This past weekend I took the opportunity to not only catch up on some work, but also to go about on some hardcore professional development. This meant, in the instance of this case, a lot of time spent reading.
Understanding Comics – Scott McLeod
This has to be one of the best books I’ve read in recent memory, so much so that I read the entire thing in a single sitting, only taking breaks to refill my tea cup.
Some aspects of the book show their age – the entire first chapter goes about the process of justifying the media of comics, a task that while interesting, seems more suited to a blog post or a separate essay in modern times, if the argument even needs to be made.
The bulk of the book, especially the academic discussions about abstraction, moving through time and narrative, and the in depth breakdowns of how different comics operate on the page present some truly deep and complex ideas that have changed not only how I look at comics, but also at writing in general.
Definitely a must read.
Zen in the Art of Writing – Ray Bradbury
A collection of essays on writing from throughout the career of this great writer, it provides a strange balm for the soul of the writer. Through this he talks about his own views on how to write, how his career developed, and more.
Throughout the book you get some strange and fascinating insights into the history of being a writer. Bradbury remembering the year he made $800 writing and it being a good year is a little funny in hindsight given the strange way that inflation and changes in the industry have effected us.
Aside from serving as a great set of inspirational reminders about the joys and challenges of writing, Bradbury has some strong nuggets of wisdom to pass along. Perhaps one of the best pieces of advice that he gives is the staunch reminder that markets are strange and fickle things. He recounts shorts stories that he had written being rejected from what he thought were markets that were sure things, only to turn around and have them accepted by markets that he thought above and beyond his skill level.
Though I read this over the course of two days, it is probably best sitting on your desk and picked up only to read essays as needed, using it as a pick-me-up on the hard days.
Wired for Story
Promising to grapple with the difficult to quantify aspects of what makes a good story through the utilization of psychology and neurology, this book really feels like it over promises and under delivers. The fundamental idea of how to wed the approach of how a brain latches on to and interprets stories is a good and compelling one, but this book feels more basic in its approach than the marketing hype would suggest.
That being said – it hits the basics amazingly well, and sometimes links them to the promised models through which brains grapple with and interpret stories. Much of this is, rather than traversing new ground, reinforcing the important basics and providing more context as to why these foundations writing are important.
Too much of the book feels remedial for me, not to mention overly prescriptive. For example, the book suggests that the reader always be a few steps ahead of the protagonist, and that the tension should arise from the time spent watching the protagonist catching up to what the reader has already realized. I didn’t know Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle were such shoddy writers!
Maybe worth it? It felt like a good retrod of areas that I’ve read about elsewhere, but didn’t add as much as was promised.