Blot Lit Reviews: Tin House Book’s The World Split Open
Every aspiring writer, at some point in his or her journey, looks for guidance from those before them who have tamed their words. I remember picking up books by Stephen King and Janet Evanovich to find the secrets to the art of writing. These guys had sold millions and were loved by millions more. Surely they could help me figure out the ins-and-outs of my chosen career, right?
It is a shame that I did not have the knowledge shared in The World Split Open: Great Authors on How and Why We Write, a Tin House Books publication with an introduction by Jon Raymond. The book features 10 essays by 10 literary greats–such as Margaret Atwood, E.L. Doctorow, Edward P Jones, and Wallace Stegner–who do more than tell their autobiographical journey into writing. These essays and the writers who wrote them lend the aspiring writer a glimpse into the art from the perspective of a person who has been there, done that, and blazed their own trail.
This is not a how-to book on writing and publishing, but neither is it a jagged trip into the literary scholar’s writing world. It is not for “expert eyes only.” No, The World Split Open is a valuable collection of experience, musings, and reflection on all the things that a writer in the rough needs to know in order to begin/continue his journey.
As a young writer, I really, REALLY, wanted to know how the hell the pros found such great ideas. But, I did not want to hear the same rote answer given by every writer at every conference I had ever attended. In “Finding the Known World,” Edward P. Jones talks about the decade-long creation of his first great work, The Known World. He talks about research, leaving an idea behind to mature, working, and writing until the right story begins to form. In “Where do You Get Your Ideas From?” science fiction and fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin talks about how invention, imagination, words, memory, experience, and the rhythms of humanity all come together to give birth to a story.
Wanting to know just how to frame abstractions such as beauty, artistry, femininity, politics, and other human states in a story? Read Jeanette Winterson’s “What is Art For?,” Atwood’s “Spotty-Handed Villainesses: Problems of Female Bad Behavior in Creation of Literature,” and “305 Marguerite Cartwright Avenue” by Chimamanda Adiche, author of Purple Hibiscus. Within these essays lie the real answers and experience that a budding author is searching for.
The World Split Open is also a great novel for writers who are well into their craft, but still interested in knowing how others approach the process, in gathering some additional insight on craft, and in reading some advice from admired writers. The Tin House selection is well worth the read, even if you take it essay by essay. A few of the essays may even be great reads for the composition classroom. It is a collection that readers will find useful in a field where too many are speaking, but no one is offering the truth about the writing craft.