Aug
2009

Book Review: Take Joy, A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft

I borrowed Jane Yolen’s Take Joy, A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft from the local library and it sat on my coffee table for nearly three weeks. I never really thought about it, but took comfort in the “take joy” part of the title. Yes, I have been taking joy in my writing process. But some days, it’s a struggle.

I found myself in one of those struggle-places yesterday, so I thought I would crack open the book and partake in Yolen’s advice.

Much to my chagrin, I didn’t make it past page 51. I wasn’t feeling the joy.

There are pieces of really good advice: a quote from Louis Pasteur (“Chance favors the mind that is prepared”), listings of publications to read in order to keep a finger on the pulse of publishing (Publisher’s Lunch was new to me), and open and honest advice about the business of publishing (“trust me, it’s just business”).

But for all of these good points, I found Yolen’s book full of snide comments and through-the-back-door critiques which didn’t offer “joy” to me as a hopeful author.

Some examples:

Kalliope

In a discussion about Kalliope and how stories can bring joy or “hurt your ears,” Yolen offers harsh critiques of Love You Forever, The Giving Tree, Hannibal, Ludlum thrillers, psychological self-help books, New Age (which she references as “woo woo” or “newage to rhyme with sewage”), and romance novels.

Don’t get me wrong, but her points about the first two books gave me pause to rethink how I look at children’s books and the messages that they offer (a feminist critique). And I was in perfect agreement with her about her critique of Hannibal (unbelievable ending).

But is the proper venue in a book that offers writers the promise of finding joy in their writing?

Metaphors

On page 51, Yolen offers a story about a letter she received from a child who read her book Owl Moon. In this section of the book, she is discussing the use of metaphors in stories.

“Of course, I once got a letter from a child who wrote, “I love the meddlefurs [metaphors] in Owl Moon.” … I think the meddler in this case was the teacher. Besides, Owl Moon mostly has similes, not metaphors. We must be ever pedagogically correct.”

In an otherwise lovely discussion about metaphors, the use of metaphors, and examples of metaphors, Yolen has to throw in this snide comment, which only detracts from the point she is making about metaphors.

Facile

So, I lied a little bit above. I ended up glancing through the book in case I could find something that could entice me to read more of the book. What did I find? More snide comments and opinions:

On pages 71 – 72, in a section entitled Be Care of Being Facile, Yolen offers a best-advice comment from an editor “do not be beguiled by your own facility.” Nice advice – in an appropriate place and to the appropriate person, in my opinion.

Yolen then gives examples of writers who are facile (including herself in a final exam example). She calls the concept “party tricks.” She lists two very popular authors, Barbara Cartland and R.L. Stine (the Goosebump series) and notes “interchangeable sets of ciphers acting out a plot-by-the-numbers. Party tricks.” I think her point could have been made without stabbing at other authors.

In each of these examples of my displeasure, I do agree that there are appropriate places for these comments and critiques.

But not in a book that promises us that it will help us “take joy” and offer us a “guide to loving the craft.”

This is the kind of book that I would have purchased (used, most likely) based upon the title. But I am glad that I didn’t. It didn’t offer me what it promised. Instead, I’d like to offer a different title for your consideration: “Taking the Joy Out Of Writing”.

I was very disappointed.