Opens with a long-ish poem that seems to be in reaction to current events. Followed by a short story that evokes pretty nostalgia and a few dozen shorter poems that were written earlier. A little all over the place as a collection, but plenty of good material. Vivid imagery and some rather surreal tangents.
[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]
I read Harari’s two other books (“Sapiens” and “Homo Deus”), and quite liked them, so when this one was available, I couldn’t help but request it. It did turn out to be an interesting read as well, dealing with current problems that we just can’t ignore: global warming, terrorism, the rise of harmful ideologies, etc. It’s definitely not seen through rose-tinted glasses, and it’s a good thing, for it’s time people in general wake up and—to paraphrase one of the many things I tend to agree with here—stop voting with their feet. (Between the USA and Brexit Country, let’s be honest: obviously too many of us don’t use their brains when they vote.)
I especially liked the part about the narratives humans in general tend to construct (nationalism and religions, for instance, being built on such narratives)—possibly because it’s a kind of point of view I’ve been holding myself as well, and because (as usual, it seems), the “narratives of sacrifice” hit regular people the most. Another favourite of mine is the part played by algorithms and “Big Data”, for in itself, I find this kind of evolution both fascinating and scary: in the future, will we really let algorithms decide most aspects of our lives, and isn’t it already happening? (But then, aren’t we also constructs whose functioning is based on biological algorithms anyway? Hmm. So many questions.)
I don’t necessarily agree with everything in this book, and to be fair, there was too much matter to cram everything in one volume, so some of it felt a little hurried and too superficial. I’ll nevertheless recommend it as an introduction to the topics it deals with, because it’s a good eye-opener, and it invites to a lot of introspection, questioning and thinking, which is not a bad thing.
Ursula Le Guin describes Steering the Craft, A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, as “A handbook for storytellers - writers of narrative prose and not for beginners.”
Indeed, it is not a book for beginners as much of what she addresses would be beyond the comprehension of novices. What it does concentrate on are those problems that challenge writers and impede the tone an flow of the narrative.
For example, she asks you to listen to the sound of your writing which involves diction and syntax.
Sophisticated consideration is given to verbs: person and tense, as well as point of view and changing point of view.
Indirection narration or what tells including avoiding expository lumps is discussed in depth.
There’s an excellent chapter entitled Crowding and Leaping which involves the necessity of focusing on some areas while leaping ahead in other parts while still following a fixed trajectory.
Steering the Craft is primarily a workbook with “exercise consciousness-raisers that aim to clarify and intensify your awareness of certain elements of prose writing and certain techniques and modes of storytelling."
These exercises are challenging but illuminating. I particularly benefitted from one called A Terrible Thing to Do that involved writing a narrative of about 500 words and then cutting it by half still keeping the narrative clear and not replacing specifics by generalities.
The book also includes the best advice I’ve read on running peer group writing workshops.
This slim volume has profound insights on writing and presents them with grace, charm an wit. The goal, according to the author, is to help you develop skills that free you to write want you to write.
Or as Le Guin puts it so that you’re “ready to let the story tell itself; having the skills, knowing the craft so that when the magic boat comes by, you can step into it and guide it where it wants to go, where it ought to go.”