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Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing
Negotiating With The Dead: A Writer on Writing
by Margaret Atwood
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Author regards this as The Tome for the soul of any writer, 1 Jun 2006
This book was like finding treasure. My own copy is dogeared and underlined; how many times have I read her passage about Brown Owl, the original reader of her young career, as a reminder that it is knowing exactly who your own ideal reader is and none other that directs the inner voice successfully onto the page? I've read many times her examination of the process of digging into the subconscious, the transition where the writer is no longer herself, but someone permitting herself to plunder, commit larceny, explore the truth all around. She reminds us of Keats' advice to ensure our books have the "negative capability" for the reader to enter, she explores the strange duality of the writer, (wherein no reader ever meets on the page the terrestrial who walks the dog or eats bran for regularity, but instead encounters a shadowy personage who occupies the same body but "commits" the writing.) She is brutally honest about the purloining, cannibalizing, reclamation and social responsibilities all encountered by any writer tackling her story with serious intent, although Atwood is hardly to be held responsible when some of us falter. And it helps that this book started as a series of lectures sponsored by the Cambridge University Press, which means that Atwood is not only engaging, but also entertaining. The asides and humorous quips alone are worth the read. She generously quotes from many authors of all genres, Elmore Leonard to Borges to Voltaire, and reminds us, citing Alice Munro's story, "Who Do You Think You Are?" that no writer started out a published writer or an acknowledged writer, but that any writer has a journey to travel to the place where stories are hidden away and mined to the surface, and that this strange exhumation without a guide is one of the things that makes the writer special.
I would strongly recommend this book for that narrow shelf of trusted tomes that are opened at moments of frustration and disappointment, a rare companion bringing wisdom and patience and needed humour. Better than a dozen books with titles like "How to Plot" or "How to Get a Literary Agent."
Dinah Lee Küng "A Visit From Voltaire" "Under Their Skin"
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 25, 2010 6:55 PM BST


Flaubert's Parrot (Picador thirty)
Flaubert's Parrot (Picador thirty)
by Julian Barnes
Edition: Paperback

3 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Voltaire author intrigued and impressed, 21 Nov 2003
Having written a comic novel in which I resuscitate Voltaire to see how he'd like Switzerland in the 21st century, ("A Visit from Voltaire") I can't resist reading books that play with form to retrieve writers of the past, even to the extent that the authors deconstruct or reconfigure the admired writer in personal terms, e.g. Alain de Botton's "Why We Read Proust," as well as this one. In the Proust book, de Botton presents the relevance of Proust's experiences both real and literary in straightforward essays, (almost classroom lectures,) while Barnes' approach is more oblique, original, and playful. He flits from style to style, voice to voice, ranging from the three variations on a curriculuum vitae for Flaubert to a literature exam. But he takes the conceit one step further in unveiling Flaubert's life through the eye of a narrator, a doctor whose wife has died. I was curious about Flaubert, and enjoyed learning as much as I did from Barnes, but in the end, found the doctor's narrative sometimes bloodless. I don't think this device has worn well with time; Barnes himself seems undecided as to whether the doctor's quest is his front story or back story or just a leitmotif on adultery and suicide. That said, I'll probably be reading it a second time for its literary commentary and sheer affection for the subject matter.
Dinah Lee Küng, author, "A Visit from Voltaire" "Under Their Skin"


How Proust Can Change Your Life
How Proust Can Change Your Life
by Alain de Botton
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

19 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars bringing the dead to life to teach us more...., 4 Jun 2003
I only learned of this book after I had started the second draft of my comic novel, "A Visit from Voltaire," but was fascinated to see the same idea--of learning lessons in life from the Greats of the past--brought to the page in a completely different and much more academic way. The author can sometimes verge on the professorial in tone, and theoretical in his approach, but this makes the outline and message of his book very readable. I always enjoy de Botton, especially his perceptions on the vagaries of love. Buy The Romantic Movement for a more intimate version of this interesting mind.
Dinah Lee Küng, "A Visit From Voltaire," "Under Their Skin"


Voltaire in Love
Voltaire in Love
by Nancy Mitford
Edition: Paperback

7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great source for my comic novel, "A Visit From Voltaire", 4 Jun 2003
This review is from: Voltaire in Love (Paperback)
Although I found one or two factual mistakes with Mitford's research, on the whole this is a great peek into Voltaire's bedroom, and a wonderful introduction into the private pressures on his middle years--the political exile, the hunger for success, the volatile relationship with Emilie, whom many of his peers thought was a waste of his time and talents. (Not the least of her critics and rivals was Frederick the Great/) There is no doubt that their genuine love and early sexual passion was one of the most egalitarian partnerships in an age when that wasn't typical and in the end, you have to hand it to the woman who was willing to traipse off into the iron-forging nowhere just to be with his Mercurial Self. I was very inspired by Mitford's vision of their partnership, although over the years my research moved on, in the end, I tried to capture a Voltaire very similar to her own in my novel. Readers should deepen their acquaintance with him via The Portable Voltaire, Candide and the Durant's Vol 9 and 10 of the History of Civilization.
Dinah Lee Küng
author "A Visit from Voltaire"


Oxford World's Classics: Candide and Other Stories
Oxford World's Classics: Candide and Other Stories
by Voltaire
Edition: Paperback

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars source for my comic novel, "A Visit From Voltaire", 4 Jun 2003
Of course, this is the One that everybody will have read if they've read Voltaire. But ever notice how hard it is for people to tell you what Candide was really about? What was Voltaire the Philosopher's "philosophy?" Something about "Cultivating your garden?" They'll recall the old woman who donated part of her derriere to cannibals, or Cunegonde's passage as a high-class courtesan but.." After three years of research, I realized that these disjointed episodes acquired so much more meaning if read against the political and religious context of the day. Voltaire was, after all, satirizing particular people and popular reactions to events--wars, natural disasters, the Church misjudgements of his time, etc. Knowing a little about Voltaire's "issues" helped some of the two-dimensional characters lift off--some of them are satires of critics and enemy essayists that drew his ever-ready venom, others betray references to the royal behavior he himself often kowtowed to, (he was a bit of a kiss-ass where monarchy was concerned!) I'd recommend people also check out the Portable Voltaire, "Voltaire in Love," and the recent "Voltaire in Exile" if they're doing background reading, and Vol. Nine of Will and Ariel Durant's History of Civilization--The Age of Voltaire-- if they're an addict like me with Vol. Ten, The Age of Rousseau to extend the tour. Also see my list posted on amazon, "Voltaire and His Friends." They might even end up "living with the ghost of Voltaire" as I did and writing a comedy of their own...Like the kings sent adrift in Voltaire's satirical boat, Bon Voyage!
Dinah Lee Küng, "A Visit From Voltaire", "Under Their Skin"


The Portable Voltaire (The Viking portable library)
The Portable Voltaire (The Viking portable library)
by Voltaire
Edition: Paperback
Price: 11.93

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great source for my comic novel,, 4 Jun 2003
Voltaire has something to teach us all on practically every subject I could think of in my literary comedy, "A Visit From Voltaire," (amazon.co.uk) and this book was one of the most basic texts I could find in English. It's helpful to have already read a biography of Voltaire, or even a light-hearted romp through his middle-aged passion for the Marquise du Chatelet in "Voltaire in Love," in order to put all these riches of Voltaire's thoughts and writings into some kind of political context. A delightfully condensed resource with a reliable sense of translation.
Also the introduction by Ben Ray Redman is a great quick summary of Voltaire's life and legacy. For the real addicts, move on to Vol. 9 of the Durants' History of Civilization, The Age of Voltaire, and of course, don't overlook Candide.
But then I love the guy.
Dinah Lee Küng "A Visit From Voltaire", "Under Their Skin"


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