“Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing” by Roger Rosenblatt
“Books count. They disturb people. You never heard of a tyrant who wanted to burn the TV sets,” says Roger Rosenblatt to his students during one section of his charming memoir – “Unless It Moves the Human Heart.”
Rosenblatt, a New York Times bestselling author and Emmy award winning journalist, obviously has an affection for writers. For years, he has taught university level writing classes, and this book recalls one semester in his classroom at Stonybrook University. Among his students are a former gymnast, a former air force pilot, a Muslim girl, a 71 year-old daughter of a diplomat, and a hyper-smart librarian.
As the students work through their assignments – an essay, a poem, and a short story – they share their work and discuss it with the group. Questions about literary theory arise, great writers are discussed, and essential truths about the writers craft are brushed against, though never blatantly forced upon anyone. One of the great things about writing is that, in the right hands, rules are made to be broken. The students are smart and snarky in places, which makes them ever-so-human – and likable. Rosenblatt doesn’t presume to have all the answers, but he tries to lead them to draw their own conclusions.
Though I’m not a writer (I dabble, but nothing serious) the book made me want to grab a notebook and pen and put words on the page. Rosenblatt is an inspiring and powerful teacher, even just in book form. I’m envious of the students who get to attend his real-life classes. All the insults and jokes and bops on the head in response to smart-ass comments help create the atmosphere of a safe environment in which to share the work the young writer has created.
Like Stephen King’s “On Writing,” it takes a great writer to realize that it takes more than just talent to be a writer. Contrary to a popular saying, writing CAN be taught, and the most amazing voices can come from the people who seem the least likely to unleash them. There’s also a great deal about the discovery of literature and how it affected the writers in the class – from their earliest memories of reading and just feeling like words were a world they belonged in.
This book, which I recommend to those who are writers or have an interest in the writers craft, will be in stores in January. It made me smile many times.