Virginia Woolf and The Free World

A variety of books have been lying about the Red Room Library these past weeks, and here's a short list to begin to make up for my reading-induced silence.

This short and helpful book distills Woolf's wisest words about writing through the imagined setting of Woolf's own writing workshop. What would it be like, Danell Jones asks, if Woolf had taught a writing course? Jones combed through Woolf's diaries, letters, novels to cull quotes and tips about writing from one of the 20th century's most influential writers. Structured around "lectures," each chapter ruminates on a single topic important to fledgling writers. The chapter on reading, entitled "Reading," is the best. I read this in one sitting and will probably read it again in the next week. It's a fascinating little book and provides a unique shortcut to the chaff of information Woolf provided about writing.

This seems to be the year for novels from The New Yorker's 20 under 40 writers. Tea Obreht, Karen Russell and David Bezmozgis were all recognized with this honor and have all published novels in 2011. Though Bezmozgis presents The Free World as a novel, it is really (a very, very long) short story. The novel analyzes the no-man's land of life in exile for a family of Russian Jews. Bezmozgis is a master of fine language and character creation, but the necessary elements of a novel - plot development, character development, resolution, etc - remain untouched, making this novel feel like one large inhaled breath...with no relief. What starts out as a promising premise with fresh characters and a unique setting fizzles to a whisper.


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