Exploring the art of prose



 Crash Course, Robin Black
Engine Books, 2016

This lovely collection houses a series of essays on writing and on life. Many of the short essays live in the place where writing and life intersect, and as the book progresses, you feel as though you are learning how to write but also how to live.

Black knows how to write a strong essay; the strength in her writing comes, in part, from her honesty. She is not afraid to admit where she went wrong, or how her anxieties interfere, or to divulge personal information because it lies at the heart of what she’s arguing. Her writing is fluid; it’s easy to read this book of essays in a day or two. And Black’s sense of humor, combined with her strong prose, means that it is a pleasure to fly through this book. But I found that I wanted to linger over many of them, to translate the specificities of Black’s life into my own.

Along with the more traditional essays, there are some marvelous pieces entitled “Line Edits” which show the progression of a sentence over time. We can see Black’s mind at work as the sentence changes from one to the next, and we can watch the meaning shift as the sentence takes shape. The shortest essay, “Line Edits II,” consists of this:

Her date was boring.

Her date was spectacularly boring.

Not surprisingly, this follows the essay called “In Defense of Adverbs, Guardians of the Human Condition.” This is a craft book with powerful insights that you’ll want to read again and again, learning something new each time.