LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE by Laura Esquivel | Review

“The number one bestseller in Mexico and America for almost two years, and subsequently a bestseller around the world, “Like Water For Chocolate” is a romantic, poignant tale, touched with moments of magic, graphic earthiness, bittersweet wit – and recipes.

A sumptuous feast of a novel, it relates the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and he is seduced by the magical food she cooks. In desperation, Pedro marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close to her. For the next twenty-two years, Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all the odds.” {Goodreads}

I had never heard of Like Water for Chocolate until my boss recently recommended it to me after I told her the vague plan for my honors thesis. “There’s a film,” she explained to me, “but knowing you, you’re probably more interested in the book.” As per usual, she was correct.

At first I was taken aback by the outrageous drama of this novel. There are points in the plot when the events are so ridiculously unbelievable and the relationships between characters (especially romantic ones!) are so intense that I couldn’t help but laugh out loud at times. This unrealistic sense is exacerbated by the fact that there are some supernatural elements threaded throughout the story: for instance, Tita can unconsciously make people feel her emotions through what she cooks or bakes, such as when she cries into a dish and everyone who eats it feels deep sorrow. In this way, Like Water for Chocolate almost reads like a fairy tale.

However, these rather unbelievable moments are intertwined amongst a careful balance of realistic, understandable, relatable human emotions. The reader can empathize with Tita’s feeling of betrayal by Pedro, the injustice of Mama Elena’s enforced tradition, the freedom Gertrude embraces as she flees the home, the overwhelming emotions following childbirth, etc. These human emotions are what ground the novel in an innate foundation of truth, the pulse that keeps the reader glued to every page. While a reader may not be able to relate to the wild events of the plot, they can certainly see themselves in at least one of the emotions that fill Tita’s heart over the course of the book.

One of the most fun things about this novel is how it revolves around food. From the structure of the book itself with monthly recipes to the emphasis on cooking and baking in Tita’s life, Like Water for Chocolate is overflowing with references and imagery to work (and play!) in the kitchen. Not only does this emphasis give the reader a sense of the culture of the family, but it also helps conjure a distinct image of the setting in the reader’s mind. One can easily picture a bustling, crowded kitchen that exudes the most tantalizing smells right before dinner is served. These are the kinds of scenes that made me understand why this novel has the potential to be turned into an excellent film.

Overall, I enjoyed Like Water for Chocolate for the wild, unpredictable, tumultuous rollercoaster on which it brings its reader. This is a beautiful, moving, heart-wrenching novel that won’t easily be forgotten.

What are your thoughts on Like Water for Chocolate? Have you seen the film? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

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TELL ME HOW IT ENDS by Valeria Luiselli | Review

“Structured around the forty questions Luiselli translates and asks undocumented Latin-American children facing deportation, Tell Me How It Ends (an expansion of her 2016 Freeman’s essay of the same name) humanizes these young migrants and highlights the contradiction of the idea of America as a fiction for immigrants with the reality of racism and fear both here and back home.” {Goodreads}

I stumbled upon Valeria Luiselli’s Tell Me How It Ends in my local bookshop recently and was intrigued by the title. Tell her how what ends? What forty questions were being asked? When I discovered that this book was an extended essay about Luiselli’s time translating the responses of immigrant children, I immediately knew that I would have to bring a copy home with me. I read the entire text the next night before bed, completely enthralled by her experiences working with these children.

Anyone who pays any sort of attention to the news has likely gleaned that immigration has become not only a U.S.-Mexico issue, but a global matter. In this time of explosive, often polarizing politics, it’s refreshing to read a text about immigration that draws on more than solely party lines in order to convey its argument. Although Luiselli does get quite political at times, she does so when it is relevant and necessary to her narrative.

A major strength of this text is that its structure reflects the nature of its subject matter. The immigration issue is both deeply personal and entrenched in formal legal problems. Part of what makes it such a controversial topic is that it’s extremely difficult to separate one aspect from the other. Likewise, Luiselli’s essay weaves her own personal experiences translating children’s stories with information about methods of crossing the border, the social, economic, and political problems of various countries from which these children immigrate, etc. One page she’ll be recounting a story that still haunts her to this day, and the next she’ll be rattling off statistics and quotes and facts that further reinforce the need for books like Luiselli’s in the first place. This intertwining of personal experiences, emotional stories from children, and straight factual information makes Tell Me How It Ends a powerful, moving piece of writing that has the potential to open readers’ eyes about a side to the immigration issue that they may never have thought about before.

Overall, Tell Me How It Ends lived up to all of my expectations. I would highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to learn more about immigration across the U.S.-Mexico border, particularly its impact on children.

What are your thoughts on Tell Me How It Ends? Have any recommendations on similar books to read? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

LINCOLN IN THE BARDO by George Saunders | Review

In the span of just a few days, George Saunders’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel Lincoln in the Bardo was recommended to me by three different friends, all of whom have very distinct reading tastes. Knowing a worthy book recommendation when I see one, I immediately knew that this novel had to go straight to the top of my reading list for the summer. It’s difficult to explain what this book is about, so I’ve included the Goodreads synopsis for clarification:

February 1862. The Civil War is less than one year old. The fighting has begun in earnest, and the nation has begun to realize it is in for a long, bloody struggle. Meanwhile, President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son, Willie, lies upstairs in the White House, gravely ill. In a matter of days, despite predictions of a recovery, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. “My poor boy, he was too good for this earth,” the president says at the time. “God has called him home.” Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

From that seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of its realistic, historical framework into a thrilling, supernatural realm both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself in a strange purgatory, where ghosts mingle, gripe, commiserate, quarrel, and enact bizarre acts of penance. Within this transitional state—called, in the Tibetan tradition, the bardo—a monumental struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this is one of the strangest novels I have ever read. Even calling it a novel feels a bit odd–it’s almost more like some sort of textual collage, a conglomeration of quotes that somehow comes together to form a whole. Though Lincoln in the Bardo may be bizarre, it’s also brilliant. In the spirit of Saunders’s mosaic of a novel, here’s a list of reasons why I loved it:

  • It’s unique–I have truly never read anything like it.
  • The blend of historical quotes and fictional pieces that Saunders writes to look like actual quotes from real people. This fiction/fact mix mirrors the more fantastical elements of the story itself.
  • Plays with the stereotypical image that many of us have of Abraham Lincoln by revealing a plethora of possible sides to his personality.
  • Fast-paced due to the constant changing perspectives and the wide variety of voices. Never feels like the story is dragging or moving too slowly.
  • Beautiful, lyrical writing. All of the characters have really distinct voices and Saunders’s writing style clearly portrays their different personalities and backgrounds.
  • So. Many. Emotions. You can’t help but feel for poor Lincoln, Willie, and all of the souls wondering where they went wrong in life.
  • Not a conventional “ghost” story, not a conventional historical fiction novel, not a conventional novel– I love how this book breaks all necessity to adhere to any sort of convention at all.

I could go on and on, but I’ll stop my list there for now. Needless to say, I highly recommend Lincoln in the Bardo no matter what genre of books you tend to read. And thanks to all those who recommended it to me–you were so, so right!

What are your thoughts on Lincoln in the Bardo? Would you recommend any of Saunders’ other work? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

Top Ten Tuesday: Best 10 of 2018 {So Far}

Happy Tuesday!! Can you believe that we’re already over half way through 2018 already?! This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl) asks us to share the best 10 books we’ve read so far in 2018. I’ve already read far more than I expected to this year–mostly due to my sprawling required reading lists at Oxford–so I have plenty of books to choose from. Picking only ten won’t be easy!

Here’s to another six months of lovely reading days and great books! ❤

What are the best books you’ve read so far this year? What do you think of the ones I’ve mentioned? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

GRIMM TALES: FOR YOUNG AND OLD by Philip Pullman | Review

To be honest, my only real interaction with fairy tales prior to reading Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales: For Young and Old was from watching Disney movies and reading a plethora of retellings over the years. For some reason I never actually made a point to read the Grimms’ tales themselves, or even anything remotely similar. It wasn’t until I happened upon this book in a store in the Edinburgh airport that I decided it was maybe finally time to read them–and in what better form than a book by Philip Pullman, writer of The Golden Compass? 

What I really appreciate about this collection of stories is that they are told with that classic fairy tale charm that Pullman does so well. They’re not retold in a modern setting or given a creative twist; rather, they’re simply retold based on a conglomeration of Pullman’s research on the origins of each tale. While I immensely enjoyed reading the stories, my favorite aspect of this collection was actually the section after each story where Pullman explains a bit of its history. He also shares his thought process behind any editorial decisions he may have made. Did he favor one storyteller’s version of the ending over another’s? Was there a character that he gave a greater or lesser role to? What does he see as being the main function of the story? I loved gaining these little insights into how Pullman retold these stories. His authorial voice acts as the common thread tying this amalgamation of stories together.

I read this book in various airports and flights, which ended up being the perfect setting. I would highly recommend Grimm Tales as a great book to take traveling because a) the stories are captivating and entertaining, b) they’re concise, which is ideal for reading in short bursts in distracting places, and c) the stories don’t relate to each other, so you can easily put this book down and pick it up again later without having to worry about remembering where you left off. There’s also something really comforting about reading these familiar stories, which is a bonus if you’re like me and get nervous or stressed while traveling.

It was also really interesting to read fairy tales I thought I was familiar with from Disney movies or other retellings. How different the actual versions are from what we’re shown as kids! I loved the dark, rather sinister, clever twists incorporated in the earlier versions. Among my favorites were Rapunzel, Cinderella, and Rumpelstiltskin. I wish someone would make movies based on the original versions of the stories rather than the romanticized ones we’re shown when we’re young. They would be so interesting to watch!

Overall, I’m so glad that I randomly stumbled upon this book in the Edinburgh airport. Not only was it the perfect book to take traveling, but it also reminded me how much I enjoy reading short story collections and Philip Pullman’s writing in general. If you’re looking for a book to take with you on your summer adventures, then look no further than Grimm Tales! 

What are your thoughts on Grimm Tales? Do you have a favorite fairy tale? What do you like to read when you’re traveling? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

CALL ME BY YOUR NAME by André Aciman | Review

“Andre Aciman’s Call Me by Your Name is the story of a sudden and powerful romance that blossoms between an adolescent boy and a summer guest at his parents’ cliffside mansion on the Italian Riviera. Each is unprepared for the consequences of their attraction, when, during the restless summer weeks, unrelenting currents of obsession, fascination, and desire intensify their passion and test the charged ground between them. Recklessly, the two verge toward the one thing both fear they may never truly find again: total intimacy. It is an instant classic and one of the great love stories of our time.”  {Goodreads}

Call Me By Your Name is certainly one of the most hyped books of the past few months. Thanks to the popularity of the recent movie adaptation of the same name starring Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, there has been an incredible amount of buzz about this novel. While traveling to a handful of European cities over my spring break I visited many bookshops, yet there was  not a single one that did not have a display of this book somewhere on its premises. With the intent of seeing the film directly after reading it (which I still have not done…) I decided to give this highly sought after novel a try.

You know a book is great when it doesn’t pale in the face of exceedingly high expectations. I was afraid the overwhelming amount of hype would result in this book being an unfortunate disappoint, but it was every bit as good as I hoped it would be. A large part of this book’s appeal to me is the beautiful writing style. My favorite kind of writing is simple yet lyrical and brutally honest, and that is precisely the style that Aciman delivers. I also love how the voice of the Elio, the protagonist, is so strong throughout this entire novel. Writing from a first person perspective captures the emotional intensity in falling in love (and lust). What at first appears to be a simple reflection suddenly transforms into a gut-wrenching tug, as in the following quote:

“And on that evening when we grow older still we’ll speak about these two young men as though they were two strangers we met on the train and whom we admire and want to help along. And we’ll want to call it envy, because to call it regret would break our hearts.”

It also helps that the idyllic 1980s Italian setting of this novel is unbelievably captivating, charming, and enthralling. I read Call Me By Your Name in ebook form on my phone while in bed warding off the cold Oxford winter weather; however, the next time I read it (for there most certainly be a next time) I’ll be sure to do so while lounging in the sun in some sort of meadow or by a glimmering body of water. This novel screams SUMMER! with every fiber of its being, making it the perfect book to read in the warm weather.

A bookshop in Amsterdam… goes which book was number one?!

For me, the earnestness and honesty of the protagonist’s narration is what makes this novel work. Without such a likable narrator that can’t help but be empathized with, the bizarre sex scenes and strange musings about sex would feel pointless and out-of-place. However, this novel is as much about growing up and discovering oneself as it is about his burgeoning relationship with Oliver. In this way, Elio’s process of exploring his sexuality is an integral, essential component of such a story.

Speaking of sexuality, I’d be amiss if I didn’t mention the importance of this novel focusing on two men who are bisexual. It’s refreshing to read something beyond the usual heterosexual relationship, although as someone who isn’t bisexual I can’t speak to how effective the representation is in this case. There has been a bit of controversy due to the fact that Aciman is apparently heterosexual and therefore cannot speak to the experience of being a bisexual man. While I do not feel as though I am the right person to judge the validity of this controversy, I will say that I feel as though there is still value in such a relationship being represented in literature at all. 

Overall, I am ecstatic to say that I enjoyed Call Me By Your Name just as much as I hoped that I would, if not more so. This novel is far from your usual romantic story; in fact, I would argue that it’s less about romance than many of its other themes, such as identity, growing up, sexuality, and memory. If you’re in the mood for an emotional, intense, beautiful novel, then look no further!

What are your thoughts on Call Me By Your Name and/or the film adaptation? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

BETWEEN THE ACTS by Virginia Woolf | Review

In Woolf’s final novel, villagers present their annual pageant, made up of scenes from the history of England, at a house in the heart of the country as personal dramas simmer.

Between the Acts is also a striking evocation of English experience in the months leading up to the Second World War. Through dialogue, humour and the passionate musings of the characters, Virginia Woolf explores how a community is formed (and scattered) over time. The tableau, a series of scenes from English history, and the private dramas that go on between the acts are closely interlinked. Through the figure of Miss La Trobe, author of the pageant, Virginia Woolf questions imperialist assumptions and, at the same time, re-creates the elusive role of the artist. {Goodreads}

I think it’s safe to say that Virginia Woolf is most popularly known today for three particular works: Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927)and A Room of One’s Own (1929). These are the works I hoped to branch out from through taking a class solely about Woolf’s writing in modernist contexts this term, simply because I rarely hear any of her other writing being discussed. Among the titles on my reading list is Between the Acts, published posthumously after Woolf’s suicide in 1941. From letters with her editor and husband we have gleaned that she thought this to be perhaps her best work yet, although critics have often disagreed and have found it to be rather lackluster. After all, modern reception speaks for itself: How many people not studying literature today have actually read Between the Acts? Clearly, history has not favored it.

Yet I adore this novel.

A key component to understanding and appreciating the brilliance of Between the Acts is knowing about its context. Although the setting of the novel seems peaceful, it is actually set in 1939 against the backdrop of the start of World War II. A sense of terror, despair, and uncertainty lurks beneath the surface of the seemingly whimsical, humorous play that Mrs. Manresa organizes and gradually comes forth to the center stage as the novel goes on. There is a clear feeling of uneasiness in the audience as their ordinary lives continue on in the intervals of the play–literally between the acts (can I just say how much I love the title?). The juxtaposition between the violent context of the novel and the events of the novel itself could easily be overlooked by a reader without knowledge of the time period but are glaringly obvious and rather unsettling to a reader aware of life in England during Woolf’s time.

As always, Woolf’s writing style significantly contributes to the brilliance of her work. Not only is her writing beautiful, lyrical, and captivating, but she also writes in a way that pulls you in and keeps you reading. Woolf is well-known for her stream of consciousness writing, yet I think the main strength of this novel is her ability to provide snapshots of thoughts and scenes involving numerous different characters. While some characters are followed more closely than others by the narration, she takes care to dip in and out of a variety of minds. This novel is also quite different from her other works in that it suddenly takes on the format of a script partway through and continues to alternate between prose and script going forward. The result is a collage of a novel that feels much like the collage of scenes performed in Mrs. Manresa’s play.

My favorite part of the novel is the ending, both of the novel itself as well as the play performed within it. At the end of the play the audience has their reflections revealed through a display of mirrors, forcing them to look at themselves and see each other for who they really are. Is this Woolf urging England to evaluate and reflect on its own position in the world at the outbreak of yet another world war? As the audience disperses after the play concludes, the characters must decide how they will move forward. The last few lines of the novel tie everything together and make you think about the book in an entirely new light. Are we living our own play? If so, who has written it? Is it already written, or is it yet to be created? Whether or not Woolf intended these questions to be asked, I am grateful that this novel brings them to mind.

Overall, Between the Acts completely exceeded all of my initial expectations and has become–dare I say?– perhaps my favorite Virginia Woolf novel thus far? (I know, I know. It’s a bold statement.) If you’ve read the usual To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway and are looking for more remarkable Woolf writing, I highly recommend adding Between the Acts to the top of your list!

What are your thoughts on Between the Acts? Do you have a favorite novel or text by Virginia Woolf? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

11 Reasons to Read STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time-from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains – this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet. {Goodreads}

Station Eleven popped onto my reading radar in 2014 when it was first published, intriguing me with its blend of post-apocalyptic plot, Shakespearian elements, and gorgeous cover design. Years passed and I never got around to reading it–that is, until recently when one of my friends mentioned that it’s one of her favorite books ever… and she had a copy of it with her in Oxford! How could I say no to this golden opportunity? I’m so glad I finally read Station Eleven, and here are 11 reasons why you should, too:

1. A creative twist on a popular genre. It’s no secret that post-apocalypse fiction and storytelling in both books and movies has become much more popular in the last decade or so. However, Mandel has breathed fresh air into this genre by adding a unique, creative twist on what you would usually expect. It doesn’t feel stale at all, which is greatly appreciated.

2. So. Many. Characters. There are so many characters in this book that sometimes it’s hard to keep track; however, I think Mandel does a great job of balancing their perspectives and stories within the context of the rest of the novel. Hearing from so many points of view also keeps the plot moving quickly.

3. Incorporation of different text formats. I love books that include emails, letters, texts, etc. between characters, and Station Eleven is no exception. Not only do they help keep things interesting by switching up the writing style, but they also make the characters seem more realistic.

4. Creepy, eerie, and suspenseful atmosphere. Reading this novel alone in your bedroom at night is sure to make you check under your bed twice before turning off the lights. Even so, I couldn’t put this book down because I was so invested in knowing what would happen next.

5. A gorgeous cover. How could I not give this amazing cover design some time in the spotlight?

6. Shakespearian elements. If you’ve been following my blog for a while (or have seen this post or this post) then you’re probably aware of my love-hate relationship with the Bard. I was worried that you would need actual knowledge of Shakespeare in order to enjoy this story, but fortunately that’s not the case. Still, I did enjoy the whole premise of keeping arts and literature alive in times of utter struggle.

7. Orchestra banter. I played in my school’s orchestra for about ten years growing up (go second violins!) so I really enjoyed the simultaneously witty and cheesy orchestra banter that went on between the members of the Traveling Symphony. Makes me miss my orchestra days!

8. Unsettlingly believable. Some books in this end-of-the-world genre tend to be a little far-fetched and unrealistic; however, I completely believe that some sort of flu like the one in Station Eleven could wipe out the planet some day. Scary!

9. Past, present, and future. Instead of focusing solely on what happens after society has collapsed, a significant portion of this novel takes place in these characters’ pasts, exploring how they got to where they are in the present time of the story. I love this narrative decision because it adds depth to the novel and makes the reader more invested in the characters by learning how far they’ve come up until this point.

10. Character-driven story. Unlike many novels in this genre, Station Eleven is largely driven by characters rather than plot, most likely due in part to the point previously mentioned. This was such a nice surprise!

11. The ending. Since this novel is focused more on characters than plot, the ending tied up many personal loose ends while leaving the plot or the future of the characters rather ambiguous. I thought it perfectly reflected the tone of the rest of the novel.

Have I convinced you to read Station Eleven? Have you already read this novel? What are your thoughts on it? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

NORSE MYTHOLOGY by Neil Gaiman | Review

Neil Gaiman has long been inspired by ancient mythology in creating the fantastical realms of his fiction. Now he turns his attention back to the source, presenting a bravura rendition of the great northern tales. In Norse Mythology, Gaiman fashions primeval stories into a novelistic arc that begins with the genesis of the legendary nine worlds; delves into the exploits of the deities, dwarves, and giants; and culminates in Ragnarok, the twilight of the gods and the rebirth of a new time and people. Gaiman stays true to the myths while vividly reincarnating Odin, the highest of the high, wise, daring, and cunning; Thor, Odin’s son, incredibly strong yet not the wisest of gods; and Loki, the son of giants, a trickster and unsurpassable manipulator. From Gaiman’s deft and witty prose emerges the gods with their fiercely competitive natures, their susceptibility to being duped and to dupe others, and their tendency to let passion ignite their actions, making these long-ago myths breathe pungent life again. {Goodreads}

I love Neil Gaiman’s writing. He could write an instruction manual to a washing machine and I would probably still adore it, admiring the way he always blends wit, charm, and thought-provoking ideas into his writing. With that being said, I eagerly looked forward to reading this collection of Norse myths even though my only knowledge of Norse mythology came from the Thor movies by Marvel.

Fortunately, Gaiman has a way of explaining background information of Norse myths for those who don’t know much about them while not taking away from the actual stories themselves. I also really appreciated the overarching goal of this book: to breathe new life into these old myths while simultaneously preserving their core ideas and elements. The stories are told with a more charming and whimsical tone rather than a darker attitude, juxtaposing against the violence, betrayal, and revenge present in the stories themselves. While someone who is well versed in Norse mythology may find this book too rudimentary, I think it is the perfect balance between informative and entertaining.

It’s strange to review a book that has less to do with the writer and more about the myths themselves, so I will just end this review a bit more praise for Gaiman’s captivating writing style (and narration of the audio book!). I highly recommend Norse Mythology even if you know nothing about Thor, Loki, or Ragnarok!

What are your thoughts on Norse Mythology? Do you have a favorite book by Neil Gaiman? Are you a fan of reading mythology in general? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY

ON WRITING by Stephen King | Review

“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999–and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it–fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told. {Goodreads}

I’ve been around Stephen King’s books and stories for most of my life. Not only is my mother a huge fan of his writing, but it’s sort of difficult to grow up as a self-proclaimed bookworm and not be around his books. Stephen King is a prolific writer with the added popularity of many of his books being made into movies and television shows. Although I’ve only read a few of his books (The Gunslinger, which I disliked, and The Shining, which I enjoyed), I have nevertheless always admired King for his remarkable creativity and ability to write so much. When I learned that he had written a memoir all about his life as a writer and how he goes about the writing process I knew that I would have to read it. So, in the airport waiting to fly back to Oxford, I began.

On Writing is a perfect blend of personal memoir and writing advice. In a book like this I feel as though starting with the more personal parts is necessary in order to give the reader context and establish credibility with the audience. Who is this man, and what makes him qualified to dish out advice? (Even though I’m pretty sure most of us could answer those two questions without a moment’s hesitation.) It’s also reassuring to learn that King did not immediately become a bestselling author the first time he put a pen to paper; rather, he worked tirelessly to improve his writing over time through incessant practice and persistently putting his work out there for others to see. This personal section also helped put a lot of King’s work in perspective and would likely be even more interesting for someone more familiar with several of his novels.

There are countless points in this book that I found myself nodding my head along with, endlessly surprised by the way King is somehow able to put into words what the process of writing actually feels like. He manages to articulate precisely how it feels when you suddenly have a spark of inspiration as well as the uncertainty of not knowing what direction your writing should take next. Most importantly, he deftly describes how important and necessary writing feels to those who do it.

“Writing is not life, but I think that sometimes it can be a way back to life.”

However, I think it should be said that, like any advice, King’s tips and tricks for writing should be taken with a grain of salt. Not everyone has the luxury of being able to carve out enough time in the day to consistently write thousands of words. The tone of the book can also definitely come off a bit cocky and flippant– although I suppose if you’ve been as successful as Stephen King, you can sort of get away with this. To King’s credit, he does make it clear that this advice is just that: advice, not writing rules set in stone. This book is nothing if not authentic, genuine, and brutally honest.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading On Writing and would definitely return to it again in the future for some inspiration and important reminders. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of King’s advice, I do appreciate his honesty and willingness to be so open with readers. It makes me want to read more of his fiction now!

What are your thoughts on On Writing? Do you have a favorite book by Stephen King? What’s your best piece of writing advice? Let me know in the comments section below!

Yours,

HOLLY