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review 2017-05-05 14:57
"The Situation and the Story," by Vivian Gornick
The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative - Vivian Gornick

Vivian Gornick's book on the art of essay writing was bound to get good marks from me, if only for its extensive drawing of examples from famous books and essays.


Criticism — as compared to reviews — is a singularly rewarding experience, especially in the hands of a good writer such as Gornick. It can open your eyes to a new way of seeing a piece you have already read or turn you on to writers you have never experienced. In the course of this book I was turned on to Seymour Krim, I reopened an essay by Joan Didion, and I've hunted down a PDF of Edward Hoagland's "The Courage of Turtles." 


The point is theoretically to help in the writing of essays, but I was delighted to discover that what drew me in was perhaps the point all along. Gornick does not reveal until the conclusion her suspicion of studying "craft" (as it were) and the idea that one can teach writing at all. It's not how to write but how to read, critically and with an eye toward story, that drives The Situation and the Story. Gornick is asking the reader to dig deeper, discover what it is about Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" that makes it compelling.


"Who is speaking, what is being said and what is the relation between the two," is a repeated admonition as you read into a story. Orwell going out and shooting an elephant could be an act of bravado, it could be an act of cruelty, but  in the way he writes it is an exploration of colonialism. What it means to represent a ruling nation among a people who aren't keen to have you there, and especially when you're not too keen on the idea either. What does that position do to someone? This comes through in his voice, in the way he describes "the situation" as much as in the actions he takes. Asking these questions will make such readings more enjoyable and meaningful, but should also inform your own work.


The crux of this lies in a story about one of who students writing an essay about her grandfather — a man she has never met. The story isn't quite working until someone realizes that her learning about her grandfather is the situation, it provides a structure for the story, the actions on which the writer can hang meaning. The story, the meaning itself, is actually about the girl connecting with the grandmother. From there the essay starts to come together in a more satisfying way. 


I am not convinced with all of Gornick's stances, her belief in the inborn gift of writing skill is maybe just said wrong or maybe it is magical thinking. And the way her distaste for post-modernism is slipped in does not serve any end except to let you know she is not a fan. But if you are interested in personal writing, either to write or read, this is a good place to start.

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text 2015-07-08 16:09
Currently reading

I thought it was about time to show you what I'm currently reading. At the moment I'm reading 3 books: one in a series, one with many essays and one book that has 800 pages:

So these are the books I'm currently reading:

- City of Ashes (The Mortal Instruments #2) by Cassandra Clare: I'm loving this book so far! I'm at page 261 out of 411 and there are so many creatures oh my! And I was shocked with what happened with Simon (I can't see too much because of spoilers).


- Essays by George Orwell: this bindup has all of his essays, so I'm trying to read one each day. There are 41 essays and so far I've read: Why I Write, The Spike, A Hanging, Shooting an Elephant and Bookshop Memories. I highly recommend Whi I Write, Shooting an Elephant and Bookshop Memories so far!


- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy: I think I'm at page 200 out of 800 so far, but I stopped because I wanted to read something else at that moment. When I'm done with City of Ashes I think I'm going to continue this one! I'm really liking it so far, but it's a bit confusing at some points..


I'm almost done with City of Ashes, but I'm not going to do a review of that one (I do that with all the series) but I'll mention my thoughts in my monthly wrap-ups and I will do a full review of the entire series when I'm done with reading it. 


What are you currently reading?

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review 2013-12-07 10:24
Shooting an Elephant
Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays - George Orwell


Why has it taken me so long to discover George Orwell's non-fiction? Ever since reading "1984" when I was a teenager I've known Orwell was an excellent writer, but I didn't know just how extensive a range he had. Fiction, journalism, literary criticism, political and social commentary, memoir; there appears to be nothing Orwell couldn't turn his hand to. This volume includes a range of Orwell's essays from the 1930s and 1940s, with subjects including Orwell's time as a policeman in Burma, the years he spent in the prep school he loathed, the writing of Charles Dickens, "Gullivers Travels", the French hospital system, poverty in England, the cost of books and political language. While I found some of the essays of more inherent interest than others, all of them are engaging, written in wonderfully clear prose and imbued with Orwell's honesty, his passion for social justice and his capacity for at times painful self-reflection. This is great stuff. How glad I am that Orwell was so prolific and that there's a lot more of his writing for me to read.

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review 2013-05-05 00:00
Shooting an Elephant and Other Essays - George Orwell This was my introduction to George Orwell's non-fiction. Supposedly during his lifetime, Orwell was known foremost as an essayist; this was quite surprising to me as it was only a couple of years ago that I'd ever even heard mention of Orwell writing non-fiction.

This collection of essays really impressed me.Firstly, the subject matter was very varied, discussing Orwell's observations during his time in Burma, his stay in a French hospital (very horrific), and also his views on books, literary figures and so on.I think his observations about society are still very much valid, and I thoroughly enjoyed his thoughts, his dry wit. Very informative.

My favourite essays were "Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool,' "Politics and the English Language," and "Politics and Literature." "Politics and Language" in particular was quite enlightening and offered some advice on good writing habits: "If you use ready-made phrases, you not only don't have to hunt about for words; you also don't have to bother with the rhythm of your sentences since these phrases are generally so arranged as to be more or less euphorious."

And for proof that politics hasn't changed much over the years, "Politics and English Language" has the following words : "Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness."

Highly recommended.
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