Books about writers | The Spooky Art

The Spooky Art, by Norman Mailer.

This is not a book filled with tips about how to construct stories, or how to make your characters come to life. Instead, it is a book about Norman Mailer’s views about what it means to be a writer. Semi-biographical, the book contains many of Mailer’s ideas about how a writer should live within his craft and gives examples from Mailer’s own life.

Like all of the other works of Mailer’s that I’ve read, The Spooky Art is composed of heavy and sometimes ponderous writing as Mailer reaches for what he perceives to be a “literary” sound. Within the depths of this work, Mailer proposes the theory that a writer who doesn’t show his work publicly is committing “literary masturbation.” A few pages later, Mailer makes the comparison between himself writing and a prize fighter going into the ring. I have puzzled over the incongruity of these two comparisons, wouldn’t a prizefighter engage in far more practice rounds than public rounds? Why isn’t this permissible for a writer?  I also found the whole image of Mailer as a prizefighter a odd. Is writing supposed to be that hard? Perhaps that is why the books, while often good, are also often slow reading.

Despite this negativity there are some very good explanations within the pages of The Spooky Art, and Mailer makes one or two of those revelations that make you go “ah ha!” They aren’t really anything that you can’t find anywhere else, but Mailer has managed to view and present them in a different way.

Certain ideas and methods tie all professional writers together. I’ve seen them explained over and over in writing books–and not always are they explained very clearly either. Sometimes in reading this book I had the impression that Mailer himself may not have the best grip on how he actually creates a story, but by reading between the lines, I can tell that he follows many of the standard methods of other writers. In other words, he understands what he has to do on a level that is difficult for him to explain, or perhaps to even examine in close detail, and this book is an attempt at that explanation.

Mailer fans will like this book. Academics interested in hardcore exploration should get something out of this too. Beginning or intermediate writers will probably do better with one of the many other writing books available. As someone looking for pure writing advice, this one didn’t make it for me.

I’m rating this as an advanced book, and I’m giving:
1 star overall.
1 star for ease of reading.
1 star for usefulness of information.

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