Monthly Archives: June 2013

To Show and To Tell

First of all, some sad news. Those of you who have been following this blog for a while will know about Muttboy, our dog. Sadly, his health declined in the last year, and we decided at the end of May that the end had come. Fortunately, he had a good end with what we think and hope was a minimum of suffering. We are missing him greatly, though. Even with a new baby around, the house still feels too quiet. He is greatly missed.

Cormac is doing well. At nearly five months, he now rolls over in both directions, although getting from front to back (which I thought was supposed to be the easier direction) only happens as an accident now and then. What he does now is roll over from back to front, struggle to roll onto his front again, fail, and then fuss until we turn him over ourselves. Then he repeats the whole process.

Cormac Future Reader

As for reading, my reading pace has slowed considerably in the last few months as I’ve gotten back to work. It turns out that it’s work that keeps me from reading as much as I’d like and not the presence of a new baby. Although taking care of a brand new baby was difficult in the early months, it still left me with plenty of time to read — especially in the late night hours waiting for the baby to fall back asleep. I’m very grateful that I no longer spend my night hours that way, and I’m also grateful to be back at work (teaching summer classes at the moment), but now I’m squeezing reading into one or two hours at most in the evening. But that’s okay. Having a baby has confirmed what I already knew about myself: I am in no way whatsoever cut out to be a stay-at-home parent, and I should never, ever, ever attempt it. Thank goodness for Hobgoblin and daycare and working from home.

One of my favorite books from the last couple months is Phillip Lopate’s To Show and To Tell: The Craft of Literary Nonfiction. I really loved this book, and I think it’s essential for anyone who wants to write or who likes to read literary nonfiction. He makes the argument that literary nonfiction doesn’t need to aspire to be like fiction, which is apparently something some people believe; writers in the genre should take full advantage of the opportunities it offers to “tell” as well as to “show,” to deal directly with consciousness and ideas rather than focus solely on the art of storytelling. I agree 100%. I like my literary nonfiction, and even my fiction, to tell me things, as a person talking to me might.

I also admired Lopate’s judicious use of examples to make his points. Sometimes books of this type get a little too detailed with close reading of examples for my taste. I hasten to add that theories of literature stand or fall based on the examples used to back them up and close readings are valuable and important, particularly in books of a more academic nature. But when I read how-to books like Lopate’s, I’m more interested in theories than I am in close readings of particular books, and Lopate gets the balance just right. He also has a wonderful suggested reading list in the back of the book that would keep any nonfiction reader happily busy for a long time.

I’m not entirely sure if Lopate’s taste in nonfiction mirrors my own or if it helped create my own; I discovered literary nonfiction through Lopate’s anthology The Art of the Personal Essay and his introduction to that book is another crucial work of criticism on the genre. I suspect I find myself agreeing vehemently with everything Lopate says in his recent book because I’ve absorbed his aesthetic over the years, whether I’ve been aware of it or not.

At any rate: highly recommended.


Filed under Books