Picks and Pans Review: On Becoming a Novelist

UPDATED 05/30/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 05/30/1983 at 01:00 AM EDT

by John Gardner

The author of almost 30 books, including Grendel, Nickel Mountain, The Sunlight Dialogues and October Light, Gardner died in a motorcycle accident at age 49 in 1982. He spent much of his life teaching writing, and it seems somehow fitting that in this, his last book, he passes on some of what he knew of his art. This comforting, nurturing volume will be of great interest to any young person who wants to be a serious writer. In a chapter called "The Writer's Nature," Gardner suggests that those people who are meant to write will do it, whether someone else thinks they should or not. He is outspoken in his disdain for much of the teaching of English that goes on in colleges these days, and he is highly critical of some common workshop approaches. "The best kind of writing teacher...deals with each student individually, half an hour or an hour each week or so, in tutorial sessions, like a violin instructor." Gardner wrote many books before he found a publisher—in fact, an editor bought three of his novels at one time. His last chapter, "Faith," provides the most encouragement of all: "Novel writing is not so much a profession as a yoga, or 'way,' an alternative to ordinary life-in-the-world. Its benefits are quasi-religious—a changed quality of mind and heart, satisfactions no non-novelist can understand—and its rigors generally bring no profit except to the spirit. For those who are authentically called to the profession, spiritual profits are enough." (Harper & Row, $13.95)

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