Larry Woiwode is a Guggenheim and Lannan Fellow, recipient of the William Faulkner Foundation Award and John DosPassos Prize, a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Book Critics Circle Award, and has received the Medal of Merit from the American Academy of Arts and Letters “for distinction in the art of the short story.” He is Poet Laureate of North Dakota, Writer-in-Residence at Jamestown College, and has previously had a collection of essays Words Made Fresh published through Crossway.
The collection of essays at hand, Words for Readers and Writers: Spirit-Pooled Dialogues, was for me at least, hard to really classify. I’m not sure what I thought I was getting into, but whatever what my imaginings, this book did not fit them. However, it would be unfair of me to criticize a book simply because it did not meet my expectations, especially if my expectations were not in line with the author’s stated goal in writing.
Here is how Woiwode introduces the essays of this book:
The following essays formed an eerie architecture of meaning as a I selected them from two drawers of a four-drawer file. The dialogues they record are both inner and outer, between me and memory and interviewers and editors. They deal with the act of writing, with a reader’s response to writing, and the ways we all use words, including Facebook entries, to fashion meaning for our lives – even identities.
Words about writing, once on a page, form pooling metaphors that a reader can enter into a dialogue. Recurring motifs reflect across the pools and a variety of meanings form a growing unity. This is abetted by a spirited gravity that sets them in pooling emphases.
If that’s what writers feel when they say they’re inspired, I feel and have felt inspired. The Spirit has pressed out a variety of views that counterbalance one another in the spirit-pooled dialogues of my title. (13)
That is the entire introduction. The 21 essays that follow are evenly split into three sections:
- Part One: Uses of Words
- Part Two: Users of Words
- Part Three: Realms of Users
They are followed by a postscript that explains the point of origin for each, none of each having been writing specifically for this publication. In my reading, it was actually very helpful to have some context, and Woiwode gives a nice detailed description of what prompted the original writing and how, if at all, is has been modified to fit this new context.
Beyond that though, this collection of essays didn’t particularly grab me or sustain my interest. Though the essays are of differing quality, in general Woiwode is a good writer and he uses his words well. I just didn’t find much of the material here very interesting and am not really sure who I’d recommend the book to. It is more or less a book that would only interest writers themselves. But, it is not a how-to kind of book (which I what I think I was more or less expecting), and so is more cerebral and meditative on the whole process of writing.
If that sounds interesting, you might enjoy Woiwode’s work here. For me, it just wasn’t what I was looking for. A couple of the essays were interesting to me (one on Tolstoy’s approach to writing and the other on Nabokov’s) but on the whole it is a well written collection of thoughts for a very specific audience, that even I, as somewhat of a writer, find myself not quite apart of. 1
- Author: Larry Woiwode
- Title: Words for Readers and Writers: Spirit-Pooled Dialogues
- Publisher: Crossway (April 30, 2013)
- Paperback: 240pgs
- Reading Level: General Reader
- Audience Appeal: Readers who enjoy reflective essays on the process of writing
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Crossway)
- If you’re keeping score, that’s the third sentence I’ve ended with a preposition, so that, more or less, may have something to do with it ↩