All The Light We Can Research

In the back of his blockbuster novel, All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr provides an extensive acknowledgment list. It is not uncommon, of course, for authors to publicly thank those who provided support, but in the novel world it is an element seldom carried out to this extent. Anyone reading the book wonders how, for example, the author became so familiar with radio electronics, and with the intimacies of those caught in the last days of the crossfire of World War II. The acknowledgments show how. Moreover they remind those who write of what it takes to produce a blockbuster. On rare occasions, a book like the nonfiction Tuesdays With Morrie, thin and wobbly but emotionally contagious, becomes iconic. But more often it takes much more work on the part of the author than he or she would imagine at the start. This is, of course, daunting news for those who think that top-of-the-head work will yield a best-seller. The good news is that total immersion is one of the rewards of writing. At some point the writer, having done the extensive homework, becomes the master of the subject, as Doerr became the master of his in a book that offers new light on a well-explored period of history.

William Zinsser, Teacher

The last time I saw William Zinsser was the summer of 2013 at the house in Niantic, CT., where he lived with his wife Caroline during the summer months. He was completely blind by then, a result of severe glaucoma. But, as he sat with the writer Cindy Brown Austin, whom I brought to theContinue Reading

Philip Levine

When I heard of the death of the poet Philip Levine, I thought of his brother, Ed, who wasn’t mentioned in the New York Times front-page obit. I’d never met Ed, but I remember the way Philip talked about him. It was with love, of course, and with respect for the way Ed made aContinue Reading

Remembering P.D. James

I am late in weighing in on the death of P.D. James, whom I knew in two ways — as a devoted reader of her Adam Dalgleish novels and as a colleague in a writers conference in Key West many years ago. I remember that, walking to a panel discussion, she took my arm andContinue Reading

A Week With Roya in Italy

  A few years ago, the director of Fairfield University’s MFA in creative writing called me into a meeting on Enders Island, where we held our residencies. He’d also summoned fellow faculty member Roya Hakakian. Each of us had been scheduled to deliver writing seminars in about thirty minutes’ time. Michael C. White told usContinue Reading

Goldfinching: Four Ways to Experience a Masterpiece

The endurance course titled “The Goldfinch,” Donna Tartt’s modern 784-page masterpiece, tests the standard of making every word count. I won’t argue here that she did. The ending alone — a long discourse on the Meaning of Something or Other — may inspire a reader to ask, “I’ve come call this way for this?” OnContinue Reading

Klinghoffer and Artistic Freedom Die

If you write fiction, nonfiction, poetry or any combination of these, the recent tragic aria sung at the Metropolitan Opera House should make you shiver. Those of us who create for a living already face sufficient obstacles – the demands of the work itself and the fickle nature of the marketplace immediately come to mind.Continue Reading

25 Books I Love To Hear (Part 1)

I listened to my first unabridged audio book in 1989 while commuting. In all over the last 25 years, though that commute ended long ago, I’ve heard more than 200 novels, memoirs and nonfiction books. Brilliant actors such as Henry Strozier, Barbara Rosenblatt, Simon Vance, George Guidall and John McDonough have made great books jumpContinue Reading

Fearing a Poet’s Power

Ricky Greenfield died last month. He was an accomplished businessman who, steadfast in his intolerance, became my literary benefactor. And for that I remain grateful. Many years ago, Greenfield bought the Connecticut Jewish Ledger, a weekly that circulated around the state and once — in the golden age when people actually read newspapers — hadContinue Reading

Make Lunch, Write a Book

How do books come about? The most common way is when a writer gets an idea and then slaves over that idea for anywhere from ninety days (the remarkable achievement of memoirist Carlos Eire, in “Waiting for Snow in Havana”) to a decade (Chad Harbach’s “The Art of Fielding”) or more. Another method of creation:Continue Reading