Touchstone Books

“This is a short book because most books about writing are filled with bullshit.  Fiction writers, present company included, don’t understand very much about what they do – not why it works when it’s good, not why it doesn’t when it’s bad.  I figured the shorter the book, the less the bullshit.” Stephen King – On Writing

 Stephen King’s book on writing is one of my favourites.  “Favourite” implies I’ve read loads of books on writing, and I haven’t really – I’ve read much more about reading, and readers, although it’s very much a side-of-the-coin distinction.   Regardless, even though Stephen King’s books aren’t always on the top of to-read list (I love his style, but I’m squeamish), On Writing is a wonderful exploration of writing as craft, a thing you do, not a distant and mysterious planet.

My other favourite (again, from my actually fairly short list) is Susan Cooper’s Dreams and Wishes, which is a selection of her essays on the subject of writing for children.  Her acceptance speech for the Newbery Medal in 1976 is about how writers of fantasy “see around corners”:

“The material of fantasy is myth, legend, folktale; the mystery of dream, and the greater mystery of Time.  With all that haunting our minds, it isn’t surprising that we write stories about an ordinary world in which extra-ordinary things happen.”

In the same speech, she says something about children I’ve always taken to heart:

“They aren’t a different species.  They’re us, a little while ago. It’s just that they are still able to accept mystery.”

My touchstone for amazing writing for children has always, and will always be, her Dark is Rising sequence.  They mesmerized me as a kid, and shaped the way my imagination grew.

 Other books I love, about children’s literature, fantasy, and storytelling:

Only Connect: Readings on Children’s Literature: The first book of essays I ever read where I discovered there were people took children’s literature very seriously indeed.

Suddenly they Heard Footsteps: Storytelling for the Twenty-First Century: Dan Yashinsky is a Toronto storyteller who is not only awesome at what he does but has really interesting things to say about the art of storytelling.

The Wand in the Word: Conversations with Writers of Fantasy: Most of the writers are writers of children’s fantasy, and they are an awesome group – Nancy Farmer, Madeline L’Engle, Garth Nix, Terry Pratchett, Tamora Pierce, Philip Pullman…

The Dreamer Awakes: Alice Kane was a children’s librarian of the Old School, a teller of myths and legends whose storytelling voice was luminous and literary.

Reading Matters – What the Research Reveals about Reading, Libraries, and Community: Science (well, social science) about reading!  This book was one of the best things I came out of library school with.

Innocence and Experience: Essay and Conversations on Children’s Literature: More along the lines of Only Connect.

I agree with King that writers don’t always understand very much about what they do – and what we do know tends to be personal rather than universal – but for me there’s no writing unless there’s reading, and listening, and learning.  More practically, there’s also no writing unless there are goals and discipline and doing, which reading the thoughts of writers on their craft reminds me of.

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