Book Review: Lara: The Untold Love Story and the Inspiration for Doctor Zhivago by Anna Pasternak

At the beginning, I need to make two things clear: this is an excellent book, and I almost couldn’t bring myself to read it because of the packaging. I realized by the time I had read a dozen pages that the title, the cover illustrations, and the blurbs were exceedingly deceptive. They make it appear as if the book is some sort of ethereal and light-hearted romantic adventure, while in fact it is a profoundly dark tragedy. They also lead prospective readers to believe that Boris Pasternak’s lover Olga is the book’s main character, and that she was the main impetus for the writing of the novel Doctor Zhivago. In fact, as this book admits, Pasternak had conceived the idea of writing the epic novel that became Doctor Zhivago long before he met Olga, and although the relationship between Pasternak and Olga was inspiration for numerous facets of the relationship between Yuri Zhivago and Lara, the book also explains that Pasternak took aspects of the backgrounds of his two wives to deepen the character of Lara. She is a composite. As for the cover, instead of mirroring the stark reality of the actual contents, it is strewn with brightly colored flowers as if it is illustrating a fairy tale. After you read the actual text, this phony gaiety is very off-putting.

The main storyline of this book, at least what makes it outstanding for me, is the process of the writing of the novel Doctor Zhivago. It is Pasternak’s only major piece of prose apart from his translations. He was already a famous poet when he undertook to begin his epic novel. The book explains that poets in Russia were lionized like rock stars are today. Pasternak was considered one of Russia’s finest poets after the publication of his first volume of poetry in 1921. He worked on Doctor Zhivago, which eventually covered a sweep of time from the Russian Revolution of 1905 to World War II, for decades until completing it in 1956.

The Russian government’s rejection of the novel and refusal to publish it is one of the great scandals in literature. Publishing houses led Pasternak on, promising to publish it but never having any intention of doing so. Eventually, an Italian smuggled a copy out of the country and presented it to an Italian publishing company, which brought forth an Italian translation that became an immediate bestseller. Shortly afterwards, the book came out in multitudes of other languages. The CIA was responsible for putting out the first Russian edition, which it distributed clandestinely to Russian visitors to Europe.

In 1958, Boris Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature. The rest of the world rejoiced, but in Russia this was an outrageous scandal. The KGB, the Writer’s Union, and the Russian government made life hell for Pasternak. They harassed him relentlessly until he was forced to decline the prize. During the era of the great purge in Russia, Stalin, for superstitious reasons, had given orders that Pasternak was not to be touched. Instead, to punish him for his unorthodox writings, the police had arrested his lover Olga and sent her to a labor camp. After Pasternak’s death, they arrested her again along with her daughter, and they both did time in prison and work camps.

I don’t want to diminish the importance of Olga to Pasternak. I only want to emphasize that that is one thread in a complex story concerning the life of the writer and the creation of his novel. Lara also has extensive sections about Pasternak’s two marriages, his fight to get the book published, and his deterioration in the aftermath of the fracas about the Nobel Prize.

One thing that hit me hard while I was reading the tragic closing chapters of this book was how uncertain fame and fortune are even to writers of exceptional quality. Pasternak’s is not an isolated case. Many internationally acclaimed writers led tragic lives and came to tragic conclusions. Pasternak devoted his life to the completion of his novel; it was his overwhelming priority for decades. He managed to get it published and it achieved astounding success. However, although his publishers made millions off the book, Pasternak was unable to personally profit, as he couldn’t get his royalties into the country. The rest of the world lauded him as a novelist of genius, while in Russia he was shunned, isolated, and thrown out of the Writer’s Union. When he died, the location and time was not officially publicized, but word got round underground, and despite the risk, his funeral was attended by thousands. Doctor Zhivago was not published in Russia until 1988, and it was not until 1989 that one of Pasternak’s sons was able to go to Stockholm to receive his posthumous Nobel Prize.

Not too long ago I read the novel Doctor Zhivago for the first time; I have been a fan of David Lean’s film since I was a young teen. Pasternak’s life illustrates for me the profound responsibilities of a writer. He wrote Doctor Zhivago because he felt he had to, in the face of intense pressure and approbation. He remained true to his artistic vision despite almost insurmountable obstacles. Being a real writer is not about becoming famous or making lots of money; it’s about writing the words you have inside you that need to be written, no matter what it costs you personally. It cost Pasternak everything. I recently read a Paris Review article by the late Ursula Le Guin in which she said that the Sartre Prize for Prize Refusal should have been called the Boris Pasternak Prize. She emphasized that Pasternak was one of her true heroes. I think that he has been a true hero to a lot of people, and to writers in particular he epitomizes the need to place art above other petty and selfish considerations.

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A Second Look: Sunflower: A Novel


A sequel of sorts to The Misadventures of Mama Kitchen:

 In early 1970 a new era, the Age of Aquarius, seems to be dawning. Penny, who adopted the name of Sunflower on the way to the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival, attends another rock concert touted as Woodstock West, at Altamont Speedway near San Francisco. Seeking to enhance the transcendent Woodstock experience, she instead comes away covered in the blood of a man brutally stabbed to death in front of the stage.

 Has the new youth experience descended from idealism to anarchy? To find out Sunflower, confused and disillusioned, embarks upon an odyssey across an America torn by violent Vietnam War protests, racial tension, and gangs of hard drug dealers. From a search for a shared social experience it becomes a personal quest for fulfillment that leads her on a journey across continents.

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Vision of a Bright Flower in a Remote Jungle: An Encouragement to Self-Publishers

Let’s go on a journey together, you and I, far, far from our familiar habitat, to the most remote corner of the Earth. Where do you envision it? Deep in the Amazon jungle, perhaps? In the remote wastes of the Siberian tundra? In an oasis by a waterhole in the Australian outback? For the purposes of our illustration we have to imagine that a flower grows there, but it doesn’t really matter whether or not that would really be possible. My most remote place is a valley deep in the forests of Papua New Guinea. Wherever you picture this place, add to your vision of it that no human has ever seen it, that it is the epitome of pristine. And now think of the flower. It should be brightly colored and set in the midst of emerald foliage. If it’s in a jungle, sunlight stabs through the overhanging branches and strikes it in such a way as to bring out its dazzling, luxuriant colors. Around it you can envision what you will: hills, valleys, waterfalls, a gently flowing river. Now this is the important thing: imagine that this flower, this gorgeous flower, this breathtaking flower that rivals any flower that has ever existed in the world for beauty, has never been seen by a human being. It has grown to maturity in this remote place without ever having been accorded appreciation. Still, it is there. It exists.

Is it real? Is it as significant as a possibly less lovely flower growing in Central Park that is seen and appreciated by thousands of passers-by daily? Central Park flowers don’t even have to be breathtaking, come to think. They still impress people with their soot-covered humble beauty because they are the only game in town.

The image of the flamboyant flower in the deep jungle came to me very strongly when I was out on a walk last week. It encouraged me in a strange sort of way. Whether or not anyone sees it, the flower is real, of course. Its incomparable beauty, scent, and texture are real. Despite its unsurpassed elegance, though, it will never be appreciated by humans as the ultimate in floral splendor. Other lesser flowers will receive that honor because they are obvious and visible.

You may have already caught the comparison I am making here. I am thinking of unknown works of art, specifically of works of literature. Self-publishing has enabled people to publish their works, works that would have in the past been shut down by literary gatekeepers such as publishers, editors, and, increasingly, accountants as large companies look more and more to their bottom lines. However, this has caused many works to become buried in the sheer volume of new books being published. So the question is: are these works valid, even if they are hidden amidst the rest? When I write this I am thinking of my own books, of course, and wonder if their publication is justified even if they don’t sell well – or hardly at all. Are they valid as artistic output even if they are like that flower in the jungle’s remote forgotten glade? Do they exist? Do they have value? Are they real?

I have to answer yes to these questions. They are real and they have value. Unlike the flower we envisioned at the beginning of this essay, they will not wilt. They will continue to remain in that remote location, shining brightly whether or not anyone sees them, until one day, someone might chance upon that locale, and become enraptured, and appreciate their worth, and tell others, and beam the light of awareness upon that previously unknown place.

Does the unknown flower have as much value as one set in a city park? You can answer that question any way you like, whatever seems real to you. My answer is yes. Yes, it does.

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A Second Look: The Misadventures of Mama Kitchen


My second novel:

 Sarah Tabitha Jones, a twenty-year-old fascinated by the youth culture of the late 1960s, leaves her middle-class home and wanders to a wilderness commune and then to the Haight/Ashbury in search of truth. On the way she encounters many strange characters: bikers, draft dodgers, Vietnam War veterans, peyote worshipers, heroin dealers, Jesus people, feminists, violent anarchists, Black Panthers, and science fiction fans. She experiments with drugs and sex, but at the same time helps out those she can; though often disillusioned, she believes that hippies should unite to create a better world. In the midst of all this she finds herself pregnant. Eight and a half months later, undaunted, belly bulging, she travels to Woodstock for one last attempt at finding the love and unity she seeks.

 The Misadventures of Mama Kitchen will appeal not only to those who lived through the disconcerting era of the 60s and 70s but to those younger who are curious about what took place back then. It will also resonate with anyone who is idealistic and in search of personal fulfillment, as well as those who simply enjoy a wild tale: sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, sometimes violent, sometimes sexy, always extreme.

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Book Review: How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence by Michael Pollan

This fascinating book focuses on the new research that has been done in the last decade or so in the field of psychedelics. On the way, the author visits various institutions where studies are being carried out and interviews scientists, therapists, and subjects. He also recounts the history of psychedelic research since Albert Hofmann first discovered and synthesized LSD in 1938. He describes the research done by various labs in the 1960s and 1970s, the CIA experiments on mind control known as Project MXULTRA, the widespread use of the drugs for recreation during the hippy era, and Timothy Leary’s outlandish antics that eventually brought about the classification of LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, and other psychedelics as Schedule I dangerous drugs according to the Controlled Substances Act, which led to the elimination of virtually all research for decades. The author also goes into the neuroscience of psychedelics and a description of the use of psychedelics for the treatment of depression, addictions, the trauma of approaching death for cancer patients, and other mental disorders.

One of the most interesting facets of this book, and what elevates it several grades above a mere history or science study, is that Pollan adds memoir by trying LSD, psilocybin, and other psychedelics and then writing about his experiences. This all adds a heightened level of verisimilitude. For his own safety and peace of mind, each time he uses the drugs he does it in a controlled setting with an experienced guide. This is a method that he endorses throughout the book. He argues that since psychedelics are so powerful and volatile, it is imperative to use them in carefully crafted surroundings with people who know how to help you out if you become discomfited.

Early on in the book, Pollan mentions that in his opinion psychedelics might be one of those experiences that are wasted on the young, and that they might be more valuable to people later in life that need further navigation to go the distance. I know that when I started taking psychedelics when I was a teenager I was totally unprepared for what transpired during my trips. I took them as casually as I did any other drug such as marijuana or alcohol, and my experiences often deteriorated rapidly into chaos and paranoia. I stopped taking them entirely for awhile. Later, when I was slightly older, I took them occasionally, but I was more careful about the surrounding environment and who I took them with. Pollan emphasizes the importance of careful selection of setting and companions, and I have to say that I agree. My best psychedelic experience was when I was visiting Katmandu in Nepal. I dropped LSD with a German traveler, and together we took a path up to the summits of the foothills surrounding the city where we had a breathtaking view of countless snow-covered Himalayan peaks. It was truly a transcendental experience.

Pollan is at his best when he is writing as a journalist or a memoirist. The book is fascinating throughout and only lags a bit at the end when he tries to summarize his findings and come to some conclusions. Because the new psychedelic research is still in the fledgling stage, he goes into a lot of speculation that is not much more than guesswork.

The book definitely advocates the controlled use of psychedelics for the treatment of anxiety about death, addictions, and depression. Pollan is a bit more ambivalent when it comes to using psychedelics for recreation, but encourages them as a means of spiritual enlightenment.

I have to admit that as I read this book, I couldn’t help but wonder what a psychedelic trip would do for me now, at this age and in this stage of my life. Although creativity is a profoundly important part of my existence, I have settled into certain grooves and habits of thought and behavior that seem very repetitive and counterproductive. Pollan explains that neurologically, psychedelics help break people free of their default mode network, or DMN, which causes them to follow predetermined courses, and opens them to new paths and possibilities. Researchers have found that neurological patterns of people on psychedelics are similar to the patterns of children under five years old. The egos that have shaped their adult behaviors have been eliminated, allowing them to view the wonder and brilliance of the cosmos unimpeded. I could use some of that; a fresh perspective would be good for me.

Of course, for me the possibility of trying psychedelics again is a mental exercise; it would take a profoundly safe and serene setting and an excellent companion or companions around for me to attempt it. However, for those suffering from various mental afflictions, psychedelic therapy may offer great hope. I was talking with a friend of mine the other day, a veteran who was stationed in Iraq diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. She told me that psychedelic therapy is available for veterans with PTSD. I was surprised but heartened at the liberality of the veteran’s administration in this regard. It could very well be that the current research being done with psychedelics will harbinger a new era of treatment based upon the inherent value of the pharmacological substances rather than fear of the imaginary boogiemen of the past.

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Book Review: Rendezvous With Rama by Arthur C. Clarke

I never read this book back in the early seventies when I was absorbing a lot of science fiction and attempting to make some sort of impact as a science fiction writer – even though it was highly acclaimed and won multiple awards. Admittedly I was veering away from a strict diet of science fiction and fantasy at that time, the early 1970s, devoting many of my reading hours to such writers as Henry Miller, Jack Kerouac, Jack London, and Henry David Thoreau. Additionally, the science fiction I did read was mostly part of the literary movement that became known as the New Wave. Examples of New Wave writers – who heavily emphasized style, mood, characterization, and analysis of hot contemporary political and sociological topics – include Roger Zelazny, Harlan Ellison, Samuel Delaney, and James Tiptree, Jr.

Arthur C. Clarke was decidedly not part of the New Wave. He falls more into the category of classic or Golden Age science fiction writers, who relied more on ideas than characterization and style to fuel their stories. Rendezvous With Rama is a case in point. The style is rudimentary: basic serviceable English without any bells and frills. As for characterization, there is little to none. The characters are all but interchangeable. All that we know about their differences is that some are male and some female, some outrank others, some are older than others, and some have specific useful skill sets. Most of them have short Anglo-Saxon names that you might find in a list of the fifty most common names in England, with the exception of an occasional Boris or Rajiv that evidence no other difference than name to the rest of the cast. Racial diversity does not appear to exist in the twenty-second century, and men still hold all of the important and high-ranking positions. I don’t mean these comments as any particular disparagement of Clare’s work. This sort of blandness and lack of social progress was common back then in much of genre fiction, and the revolution that elevated science fiction to a higher art form as exemplified by the aforementioned New Wave was just picking up steam.

Now let’s move on to the positive side of the ledger. Despite the blandness, lack of characterization, and pedestrian style, Rendezvous With Rama has one thing in abundance that turns it into a terrifically entertaining reading experience: an overwhelming sense of wonder. Clarke’s gift as a writer was to be able to take scientific possibilities and projections, envision them, and make them come alive to his readers. In this book he takes us along as a space ship investigates an enigmatic phenomenon that has entered our solar system: an enormous cylinder that turns out to be an alien spacecraft that has been voyaging through the universe for hundreds of thousands if not millions of years. Inside, the investigating space ship crew discovers evidence that an astonishing degree of intelligence was behind the crafting of this technological wonder. In a series of short chapters, Clarke leads us on into this intricate microcosm. He uncovers it all as if through the eyes of the crew members, one detail at a time.

It’s all exciting, wholesome, mind-bending fun. As I said, the strength of this book is the sense of wonder, the uncovering of mysteries. Although it appears as if the explorers are in danger from time to time, they always get out of it quickly. There is never any pulse-pounding excitement. Again, that’s not a disparagement. The overwhelming feeling is one of awe.

Arthur C. Clarke is famous, of course, as the co-author of the ground-breaking film 2001: A Space Odyssey. He also wrote numerous other well-received novels such as Childhood’s End (which I remember thrilling to as a young teen) and The Fountains of Paradise. He was a master of cosmic-scaled ideas, and Rendezvous With Rama is an excellent example of his work.

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Book Review: Best American Travel Writing 2016 Edited by Bill Bryson and Jason Wilson

I’ve been wondering lately: if most of what I write is science fiction and fantasy, why don’t I read more of it? I don’t keep up with even a fair percentage of what comes out in the genre every year. I passed on voting for the Nebula Awards because I hadn’t read any of the nominees. I usually catch up on most of the acclaimed short stories and novelettes of the previous year in the best of the year volumes. Even when I do read speculative fiction, a lot of what I favor is what is known as “new wave” writing that came out in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Why? Well, there’s no problem. It’s just that there’s so much to read and my tastes run so wide that I can’t keep up. To maintain a balance, I tend to alternate between reading fiction and nonfiction. And when I’m reading fiction, I tend to alternate between reading science fiction and so-called literary fiction, which in my broad definition includes just about anything that’s not science fiction and fantasy, which I know is way too broad. Anyway, who cares? Let’s move on to the volume at hand.

I picked up The Best American Travel Writing 2016 at a library sale for a buck. I definitely found a bargain. It’s a great book. Usually when I read anthologies I only sort of like about half the stories or essays, and I really like even less. In this collection, though, there was only one dud in the bunch. Just one. The reason that one essay didn’t work is that, unlike all the other entries, the writer was so hung up on himself and trying to write fancy words and phrases, he forgot that he was supposed to be writing about a place that he traveled to. Damn, that one is boring. It sticks out like a sore thumb, to use a cliché. It’s somewhere around a third of the way through the book, and I’d been humming along marveling that all the pieces were so much fun and how magnificent it would be if every single one turned out to be great, and then suddenly: bam. Massive let-down. At least it was just the one.

One odd thing that I noticed while reading this volume: very few of the chosen essays are from travel magazines. Most are from general interest magazines or literary journals. Perhaps that accounts for their high quality – or perhaps there simply aren’t many superlative magazines devoted to travel available.

I got to thinking while I was reading all these first-class travel essays, wondering how they managed to all be so great. One reason must be that the editor, Bill Bryson, has excellent taste in literature. I’m sure that’s part of it. Another reason could be that travel has always evoked a profound sense of wonder in me, and since I haven’t been able to travel for so long, fantasizing about it by reading about these places is the next best thing. Let’s say it’s a combination of the two. Regardless of the reason, I had a great time reading this book.

Let’s see if I can pick out a few highlights. “Rotten Ice” by Gretel Ehrlich is about the melting glaciers and ice fields of Greenland. The author’s firsthand experiences and observations over years of visiting the area belie the ridiculous claims of those who insist that there is no such thing as global warming. “Off Diamond Head” by William Finnegan is an excerpt from his great book Barbarian Days in which he recounts his teen years surfing in Hawaii. “About Face” by Patricia Marx is a humorous piece about the South Korean obsession with plastic surgery. “The Reddest Carpet” by Mitch Moxley recounts a bizarre trip to North Korea to attend a film festival. One of the most disquieting but fascinating essays is “Growing Old With the Inuit” by Justin Nobel. Before recounting his journey to far northern Canada to attend a convention of elderly Inuit, the author spends a few pages describing all the ways that various cultures around the world used to murder their elderly members when the folks got too old to be of use. Gruesome stuff; especially difficult to read since I’m getting on in years myself.

These are just a few examples of the numerous superlative essays in this book. As I said, it’s fun to hop from one place to the next in essay after essay, enjoying a bit of armchair traveling. It makes me want to pick up some more volumes of this series when I get a chance – and also, of course, makes me want to visit all those places.

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Book Review: Nebula Award Stories Six Edited by Clifford D. Simak

Reading this book fascinated me on several levels. First of all, it’s an old Pocket Book edition that retailed when it came out in 1972 for 95 cents. I bought it in excellent condition at a science fiction convention for one dollar. It’s a slim volume that fits comfortably in the inside pocket of my jacket; they don’t make them like that anymore.

Additionally, the book brought a great feeling of nostalgia. I was nineteen years old when it came out and just beginning to explore the many wonders of science fiction and fantasy and basking in the realization that my life’s work was to be a writer. The following year I would attend the 1973 Clarion West Writer’s Workshop after having just turned twenty. I’m sure I read this book back then; I devoured all the Nebula Awards volumes I could find at the local library.

All the stories in the book are at least entertaining and at most masterful. It’s not what I would consider one of the best Nebula volumes, but it has some good material. Theodore Sturgeon’s “Slow Sculpture” is a very carefully written, nuanced piece of work.

In the early 1970s, the New Wave, epitomized by the works of Roger Zelazny, Samuel Delany, Harlan Ellison, Ursula Le Guin, and others, was pounding furiously on traditional science fiction’s shores. The groundbreaking anthology Dangerous Visions edited by Harland Ellison had recently been published. The field was split between traditionalists who abhorred the new freedoms in subject matter, style, and sexual explicitness and new voices who celebrated the opportunities for openness of artistic expression. This volume, I think, leans towards the traditional after a New Wave sweep of the Nebulas the year before. “Slow Sculpture” and “Ill Met in Lankhmar” by Fritz Leiber, a fantasy novella, the two winners, represent traditional approaches to storytelling.

This year was the first and only year that no award was given in the short story category. Three short stories are presented in this volume, and any one of them might have won. In fact, the toastmaster Isaac Asimov mistakenly announced that Gene Wolfe won the award. I have always felt that not giving out an award that year was a shameful mistake. The award is given to the best story of the year, not the best story as compared with other years. One of the writers who were nominated should have won it. I have since read many Nebula Award winning stories, and a number of them were inferior to the stories that were nominated but did not win in 1970. I can’t help but think that there were some elements of the New Wave struggle involved in the decision. Stories from Damon Knight’s anthologies Orbit 6 and Orbit 7 dominated the short fiction nominations that year; in fact, six out of the seven short story nominees were from Orbit. Was the voting of “no award” a reaction to the predominance of New Wave selections? Who knows now, almost five decades later? Suffice it to say that I hope that Nebula voters never again make the same mistake of voting “no award” in any categories and thus disappointing the nominated authors.

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A Second Look: America Redux: Impressions of the United States After Thirty-Five Years Abroad


A memoir of my culture shock after living for many years overseas. Here’s the back cover copy:

 In 1976 John Walters left the United States in search of adventure and literary inspiration. He lived for many years in India, Bangladesh, Italy, and Greece. He married and had five sons. Finally, faced with the economic catastrophe in Greece and the lack of opportunities for his sons, he returned to the land of his birth. Without home, without job, without resources, he confronted his own country as if for the first time.

 This is a memoir of someone who, late in life, was forced to leave everything behind and start fresh in what for him had become a new land. It will appeal to those who are confronted with major life changes in these troubled economic times; to those who, though they may desire rest and retirement, must continue toiling to make ends meet; for those who desire insight into the vast, multifaceted culture of the United States from a fresh perspective, unencumbered by familiarity.

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Book Review: The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling by Charles Johnson

I came across this book while browsing a shelf of materials about the Pacific Northwest or by Pacific Northwest writers and filmmakers. I’m almost always up for interesting books on writing, although I had not heard of Charles Johnson. It turns out he’s an important African-American writer. He won the National Book Award in 1990 for his novel Middle Passage, and for over thirty years he taught creative writing at the University of Washington.

The Way of the Writer is an informal book. It’s divided into short sections that read as if they are assembled blog posts. In fact, as I read, I sometimes thought of another collection of essays I read recently, No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin, which is in fact a series of accumulated blogs.

Johnson’s book is not a how-to for writers. Although there is practical advice scattered throughout, most of it takes the form of a memoir as he briefly touches on the many types of creative work he has done during his decades-long career, including novels, short stories, essays, scripts, and cartoons. He also describes his life as a teacher and some of his teaching techniques.

Most of the book is in the very conversational tone of an experienced, acclaimed writer reminiscing about a long and successful career. Every writer’s journey is different, and Johnson’s is fascinating. He began as a professional cartoonist for various newspapers and magazines and from there got into journalism and novel writing. He alludes numerous times to his mentor John Gardner, who was one of his first writing teachers and helped him achieve his first sales and his agent. Another topic he comes back to over and over is the value of rewriting, of going through multiple drafts before considering a literary work finished. I know from having read many book and articles on writing that this is a controversial topic, but Johnson falls definitively into the rewrite camp. As an example, he mentions throwing away 3,000 imperfect pages while composing the 250-page Middle Passage.

In the last few chapters, Johnson delves into subjects such as Buddhism, existentialism, and other philosophical topics which are not directly on the subject of writing, except to the extent that the philosophies of writers shape their individual works. This part of the book is not as easy a read as the rest, partly because it veers away from the general discussion of the writing life, and also because it touches on philosophical arguments that require more space to elucidate than is given within the context of this book. I suppose another reason that I felt my attention wandering is that I have little interest in existentialism as expounded by writers such as Sartre, as my own worldview differs so radically from theirs. All in all, though, I found this book a pleasant journey into the life and thoughts of an important writer that I am glad to have discovered.

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