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Book of the Week: The Art of Fiction

Title: The Art of Fiction – Notes on Craft For Young Writers
Author: John Gardner
Publisher: Random House
Buy a copy

Quick Thoughts:
St. Teresa of Avila has said that ”words lead to deeds…they prepare the soul, make it ready, and move it to tenderness.” And contemporary novelist and essayist William Kittredge, when advising a younger writer, instructed him that ”what you do matters. What you do, right or wrong, has consequences, Brother.” In this book, possibly the single best book ever written on the significance of great fiction writing and reading, John Gardner echoes these phrases with repeating power. Regarding fiction as a search for truth, a process of thinking; as joy and play in creation; and as serious artistic work, Gardner tenaciously asserts that the ”ultimate value of fiction is its morality.” As a process of thinking, an ancient but still valid kind of thought, Homer’s kind of thought, he speaks of fiction as ”concrete philosophy.” The great writer produces work that is efficient, elegant, meaningful and convincing; aesthetically interesting and lasting – a recreation of the world, enabling us to see the world more clearly. What fiction ought to do, he claims, is to tell the truth about things, to express our intuitions of reality. ”Fiction seeks out truth. Granted, it seeks a poetic kind of truth, universals not easily translatable into moral codes. But part of our interest as we read is in learning how the world works; how the conflicts we share can be resolved, if at all; what values we can affirm and, in general, what the moral risks are…it helps us to know what we believe, reinforces those qualities that are noblest in us, and leads us to feel uneasy about our faults and limitations.” It is serious, moral, humane. But it is also joy. ”Fiction is a kind of play. The writer works out what he thinks as much for the joy of it as for any other reason. Yet the play has its uses and earnestness…The true writer’s joy in the fictional process is his pleasure in discovering, by means he can trust, what he believes and can affirm for all time.” Gardner literally packs this volume full of poignance and instruction. It is priceless for any aspiring writer, as well as any serious reader. Threaded with references and commentary on many great works from all ages, as well as challenging exercises, exhortations, and caring admonitions – he makes us painstakingly aware of the important influence of literature in the revising of our lives. (From Eighth Day Books)

John Gardner was almost as famous as a teacher of creative writing as he was for his own works. In this practical, instructive handbook, based on the courses and seminars he gave, he explains, simply and cogently, the principles and techniques of good writing.

What’s Being Said:
“John Gardner was famous for his generosity to young writers, and (this book) is his . . . gift to them. The Art of Fiction will fascinate anyone interested in how fiction gets put together. For the young writer, it will become a necessary handbook, a stern judge, an encouraging friend.”
The New York Times Book Review.

“A densely packed book of advice to all writers, not just young ones… It is serious, provocative and funny, and I recommend it to anyone who cares about literature.”
Margaret Manning, Boston Globe

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