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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

"Words for Readers and Writers: Spirit-Pooled Dialogues" (Larry Woiwode)

TITLE: Words for Readers and Writers: Spirit-Pooled Dialogues
AUTHOR: Larry Woiwode
PUBLISHER: Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013, (240 pages).

This collection of essays puts the value back into words for readers to appreciate, and for writers to create. As we continue to adopt unabated, the digital medium for all kinds of communications for literary work or leisure, it is increasingly important to realize that words are not simply binary bits to be turned off and on. There are powerful meanings to ponder. There are insights to be held in wonder. Words is the water that gives the river its stream of life. It is the fuel that energizes way we live. It enriches human communications. Woiwode in this book seeks to inject a greater appreciation for the use of words for several groups of people: readers, writers, and other users like speakers and listeners. Using a mental picture of two drawers (inner and outer) to touch on a four-drawer folder (self, memory, interviewers, and editors). The essays are then grouped in three parts; how words are used; how users use words; and the different kinds of users of words.

Part One is about the "uses of words." It deals with the questions surround what words are for and how they are being used. Woiwode explores the way words are used in family relationships and how it contributes to unity. There is a bond that stories and histories are weaved through the use of words. They can increase intimacy. In litigation circles, words are dependent on who is speaking it. For instance, in a courtroom, the litigator (or plaintiff) is usually referred to as the second person; the defendant the first; with the judge and the court as the third person. Woiwode explores the role of poetry, even hinting at the longevity of age-old poetry that will outlive even the hottest technology of today.Words can also be used in autobiographical sketches, being used for both fiction as well as non-fictional purposes. Of particular interest is spirituality, where Woiwode centers the place of faith, and how words point one toward spiritual matters. Words amplify meaning. They lead us to appreciate the mysteries of the spiritual world. Readers are urge to re-tell history and put it in the forefront of Christian Education. One essay includes an interview with the author with IMAGE magazine, on how a writer visualizes a mental image inside, and to use words to draw them out. Such drawing out of an inner picture can also be done through metaphors like e-mail, simile, medium, play, and of course word pictures. Words are so powerful that at one point, Woiwode even cautions writers not to usurp the place of God in their writing.

Part Two is a fascinating look at the author's 50-year journey from childhood to his adult years. It is a process of learning, fine-tuning, polishing, and perfecting the use of words. There are users like the publishing industry, on the relationship between authors, editors, and their publishers. Woiwode introduces his appreciation for authors like William Maxwell whose literary brilliance was discovered late, and how his editing skills display a knack for clarity and simplicity. On Tolstoy, the author notices a passionate fight for truth, and how Tolstoy displays his dislike for power and arrogance of rulers, by using his novels to subvert tyranny and abuse. There is Vladimir Nabokov, the Russian writer (Surin), who has great love for his mother and his patriotism for his country, and with a keen awareness of a world beyond this world. There is the reflection of the Russain martyr, Aleksandr Men's play of words and meaning of "martyrs who have lived" which contrasted sharply with popular usage of "martyrs who have died," whose writings point unabashedly to what it means to live for Christ.

Part Three is an exhibition of the power and versatility of words in the world of literature, ethics, faith, morality, human rights, aesthetics, beauty, science, writing, and free writing. What intrigues me in the final chapter is how the author gives a profound take on what it means to write unhindered, and unedited. In an A-Z framework of writings, he begins with a description of his inner thoughts while sleeping in the subway, his journey to meet a well-known editor, his observations of ordinary life going on around him as he makes the journey, and ends with a terse note about his essays that were written in one sitting, end up becoming the first story that a magazine has accepted for publication without a single edit.

My Thoughts

Who am I to review such a deep and insightful book by Larry Woiwode? Who am I to talk about the martyrs, the spiritual writers, and the many great writers of the world? At one end, I remain at a distance clapping away in amazement at some of the masters of words. At the other, I risk being ridiculed of trying to wear a holier-than-thou hat of a reviewer. Thus, I stand trapped between astonishment of a grateful admirer and trepidation of a critical reviewer. As an admirer, seldom have I come across a book that I take, turn over, and ponder at various points of the contents. It is one thing to be well read in good books. It is another to be well read in great literature. Larry Woiwode has given readers a glimpse of the world of how words can inject life into mundane matters, how passions can be set free, how far words can reach, and how words bring beauty out of ordinary life. The book concludes not with a thud but a ripple that creates waves of reflective moments. One of them is how we in the world have unwittingly edited life from authenticity to plasticity. It reminds me of how society in general, in a world that seeks perfection and polished work, often fails to acknowledge the beauty of the ordinary. If only we allow the ordinary to grow its best self, and minimize the editing of ordinary life, people will be less prone to wear the skin of others, and will be more willing to be themselves. One of the things I appreciate is Woiwode's reminder for writers.

"If you work as a writer or reporter you must meet each person with the grace of openness, as Jesus did, seasoned by compassion, rather than with a preconceived or judgmental outlook. You think you're speaking to an ugly thief or snarling shopping-cart collector when you may be entertaining an angel" (176-7)

If I must critique, I must say that this book may not reach a wide audience or pander to the wishes of the popular genre. Just like the way Woiwode refers to Marylynne Robinson's essay on science putting down religion, our world dominated by Darwinistic pragmatism will put down any creative attempt toward aesthetic beauty, especially if such attempts do not bring in bigger bucks or become a Youtube phenomena. No. Books like this will be a hard sell for a world addicted to fast facts and abbreviated communications. In fact, words that are hurried will tend to short circuit the natural and preferred progression of human development in the cultivation of literary and living beauty. Sigh. That's the world we live in. Yet, there is hope. Let those who have ears listen. Let those who have eyes see. Let those who are willing to pause periodically from the crazy mundane world, and to ponder, to wonder, and to appreciate life, through the world of words. For behind every use of word is a story waiting to be told. If only we take time. Beware. This book is not to be speed-read, but to be gently savoured. The essay format of the book will certainly help.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Crossway Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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