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Book Reviews

Dialogue - Lewis Turco
by Madeline Mora

A book about dialogue written in dialogue? Doesn't that sound like a good idea? I thought so, which was why I picked up Lewis Turco's DIALOGUE (Writer's Digest Books 1989 $13.95 Hardcover) and began reading. I was amused for the first chapter or two but then I started to get a headache. I hadn't realized how draining continuous written dialogue could be.

Turco utilizes the Socratic dialogue technique (2) "...in order to discuss the writing of dialogue in fiction while writing a piece of nonfiction fiction in the process!" (2). Whaaaat?! Basically, there is an "Author" and an antagonist, or foil, known as "Fred Foyle". For the next 114 pages, the Author proceeds to teach Fred everything he knows about dialogue, using the entire discussion as an example.

There is no doubt a lot of information is covered in this book. Everything from basic definitions and format to slang and diction can be found throughout the pages. The difficulty for me was extricating the actual topic from its example. Examples are an excellent way to illustrate major points but they can also be used to excess, as they are here. Just ask Fred.

Bird by Bird - Anne Lamott
by Madeline Mora

If Anne Lamott's writing classes are as sharp and funny as this book, then save me a seat! In BIRD BY BIRD-SOME INSTRUCTIONS ON WRITING AND LIFE (Pantheon Books 1994 $21.00 Hardcover), Lamott foregoes the formal steps and structure of writing and publication. Instead, armed only with her wit, humor and experience, she delves deep into the even scarier world of a writer's soul.

In the beginning of BIRD BY BIRD, Lamott talks about how ... writing motivates you to look closely at life, at life as it lurches by and tramps around" (xii) and how "...good writing is about telling the truth" (3). 'She stresses the importance of getting it all down first and worrying about how good it is later.

There are a number of sections in this book that will definitely get the creative juices churning. One, in particular, titled "School Lunches" (33), will not only make you laugh but make you remember so many things so vividly that I bet you'll be able to smell those fishtsticks and taste that peanut butter and jelly by the time you're done reading! For the times you get stuck, try out Lamott's advice in "Short Assignments" (16): write as much as you can see through a one inch picture frame - "...one small scene, one memory, one exchange" (18). Also, take a look at "Letter" (171) where she suggests writing part of your history or a character's history to someone as if it was a letter. She also has one of the best descriptions of writer's block: "There are few experiences as depressing as that anxious barren state known as writer's block, where you sit staring at your blank page like a cadaver, feeling your mind congeal, feeling your talent run down your leg and into your sock" (176).

BIRD BY BIRD is fun, plain and simple. Oh, it's educational, too, but you don't even realize you've learned something until you're done laughing and after all, isn't that the true mark of a really good teacher?

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