Words are the writer's only tools. But the challenge is to find the right words: to shape, refine, and convey the desired meaning and precise flavour for a paragraph, essay or story. Here are a trio of books that explore the writer's struggle to use language as an effective and powerful means of communication. Judge for yourself whether they prove the old adage that 'the pen is mightier than the sword.'
In "Finding the Words: Writers on Inspiration, Desire, War, Celebrity, Exile and Breaking the Rules", 29 Canadian authors describe their struggles with language, through essays, interviews, and stories, as they talk about war, history, home, travel and technology and how these forces have shaped what and how they write. While the writers in "Finding the Words" offer a window into the challenges of expressing themselves, they also underline their editor's initial question about language: "is there anything else that is so defining yet disposable, so immortal yet instantly forgettable?"
In his book "Nonconformity: Writing on Writing " Nelson Algren (1909-1981) focuses on the struggle to write with deep emotion. "You don't write a novel out of sheer pity any more thanyou blow a safe out of a vague longing to be rich," writes Algren, adding: "A certain ruthlessness and a sense of alienation from society is as essential to creative writing as it is to armed robbery." In this essay on the state of literature, you may find one of the toughest, truest and most quotable books on the writer's lot.
Sara Paretsky's "Writing in an Age of Silence" is a contemporary exploration of the traditions of political and literary dissent that have informed her life and work, set against the unparalleled represssion of free speech and thought in the USA today. Both memoir and meditation, Paretsky's work is a beautiful, compelling exploration of the writer's art and daunting responsibility in the face of the assault on US civil liberties post 9/11.