A thought-provoking journey inside the minds of the world’s most accomplished storytellers, from Shakespeare to Stephen King
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR BY THE SPECTATOR • “Richard Cohen’s book acted as a tonic to me. It didn’t make me more Russian, but it fired up my imagination. I have never annotated a book so fiercely.”—Hilary Mantel
“There are three rules for writing a novel,” Somerset Maugham is said to have said. “Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” How then to bring characters to life, find a voice, kill your darlings, or run that most challenging of literary gauntlets, writing a sex scene? What made Nabokov choose the name Lolita? Why did Fitzgerald use firstperson narration in The Great Gatsby ? How did Kerouac, who raged against revision, finally come to revise On the Road ?
Veteran editor and author Richard Cohen takes us on an engrossing journey into the lives and minds of the world’s greatest writers, from Honoré de Balzac and George Eliot to Virginia Woolf and Zadie Smith—with a few mischievous detours to visit Tolstoy along the way. In a scintillating tour d’horizon, Cohen lays bare the tricks, motivations, and techniques of the literary greats, revealing their obsessions and flaws and how we can learn from them along the way.
Cohen (Chasing the Sun) writes an elegant, chatty how-to book on writing well, using the lessons of many of the world's best writers. He draws on plentiful advice from past and present literary titans, including Stephen King, Virginia Woolf, Salman Rushdie, D.H. Lawrence, and the titular Tolstoy. How does a great author grab a reader, give a character life, or handle sex scenes? Cohen relates how many notable writers have grappled with character, point of view, and dialogue, as well as the element of rhythm. Using William Golding's Lord of the Flies and other classic books as examples, he shows the many ways in which revision is useful and editors are indispensable. The process of gathering advice from prominent contemporary authors such as Francine Prose, Jonathan Franzen, and Nick Hornby gives Cohen the opportunity to tell any number of amusing, often discursive stories about great literature and authors, mixed with the writers' own observations, which he hopes will further inspire readers and would-be writers. The advice is pleasant, and sometimes wise.