Exploring the art of prose


LIGHT THE DARK, edited by Joe Fassler

Light the Darkedited by Joe Fassler
Penguin Books, 2017

A collection of craft essays from a series in The Atlantic, this is a book to treasure, one to read again and again. The online series, called “By Heart,” is curated by Joe Fassler, who asks writers to identify a piece of writing that means something to them and to consider its impact.

It’s marvelous to read through the 46 essays collected in the book and see not only the piece of writing that each author selected, but also how they chose to talk about it and its effect on their writing life. Some writers are extremely pragmatic, outlining their daily practice. (Andre Dubus III: “So once I have a beginning, middle, and end, I walk away from it for at least six months and don’t look at it.”). Other writers are more philosophical, both about writing and about life. (Maggie Shipstead: “The thing to long for is the impossible thing: for time to slow, for the chance to loiter in a moment.”) Aimee Bender writes about memorizing poetry while driving the LA freeways. Jim Shepard unpacks the moment of grace in Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” It’s hard to pick favorites because they’re all so fascinating.

I chose to read the collection slowly, dipping in first to writers I know or whose writing is familiar to me, and then reading the pieces by writers less-known to me. There’s an argument to be made, though, for reading this chronologically, for letting each piece reflect off those that surround it. Whatever you chose, do read them all, as each essay provides a different insight into a creative brain.

The best part? The series continues online, so when you’re done reading and rereading these essays, check in online for the newest installment. And let’s hope Fassler has plans for a sequel.