s demographic bullseye, this book was objectively a well-written delight and one that should appeal even to those far less steeped in comic book trivia than I. To be honest, I already knew about half the trivia contained in this book, but that didnt bother me in the sightest. I don’t know what’s been in the zeitgeist lately, but between this book and AMC’s Comic Book Men, I’m in comic geek heaven lately!

Stupid Movie Lines

Stupid Movie Lines (8/4/12) Nonfiction (1999 ***) Written by Ross and Kathryn Petras. The authors of The 776 Stupidest Things Ever Said turn their quest for stupidity to the silver screen. According to the “also by the authors” list at the front of Stupid Movie Lines, it would appear that the Petras siblings have made somewhat of a cottage industry of producing “stupid” books. More power to them, I say! But while I admire this effort, the problem with stupidity in dialogue form is that it’s pretty situational. In other words, much of the impact was lost without context. However, I enjoyed their book and especially appreciated lines taken from films I’ve seen. It seems that in selecting quotations for this book they subjected themselves to some pretty awful movies, like Fire Maidens from Outer Space and The Hillbilly Hooker, to name but two. I can’t help but wonder if they were watching those films as research… or for their own entertainment.