Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Book Review: Wordsmithy by Douglas Wilson

"Interesting people are interested people." If I had stopped reading on page 23, this quote would have made the book worthwhile. Staying engaged in life and culture is a must if you are to presume to have anything relevant to say. Douglas Wilson has lots of pithy quotes and admonitions for writers, and those of us who aspire to be called writers, in his book, Wordsmithy: Hot Tips for the Writing Life.

I was disabused of the notion my vocabulary was sufficient several times while reading Wordsmithy. Wilson's use of uncommon words or foreign languages phrases was not for pretension's sake, but rather to underscore his point that if we wish to be writers, we have to view words as our tools. Wilson encourages writers and would-be writers to keep a notebook handy to jot down an interesting word or turn of phrase that pops out at you while living a real life. "Words are the bricks with which you build. Buy the bricks before starting on the wall." (pg 104). Having a record of notable quotes is also recommended. Sad to say, some of my favorite quotes are not from classic novels, but from romantic comedies such as Under the Tuscan Sun ("Regrets are a waste of time. They're the past crippling you in the present."). [Maybe I'd better get busy expanding my notebook. . . ]

Wilson especially stresses living a real life - as in living in the real world. This is not the trendy call to authenticity that is all the rage today, which Wilson skewers delightfully:
One of our great problems today is that we have gotten caught up in our culture-wide quest for authenticity. We want our jeans authentic (pre-ripped at the factory), we want our apples authentic (grown locally instead of somewhere else), we want our music authentic (underground bands nobody ever heard of), we want our lettuce authentic (organically manured), we want our literature authentic (full of angst), we want our movies authentic (subtitles), we want our coffee tables authentic (purchased from a genuine peasant while we were on some eco-tour). . . This quest for authenticity, in its current configuration, is actually a quest to feel superior to other people, and because everybody has gotten in on this very attractive proposition, this presents a considerable marketing challenge.
Wilson's book is a book of 7s - seven chapters with seven subpoints in each. The advice is practical, the style is rather playful, and the suggested reading lists made me want to run to my local library immediately [always library first, Amazon second. Frugality reigns!]. He also advises writers to stretch their boundaries. Attempt writing forms and styles which are beyond your comfort zone. So, in that spirit, I'll conclude with my attempt at one of the forms Wilson mentioned, a clerihew:
Douglas Wilson writes on writing
Of all the errors that need righting.
On bon mots and clerihews,
on writing don'ts and writing do's.

No comments: