Book Review

Book Review: Writing Talk: Conversations with Top Writers of the Last Fifty Years, by Alex Hamilton

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One can choose to read a book of conversations about writing for many reasons. It can help a reader delve into the minds of those who create the literary food they live on; it can help a writer glean useful insights. As both an avid reader and long-time writer, I picked up this title for both of these reasons.

There is such a thing as too much advice that stifles and suffocates. But there is also advice that can inspire and encourage one to arise. On the continuum of effectiveness, plain old advice giving is stifling. Conversations, however, tend to be on the more effective end of said continuum.

Some conversations are easier to understand than others; but usually, when enough time is given to ponder on a conversation, fruits always emerge. This book was filled with conversations, most of which I found difficult to work my way through. However, I quickly came to realise that it was due to my limitations as a reader, and this proved to be a stimulating challenge.

I have to confess that I did not know many of the writers featured in this collection, nor was aware of many of the events that framed the conversations. This has probably to do with my age, as older individuals I questioned were quite familiar with both. Reading this book quickly turned into a journey of discovery with the help my trusted laptop and the always useful Google. As the book is divided in sections that features numerous parts, it almost felt like eating small bites of really rich cake. Each part was quickly read, but took some time to fully understand.

While knowing more about the author and the context within which each conversation was held, even the first read proved quite useful. I came to realise that because I didn’t know most of the authors, their words had more of an effect on me as a writer. Perhaps this is because I chose to believe that they were writers of distinction and so, took their interviews as words coming from people who know what they are talking about. I also came to understand that not knowing initially who these authors were kept the veil of celebrity from hampering my understanding of what they were saying. In other words, because I trusted that they were great writers without knowing what they have written, I seem to have connected more with the meaning of what they were saying. In contrast, when I read interviews of authors whose works I have read (and reread), their words come to me through the lens of their books.

The introduction, however well written and interesting, I found hard to read, even on my second go. On the one hand I can understand why Alex Hamilton shared his story to frame the conversations in this book with. But I felt at times that he had forgotten the reason why the introduction was bring written and was just talking about himself for the sake of doing so.

Writing Talk is a good book both for those who know the writers it features and the era they wrote in, and those willing to spend some time digesting each story and doing a bit of research to understand the context and to get to know the authors.

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