Writing Critique

So, I’m killing time at the library, and the lady comes and shows me from the lost and found, and I see that it is my hat. But I never liked it, so I pretend it’s not. Then I spot a catchy book cover: I’m a stranger here, by Bill Bryson. “Notes On Returning To America After Twenty Years Away.” I’m interested.

Although I haven’t been gone like Bryson, I often see things a little differently too, like a visitor might, so I’m curious to hear what the guy has to say. As I leaf through, I see each chapter is no longer than two and a half pages. I love that. With the barrage of information coming my way, two and a half pages are about all I’ll tackle. Any more than that, I usually fall asleep. The book is perfect: a series of inviting bio break chapters, (that’s politically correct speak for what ill bred would call a one dump read).

I’m not disappointed either, each piece crisp, punchy, with an introduction, a body with elaboration, humor, examples, (not too many though), and exposition, all tied up nicely with a witty closing bow. The chapters are like potato chips; you can’t do just one.

I can’t help thinking about Billy Chrystal’s book Seven Sundays where he describes when he was seven, and he convinces his mother to let him go to the nightclub where his father works to watch the warm up act, as long as they promise to come right home after that, and it happens to be a comedian who tells his first joke, and the audience erupts in laughter, and Billy says he’s hooked and “that’s when I knew what I wanted to be,” and it turned out pretty good for him.

I feel a little like Billy reading Bill Bryson. I’m way past seven, but I can still spot the artistry. Bryson’s essays are like songs, each with a theme, a melody, a chorus, and its own rhythm. The words settle into my brain, comfortably, as if they were traveling and just get back to the house.

I’m appreciating this, talking this way, you see, due to my involvement in a critique group I’ll call Winona’s Class. We sit and pick at each others’ work, sometimes a little harshly, dissecting sentences. Seriously, we scrutinize every single word.

Although Bryson’s writing is so good, great actually, I find some of the intros are a little too long. I keep hearing Winona in my ear, “too much run up…get to the point!” (maybe he wants to get it to two and a half pages). And there is one piece, where he adds two extra sentences after what should be the end. In Winona’s Class, were good at endings, so I’m thinking, if Bill would bring a big pile of his published, award-winning books to our critique group, we could work with him on that.

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