Saturday, July 19, 2008

What It Is

Lynda Barry
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Writing is an interesting endeavor. It can be very frustrating and difficult one minute and absolutely delightful and exciting the next. I find when I'm writing a novel sometimes I'm able to write non-stop for hours at a time on the first go-round, but when it comes to small things like writing a review for this blog, I can get stuck and it can take me hours to produce ten sentences about something. It's a mystery of hows and whys and whens. And the writing process itself is what Lynda Barry explores in her latest offering What It Is.
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I found What It Is a very inspiring read. Within, Barry examines what makes good writing, what we mean by phrases such as "it came to me," (and just what those words imply), and dissecting terms like "image" and "pretending" and "realization," offering extremely insightful commentary as she ponders over them.
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This book is partially autobiographical, as Barry offers scenes from her childhood and growing up that involve writing and the creative process, even delving into her own personal battles with writers' block and criticism. And then there are dense collage pages full of images and questions that a reader could spend an hour getting lost in, wondering over what they see. Roughly the final third of the book is instructional for how someone can begin writing with some stimulating exercises and advice that has worked for her (presented by the many-eyed Sea-ma).
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While this was a time-consuming book that I found myself wading through at an excruciatingly slow pace to absorb everything to the best of my ability, I found it more rewarding than perhaps anything I've read all year. It had me questioning art and what it takes to create it, and how I personally view aspects of the process as a writer. It's funny how easily Barry can summon childhood memories within me from her own experiences and observations, but even funnier is how she states things that I'd never thought about that are at once profound and completely obvious. In the comic subgenre of "how to create" books, Barry really produces an interesting spin with an offering full of herself: creative, inspiring, thoughtful and evocative. A work of true genius.

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