On Writing – Stephen King / The House on Mango Street – Sandra Cisneros

On Writing - Stephen King

This Stephen King’s book on “A Memoir of the Craft” seems to be one of those books that is always recommended in any beginner writing courses. I didn’t grow up with Stephen King’s books, and in fact I never read any of his books, simply because they are of the horror genre (I just can’t take/read/watch anything remotely scary). I know he has written some stories that are non-horror – and I loved the movies based on his stories like Shawshank Redemption or Stand By Me – but I guess I am never tempted enough to read in that direction.

His non-fiction On Writing is another case however, and I absolutely do not mind learning from someone who has been very successful in what he does, even though the works are not really my cup of tea.

In a nutshell, I enjoyed reading this book, and I was even pretty sad when it ended, because it felt like I lost a mentor figure of some kind that had been with me for a few weeks, who had become a voice on my shoulder, telling me what to do and what not to (Is that you, Jiminy Cricket?).

The book is divided into three parts. The first part is his memoir, about his life from childhood, teenagehood, life as a struggling writer, first breakthrough with first novel Carrie, and his subsequent books. As I am not his big fan, and therefore was not familiar with his books, this part was the one that was least interesting to me. But a story about the making of a writer, especially someone as bestselling as he is, has its own appeal. He seems to be genuinely a nice guy, and I think his good marriage and family life affect his works a lot. You cannot hate women or end up with aweful women characters if you love your wife in real life (I hope).

The second part is the meat of this book, the actual advice and instructions on writing. I loved reading this part. Some of the advice have been repeated often by others at various sites and articles (e.g. the use of adverbs, active vs passive voice, etc) but it’s nice to read them all together in the right context. The third part is sort of like an epilogue on a life changing event in his life that I won’t give away here, and it closes the book nicely.

My favorite part is when he equates writing to telephaty. There he was, Stephen King, in year 1997 in his basement somewhere in Maine, sending telephatic messages to me here in London, 18 years later in 2015. In 1997 I was a high school girl who never even read a novel in English. 18 years later I’m learning how to write an English book, and his voice has traveled through time and space, to the me who is here, right now, ready to absorb what he has to say. It would’ve been useless in year 1997, but now the time is right.

Love that image. Love love love.

In the last twist, Stephen King dedicated this book to Amy Tan, “who told me in a very simple and direct way that it was okay to write it.” What a surprise! They are apparently friends playing in the same author band, which is called The Rock Bottom Remainders (whose personnel has included Barbara Kingsolver and Mitch Albom, amongst many). I heard of this band before, since I am a big fan of Amy Tan and follow her Facebook page, but I guess I never made that connection with Stephen King. I read all Amy Tan’s books back when I begun to read novels again after my vacuum of a few years in my transition of moving from Indonesia to English-speaking countries. This was a very nice surprising detail for me, as if things have come full circle in a funny way. Perhaps if Stephen King had been born a Chinese ethnic woman in America he would’ve written Amy’s books. HAH :)

Mee’s rating: 4.5/5

The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros

When I started writing my book, I knew I had to read Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. I’m not sure why, perhaps because our house used to have a mango tree as well and it plays a significant role in my story, but the book is just like what I imagined it to be. It is written in a clear, almost childlike voice, that is also dreamy and original.

The book consists of dozens of vignettes, that “are not quite poems and not quite full stories” — most of them are only a couple of pages long. They all work together on a theme of growing up and surviving as migrants (in the USA in their case). Some of vignettes left me wanting for more, some of them felt like the right length — mixed feelings that always come for this kind of format. The book is very short in just over 100 pages, and I’d recommend it for anyone really as it is a nice, simple, and original read, that tells stories with a heart — something that I’d love to aim for in my own writing.

Mee’s rating: 4/5

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