Musings on Photography

Two Books

Posted in books by Paul Butzi on March 17, 2008

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Two books from the library, ordered because I saw them mentioned somewhere. (I know at least one commenter asked where I find out about books. I don’t know, honestly. I order them from the library when I see them mentioned somewhere, and by the time the arrive I’ve forgotten where I found out about them. Sorry.)

First book: Travelling Light – A Photographer’s Journey by Deborah DeWit Marchant. This one is autobiographical, tracing in both words and photos the arc of Marchant’s life. It’s an introspective, open, honest, somewhat spiritual journey from her early adulthood to the present. I found it interesting, compelling, and an easy read. It’s about photography as a lifestyle, not photography as in f-stops, film, and cameras. If you’re using a camera as a handy tool to figure things out, and you feel that resonance when you read “The life unexamined is not worth living” then this book is a good bet. Otherwise, perhaps not. [Yes, I’m aware that my book reviews often consist of lengthy ways of saying ‘this book will appeal to the sort of person to whom this sort of book is appealing’. ]

Second book – Writing Past Dark, by Bonnie Friedman. After reading the first essay in this book (“Envy, the Writer’s Disease”), I was in love with it. Not only did Friedman express a lot I agreed with, she had the incredible great vision to quote the very passage of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29 that I quoted here, and express much the same sentiment as I did. How brilliant is that?

Sadly, things went downhill rapidly after that. I think Friedman, perhaps, wants to write like Annie Dillard. I love Annie Dillard’s books, I love her writing. It’s as if Dillard has, by herculean effort, managed to focus the entire output of the sun onto a pinprick spot in the world, and that intense focus makes everything dazzlingly bright. I read a paragraph or two of Dillard’s writing, and before I’ve gotten far, there’s a loud ‘bang’ and all the circuit breakers trip inside my skull, and I’m forced to sit quietly for a few minutes, with a little curl of smoke drifting out one ear. Dillard is incredible but I must read her writing in little snatches lest I become completely overwhelmed.

Anyway, that’s beside the point, which was that Friedman wants to be Dillard but isn’t. The struggle for laser-like focus is there, but not the insight. Instead it comes off as very focused whining. Lengthy angst filled stories about writing school. Lengthy agonizing about writing stories that hurt people you love.

Paul gives it two thumbs down. Somewhere in the world, there’s someone to whom this book will appeal. But I’m not that sort.

2 Responses

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  1. Colin Jago said, on March 17, 2008 at 11:26 am

    ‘this book will appeal to the sort of person to whom this sort of book is appealing’

    That, surely, is the limit of all art criticism.

  2. Rosie Perera said, on March 17, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    “I’m aware that my book reviews often consist of lengthy ways of saying ‘this book will appeal to the sort of person to whom this sort of book is appealing’” 🙂

    I echo your praise of Annie Dillard. I loved the way you put it: “It’s as if Dillard has, by herculean effort, managed to focus the entire output of the sun onto a pinprick spot in the world, and that intense focus makes everything dazzlingly bright. I read a paragraph or two of Dillard’s writing, and before I’ve gotten far, there’s a loud ‘bang’ and all the circuit breakers trip inside my skull, and I’m forced to sit quietly for a few minutes, with a little curl of smoke drifting out one ear.” You aren’t exactly trying to be Annie Dillard with your writing, but it’s clear a bit of her has rubbed off on you.


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