Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Review: Unless It Moves the Human Heart

Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing by Roger Rosenblatt.

I bought this book because I remember riding in an elevator with a woman who just discussed the book during a panel at AWP Conference in Washington DC. She had the book in her hand and was telling someone that the book made her cry because what it taught her was so important. I asked her what the name of the book was and she showed me the cover. A book that moved a woman to tears - I needed to know more. I bought the book a month later and just finished reading it today.

Rosenblatt’s chapters are from his writing class in New York. The best part was the end. I got a bit tired of reading all the dialogue during each chapter, but he did captured my attention on page 10 when he said the writing life practically guarantees writers “rejection, poverty, and failure.” I read and hear this over and over again, yet something continues to draw me to a writer’s life.

In this first section he tells us that he looks at his students and “can’t help but think that something deliberate and stubborn lies behind their decision to make artists of themselves.” (11) Stubborn-ness, a quality I have.

He says, “Writing is the cure for the disease of living.”

This book reminds me that writers have a story to tell and sometimes these stories assign blame and some attempt to explain things the writer can’t really explain. I like this idea and it makes me think of my novel-in-progress and how I write my character’s feelings and there is an element of assigning blame in their thoughts and actions. The characters attempt to explain things that I never really understood. I can’t wait to see what happens next, in this novel I am writing.

The final chapter of Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing is my favorite: Parting Shots. Rosenblatt writes about his friend Lewis Thomas and how he says at the end of his life he wants to be useful. He would “die content” if he knew he had been useful in his life. The author writes in response:

“for your writing to be great …. It must be useful to the world. And for that to happen you must form an opinion of the world. …And for that to happen you have to live in the world and not pretend it’s not someone else’s world you are writing about…nothing you write will matter unless it moves the human heart, said the poet A.D Hope. And the heart that you must move is corrupt, depraved, and desperate for your love.”(151)
The final words of the book [I just love them and will follow them]: “Both you and the human heart are full of sorrow. But only one of you can speak for that sorrow and ease its burdens and make it sing – word after word after word.”

These are the words that the woman in the elevator must have heard when she was crying.

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