cover image The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling

The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling

Charles Johnson. Scribner, $16 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-5011-4722-7

National Book Award–winner Johnson (Taming the Ox) here collects enlightening but somewhat snobby essays about his process and his ideas about literature and writing. Johnson starts off by proclaiming, “One must begin with a genuine love of art.” Though he says “rigid formulas and rules” aren’t helpful, this doesn’t stop him from making more than a few uncharitable comments about the value of genre fiction. Additionally, his description of his desired reader—“intelligent, learned, and sophisticated”—might alienate readers who suspect he isn’t referring to them. Johnson’s writing style here is unvarnished. As he explains, he views essays primarily as ways of answering questions, and his interest in reaching those answers animates his nonfiction more than the prose does. Johnson’s process, from morning exercises to writing for several hours a day, is fascinating to read about up to a point, but is detailed ad nauseam. Perhaps the most deeply felt passages are those dealing with Johnson’s mentor, novelist John Gardner (Grendel), whose lessons and friendship Johnson clearly cherished. Johnson’s absolute statements will turn off some readers, and there are a handful of essays that feel like afterthoughts. Still, there are valuable insights to be gleaned about writing and reading and the work that goes into both. (Dec.)