The Write Idea

10/21/2010

Good writers, mediocre books

Filed under: book review — ljcollins @ 9:29 am
Tags: , ,

While I’m on the topic of beautifully written books I had trouble getting into, let me bring up another.  Last month I finished David Whyte’s The Three Marriages. I heard Whyte speak this Spring and bought the book during the intermission.  I love Whyte’s poetry. Love it. And hearing him speak was like being physically embraced by his poems. He is handsome, funny, warm, moving, theatrical, genuine, wise.  (Enough descriptors?) In short, a delight to hear.

The premise of this prose book is that we each enter into three kinds of marriages in our lives:  marriage to our work, marriage to ourself and marriage to an intimate other.  He uses the concept of marriage metaphorically, not literally, and his examples include people who did not marry in the traditional sense of the word.  For each of these three kinds of marriages he suggests that we go through similar stages: courtship, the shock and disappointment of the everyday tedium or conflict followed by a new level of commitment, and finally a kind of contentment and purpose. Actually, I’m not doing him any justice in this oversimplification, but maybe that’s part of the problem.  Whyte rambles through these stages with lovely, funny, poignant stories and simple, wise observations, but at the end of the (long) chapters, I often thought, “Now what was the point?”

As both Whyte and Karr are first poets, I wonder if this is part of the difficulty I have with their longer (in each case, I thought, too long) books of nonfiction. Poetry thrives in a detail. Poetry is non-linear. Poetry doesn’t need to hold your attention for several hundred pages.

So while both write exquisite sentences, tell amazing stories, bring to life eccentric characters, and, in the case of Whyte, draw interesting and inspirational connections, staying with these writers through hundreds of exquisitely detailed pages of writing left me feeling uninspired.

I’d be interested in others of you who have read books that seemed beautifully written yet didn’t hold your attention. Is there a lesson in here for a good editor?

The main lesson I’m taking from The Three Marriages is to stick with Whyte’s poetry.

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