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"Long live the King" hailed Entertainment Weekly upon the publication of Stephen King's On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer's craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King's advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999 -- and how the ...
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"Long live the King" hailed Entertainment Weekly upon the publication of Stephen King's On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer's craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King's advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999 -- and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it -- fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.
"This is a special book, animated by a unique intelligence, and filled with useful truth."—Michael Chabon
"On Writing had more useful and observant things to say about the craft than any book since Strunk and White's The Elements of Style."—Roger Ebert
“The best book on writing. Ever.”—The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
In June of 1999, I decided to spend the summer finishing the damn writing book -- let Susan Moldow and Nan Graham at Scribner decide if it was good or bad, I thought. I read the manuscript over, prepared for the worst, and discovered I actually sort of liked what I had. The road to finishing it seemed clear-cut, too. I had finished the memoir ("C.V."), which attempted to show some of the incidents and life-situations which made me into the sort of writer I turned out to be, and I had covered the mechanics -- those that seemed most important to me, at least. What remained to be done was the key section, "On Writing," where I'd try to answer some of the questions I'd been asked in seminars and at speaking engagements, plus all those I wish I'd been asked...those questions about the language.
On the night of June seventeenth, blissfully unaware that I was now less than forty-eight hours from my little date with Bryan Smith (not to mention Bullet the rottweiler), I sat down at our dining room table and listed all the questions I wanted to answer, all the points I wanted to address. On the eighteenth, I wrote the first four pages of the "On Writing" section. That was where the work still stood in late July, when I decided I'd better get back to work...or at least try.
I didn't want to go back to work. I was in a lot of pain, unable to bend my right knee, and restricted to a walker. I couldn't imagine sitting behind a desk for long, even in my wheelchair. Because of my cataclysmically smashed hip, sitting was torture after forty minutes or so, impossible after an hour and a quarter. Added to this was the book itself, which seemed more daunting than ever -- how was I supposed to write about dialogue, character, and getting an agent when the most pressing thing in my world was how long until the next dose of Percocet?
Yet at the same time I felt I'd reached one of those crossroads moments when you're all out of choices. And I had been in terrible situations before which the writing had helped me get over -- had helped me forget myself for at least a little while. Perhaps it would help me again. It seemed ridiculous to think it might be so, given the level of my pain and physical incapacitation, but there was that voice in the back of my mind, both patient and implacable, telling me that, in the words of the Chambers Brothers, Time Has Come Today. It's possible for me to disobey that voice, but very difficult to disbelieve it.
In the end it was Tabby who cast the deciding vote, as she so often has at crucial moments in my life. I'd like to think I've done the same for her from time to time, because it seems to me that one of the things marriage is about is casting the tiebreaking vote when you just can't decide what you should do next.
My wife is the person in my life who's most likely to say I'm working too hard, it's time to slow down, stay away from that damn PowerBook for a little while, Steve, give it a rest. When I told her on that July morning that I thought I'd better go back to work, I expected a lecture. Instead, she asked me where I wanted to set up. I told her I didn't know, hadn't even thought about it.
She thought about it, then said: "I can rig a table for you in the back hall, outside the pantry. There are plenty of plug-ins -- you can have your Mac, the little printer, and a fan." The fan was certainly a must -- it had been a terrifically hot summer, and on the day I went back to work, the temperature outside was ninety-five. It wasn't much cooler in the back hall.
Tabby spent a couple of hours putting things together, and that afternoon at four o'clock she rolled me out through the kitchen and down the newly installed wheelchair ramp into the back hall. She had made me a wonderful little nest there: laptop and printer connected side by side, table lamp, manuscript (with my notes from the month before placed neatly on top), pens, reference materials. Standing on the corner of the desk was a framed picture of our younger son, which she had taken earlier that summer.
"Is it all right?" she asked.
"It's gorgeous," I said, and hugged her. It was gorgeous. So is she.
The former Tabitha Spruce of Oldtown, Maine, knows when I'm working too hard, but she also knows that sometimes its the work that bails me out. She got me positioned at the table, kissed me on the temple, and then left me there to find out if I had anything left to say. It turned out I did.
Copyright © 2000 by Stephen King
A Reading Group Guide for On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King
Points of Discussion
Stephen King is the author of more than fifty books, all of them worldwide bestsellers. Among his most recent are Under the Dome, Just After Sunset, the Dark Tower novels, Cell, From a Buick 8, Everything's Eventual, Hearts in Atlantis, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Lisey's Story and Bag of Bones. His acclaimed nonfiction book, On Writing, is also a bestseller. He was the recipient of the 2003 National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters. He lives in Maine with his wife, novelist Tabitha King.
2. What role did Stephen King's childhood play in his evolution as a writer? Did your childhood experiences influence your desire to write?
3. King was encouraged from a young age by his mother, who told him one of his boyhood stories was "good enough to be in a book." Was there someone in your life who encouraged your earliest efforts?
4. At what age do you remember thinking you wanted to write? What do you remember writing when you were young?
5. King's wife Tabitha is his "Ideal Reader," the one-person audience he has in mind when writing a first draft. When you write, do you envision a particular Ideal Reader? Who is that person and why?
6. While King delights in the nuts-and-bolts mechanics of the writing process, he concedes that good writing involves magic as well. Do you agree with King's assertion that "while it is impossible to make a competent writer out of a bad writer, and while it is equally impossible to make a great writer out of a good one, it is possible, with lots of hard work, dedication, and timely help, to make a good writer out of a merely competent one?" To what degree can a writer be made? To what extent can writing be taught? What writerly skills do you come by naturally, and which have you had to work to acquire or improve?
7. Discuss King's "toolbox" analogy. What "tools" do you find most indispensable when you write? Are there any you would add to King's toolbox?
8. King believes that stories are "found things, like fossils in the ground." Discuss King's extended metaphor of "writing as excavation." Do you agree with this theory?
9. According to King, good story ideas "seem to come quite literally from nowhere, sailing at you right out of the empty sky," and often don't ignite until they collide with another idea that also comes unbidden. Do you find that ideas for stories or writing projects come to you out of the blue, or do you have to search for them? What serves as the basis for most of your stories? A situation? A character? A moral dilemma? King recalls a dream that led him to the writing of his book Misery. Have you ever gotten a story idea from a dream? Discuss how you discovered your best ideas and how they evolved into finished stories.
10. King describes the dangers of seeking reader response -- or "opening the door" -- too early or too frequently. At what stage in a writing project do you solicit critical feedback from others? When you do "open the door," who are the first readers you ask for advice? Why do you trust those readers and what are you looking to hear from them?
11. King doesn't read in order to "study the craft" but believes that there is "a learning process going on" when he reads. Do you read books differently as a writer? Are you conscious of "the craft" as you read?
12. In the first foreword to On Writing, King talks about the fact that no one ever asks popular writers about the language. Yet he cares passionately about language and about the art and craft of telling stories on paper. Do you think there is a false distinction between writers who write extraordinary sentences and writers who tell stories?
13. Often, King says, "bad books have more to teach than the good ones." He believes that most writers remember the first book they put down thinking "I can do better than this." Can you remember a book that gave you that feeling? Why?
14. King's self-imposed "production schedule" is 2,000 words a day and he suggests that all writers set a daily writing goal. What kind of discipline, if any, do you impose upon your own writing efforts? Do you always write at the same time of day? If so, when and why? Do you try to maintain a steady pace? Does adherence to a strict routine help your writing efforts?
15. King tells a story about getting his fantasy desk, a massive oak slab that he placed in the middle of his spacious study. For six years, he sat "behind that desk either drunk or wrecked out of [his] mind." After sobering up, he replaced the desk with a smaller one that he put in a corner. "Life isn't a support system for art," he figured out. "It's the other way around." Discuss King's "revelation" and the symbolism of the placement of the desk.
Stephen King's On Writing is one of the few non-fiction books I've ever enjoyed and I will probably read it again someday for inspiration and the helpful advice it gives. The book starts out as a small memoir of King's childhood, his family life, how he first found his passion for writing, and how he used his talent and determination to get where he is today, as well as meeting his friends and his future wife. The second part of the book is divided up into chapters of how each component of a good fiction book is to be written (plot, characters, word usage, grammar, etc) and it gives the basic dos and don'ts of literature. The final part of the book is the King giving his farewell to his readers and a sneak peek at one of his other novels 1408 as well as a list of books that he liked to read and gave him inspiration. The major themes of the writing are determination, knowing what you're doing, and passion for what it is you want to do, and in this book's case: writing. I liked all the helpful advice King gave and he gave it in such a way that it was easy to understand, and I liked how he wrote the book on a personal level, like he was speaking directly to the readers themselves. I had no major dislikes of the book, only some confusion at certain parts when King was describing the structure of literature. Someone who wishes to one day become a fiction writer, particularly if they wish write the same genre King writes, this is a perfect book to read to help them get started. King gives everything you'll ever need to know about fictional writing, from character development, to grammar corrections, to dealing with writer's block. It is the absolute fiction writer's instruction manual. I would recommend reading his other works, after reading On Writing, to see how he put his own advice to work and what the end result should look like. I personally would recommend The Long Walk or Rose Red. My overall rating on this book is five out of five stars; a hard-working literary master like Stephen King deserves no less. I too wish to be a fictional writer someday, and work in the same genre as King, so this book has been incredibly inspirational to me and has helped me harden my resolve to one day become an author like King himself. This book is one I will treasure for a long time.
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Posted May 19, 2010
Just so you know, this book is good for anyone. Anyone who creates or has to press on or has worked crappy jobs wanting to go forward. I gave it a shot and have not put it down.
I am a writer. Not because I'm published, but because I sit for hours at my computer pounding out words that somewhat convey a cohesive story. Steven King probably didn't publish this book years and years ago for a couple of reasons. Of course, these are just guesses. But probably because he's tired of seeing the stuff this coming generation puts out, and also because we just might not have listened. But after his great success as a writer, he is, no matter what we have to say, a bit of an expert on it. What is great about this book, what is most meaningful is the fact that King has lived the life of an average writer. His folks didn't have tons of money, and he struggled much in the way I, type A commoner, struggles. But along with his self expose, he also teaches and uplifts. His voice jumps off the page and says, "No excuses." As a writer, I think this has been wonderful. Most of us don't have mentors pushing us in one direction or another. And most creative writers that we look up to don't really have the time. King's book took the mind of a mentor and put it into our hands. You don't have to read his type of fiction or even like it to really REALLY grow from this book. Yes, he may reference from some of them, but trust me, it won't be giving you nightmares. It'll be giving you ideas, telling you that it's alright to spend time on your work, and giving you permission to dream in ways that no one has ever told you it was okay. And it's not just for writers; it's for free thinkers.
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Posted April 9, 2010
I read this book back in 2001 and I still thing that it's a wonderful book for beginning writers to study. Stephen has dominated the horror genre for quite a long time. In his book he talks about how he got started, his love for writing, and why he continues to do so.
Reading it again, I still could not put this book down until I had turned the last page. This book still remains one of my "bibles" on the art and craft of writing. Stephen advises the beginning writer to "write every day no matter what."
His account of the writing craft is both funny, sarcastic, witty and downright truthful. His story of the author who was found sprawled out on his desk in despair because although he wrote only seven words, he did not know in which order they should go, still resonates with me even more now that I am writing my first novel.
One of the other things Stephen mentioned is the undying love and respect he has for his wife Tabitha is by far a true plus. As writers we yearn to have someone, anyone in our corner. Thank you Stephen for handing me my very own secret weapon to writing. Bravo!
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Posted April 20, 2010
As I remember the anecdote, when Stephen King was a little kid his grandfather said to his mother, "Why don't you shut that kid up, Ruth. When Steven opens his mouth, all his guts fall out." Well, they still do, and I, for one, am glad they do. I don't think there is anyone writing today who writes more from a place of honesty than Stephen King. Not just in his fiction or in the more informal things he writes, say, to introduce a story, but whenever he puts fingers to keys. On Writing is much more than a "Memoir of the Craft," which it surely is-it is an unequalled reading experience, period. I realized earlier today that this may well be my favorite book of all time, which is saying something. The thought crept up on me by surprise when it occurred to me I have bought four copies of On Writing over the years. Every time I finish reading it, I want to turn it over and read it again. Every time. No matter what King writes, he makes you feel he is sitting next to you, telling you what's on his mind, but no book does this more than this one. His words on the craft of writing are jewels, plain and simple, but it's the feeling that someone understands and is making the journey with you that matters.
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Posted September 1, 2009
For decades, Stephen King has delighted reading audiences with his shocking tales, powerful prose and frighteningly realistic characters. In the late 90s, King sat down to pen a book on how he became the writers that his is, the lessons he learned and how others can become better writers. After several long years - and a near-fatal encounter with a van - King completed On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
I'm going to just come out and say it - if you are a writer, you must read this. It is both inspirational and educational. It is typical Stephen King bluntness as well and really cuts to the heart of what it takes to be a writer and why you shouldn't fear writing what you believe in no matter what other people think about it. Successful writers are successful because they are passionate about what they write - not because they are trying to make a buck. This is not a point-by-point how-to book on writing novels. There are plenty of those out there and most of them will bore you to tears. What King offers is a look inside his writing methods and some hard-won insight into what works and what doesn't in the publishing world. It is divided into several sections. The first gives a history of his writing career that is so funny I was laughing out loud more times than I can count. It is also includes a painful account of the drug and alcohol addiction that nearly killed him and the loving intervention of his wife, Tabitha. He then goes into the tools that a writer needs to develop to do the things that a writer needs to do. The third section is really the meat of the text and shows the methods that King uses to develop a story from idea to finished manuscript. The final section is a very personal account of the horrific accident that nearly ended his life and how the lifelong devotion of his wife Tabitha and his writing - specifically finishing this memoir - contributed to his return to life. On Writing is as much a deeply personal memoir as it is a dialog on getting the most out of your writing. It is a book that I will read again and again as inspiration for my own writing. I recommend it to everybody, but most especially to every aspiring writer. If this story doesn't send you to your keyboard with renewed motivation, you probably want to find a new pursuit.
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Posted January 23, 2015
Stephen King's memoir is fascinating, helpful, and enjoyable. From reading his fictional stories to picking up this memoir I've loved every second. This book isn't only helpful and inspiring to writers and readers, but it is also filled with humorous stories and great advice. Some points are filled with humor, sarcasm, and everything is filled with truth. I did not want to put it down. He begins the memoir with memories of his childhood. They mostly consist of amusing stories and some insight on his earliest interest in writing. Moving forward It teaches you what you basically need to know about writing, but in a way that let's you actually understand better ways to write. His advice seems more personal and helpful since he goes over examples in the text. The ideas and teachings flow seamlessly throughout the book. Even though, it was a "How To" book, I thoroughly enjoyed every page. I picked it up hoping I would enjoy it a little bit, but here I am raving about it now. Stephen King's memoir is truly spectacular.
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Posted September 10, 2012
In this non-fiction novel Stephen King reflects on the memories of his childhood and his years in school, talking about how he progressed as a writer and how he first overcame rejection and all the struggles that followed to become the author he is today. He also has a section about what to do and what not to do to become a better writer. I thought the novel was great and always kept my interest. His sarcastic perspective on various things made me feel like I wasn’t just simply reading a novel that was required for school. It made me actually want to read it. We all know how frustrating it is to be required to read a novel that doesn’t really keep your interest. I didn’t feel that way with this novel and King makes his writing clear and enjoyable. During the On Writing section of the novel he includes some examples of what one shouldn’t do when writing and some of his own examples of how he writes followed by an explanation of what should be done when writing. He even gives his own reviews about certain books and authors he respects. At the end he gives the reader a booklist of novels he recommends which include some well known titles such as J.K. Rowling. I definitely recommend On Writing for all Stephen King fans and others looking for a good non-fiction novel.
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Posted July 10, 2013
When growing up he shared many accounts that give thoughtful insight into age groups. These everyday life events could possibly be understood by any number of families. More recently within his immediate family circle there are encouraging life successes also. These successes build a progressive direction in writing while enjoying family life.
Importantly he listens to others applying this to dialogue and character building in fiction. Fictional characters are not drawn directly from real life. His instruction is well explained for good storytelling, covering skills for the aspects of writing.
Many examples with further reading are given in his outstanding book. I learned enlightening connections in this well written book and highly recommend it.
Posted June 21, 2013
It is amusing, but I had hoped it would be more of a practicum on writing, a "how to", specifically. I'm about a third of the way through, and haven't gotten it yet. I don't think I would have bought it had I known that.
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Posted June 13, 2013
Very honest and interesting read. Writers reading this may want to purchase a copy of the classic "Elements of Style" in advance. I would warn any readers who are very commited and serious readers to bring a notebook and pen, Mr. King drops author names and book titles everywhere!
Posted March 31, 2012
For once, a book on writing that tells you how to do it, and not in terms of stringing letters and words together. If you write, this book will let you know that you aren't alone in your choice of methods, there are lots of writers in the same boat you are, and it will point a way through for you.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2010
Coming in to my freshman year of college,I had literally not read a book by myself since the 8th grade. Yes, I know this is bad but none of the assigned books had really caught my attention. As soon as I started reading Stephen King's on writing I was hooked and had to keep reading each anecdote. The "C.V." section of the book was the best part of the book for me because it was funny and it related to my life. Even though the "Toolbox" and " On Writing" I also learned some helpful tips to help me in my own writing. I have already recommended this book to many family members and would also to so to any prospective readers.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
On Writing: A review of the craft
September 11 2010
The autobiography On Writing by Stephen King is a enriched read containing parts of King's life and his hints on writing well. King kicks his story off with pieces of his childhood and family life. Along with just telling the story he incorporates his early life in writing. He then gives the reader his own tips on how to write well. These include what you need to know, what should not be used in writing, and goals you should set for yourself. He also includes a brief section on publishing and obtaining an agent. King then ends his book with the most recent event of what he learned after his almost fatal car accident.
Some major themes in On Writing include: Ethos, expressing the positive of situations, how events were depicted by writing or related to writing, and even King's dislikes in the way people write. King relates a lot of his life to writing, even his early life. These relations only further King's ethos and gets a hold of your attention. King also uses humor in his book. A lot of his personality shines through even in the section on how to write. He describes his own feelings toward writing, but it is not over done; you still are able to form your own opinions on what good writing may be. The Postscript of On Writing is especially intriguing. Through King's difficulty with his injuries he still pulls through and finishes his book. This grabs your attention even more so, while putting you on a more personal level with the author. You can see the effort that is also put into these books. King also shows you his realization with his own situations. He shows you he can understand himself while trying to tell you how to write well.
Some things King did not do so well, his incisive attention to detail. Detail is good in many cases and even King encourages it, but in On Writing he may over do it. In some sections of the book a story will be told and at the end of the section you think, why is this important to the story? What was King actually trying to say? There is a faint disconnection with the reader and the author.
Overall, On Writing was an excellent read. King once again captures the mind, even in a fiction novel. As with other King book's, you do not want to put it down. It seems Kings own life has a plot line of its own. Other novels I would recommend by King are: The Stand, The Green Mile, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. The overall rating of On Writing is four stars. King once again out does himself in the storytelling of his novel's. I look forward to reading more King books in the future, fiction and non-fiction alike.
Posted April 18, 2010
Posted March 14, 2010
Written in a conversational tone, easy-to-read, not dry or boring despite giving tons of good information. LOVED IT!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
This invaluable little novel gives everyone who is serious about the craft of writing an in-depth guide to better your art. Buy it! It will be money well spent.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 2, 2010
To be honest I never read a single piece of King's prior to this. I've seen films based on his books but never read any of his previous works. I had wanted to read his material for quite a long time and I wasn't disappointed when reading this. King has a very honest and concise writing style. One that continues to enthrall any reader who gives this piece of writing a chance. Starting with his curriculum vitae outlining how he became a writer and followed by a conversational on writing area, King demonstrates why he is such a popular writer. I enjoyed the honesty he demonstrated in his lines and it gave me inspiration to put more effort towards writing as a hobby. Whether you are a King fan or not you can safely purchase this book at its very affordable price and enjoy it. The one downside to the book is perhaps its brevity.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 4, 2009
I Also Recommend:
The pure fact the Stephen King is trying to give young writers a good structure for writing, when his work is horrid. His writing sense is, in my own opinion, pathetic and unnerving. His written word is like that of a dead end street:filled with empty houses, bare trees, and resentment. The pure thought of learning how to create a plot, climax, and an end to a story by the likes of Sir King, is revolting.
*Sorry to those King fans, not all of his work is bad, just most of it.
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Posted September 12, 2009
Review is from my blog http://justwritecat.wordpress.com
Recently finished Stephen King's On Writing..fantastic! In his usual way, King captures your attention from page one, line one. This is like no other book on writing I have read, freshly presented and reads like a story. Which in many ways, it is. The first part of the book focuses on King's life to date, which I found fascinating. I've always been a fan of his work, ever since I would sneak his books out of my Dad's 'locked' briefcase. My Dad hated that.but not because I was reading stuff that would scare the crud out of me. My Dad was a s-l-o-w reader and hated the thought of someone else reading his book before he was done. Well, I had little patience for that! How can anyone wait weeks, months (I did mention he was a slow reader, right?) to get her eager little paws on the newest Stephen King Scriller (thriller with maximum scare)?? Yep, I invented that wordfolks. You read it here first. Scriller. Sorry, back to King's book. Learning more about his upbringing and adventures was great. Helps you get a glimpse of when and maybe how his creative juices started to flow.
Second part of the book - thoughts on writing. Not a strict how-to guide by any means, which is great. There are enough superb books that walk you through dialogue, plot, scene formation.this book simply tells you how to write. Meaning, some ways that have worked for Mr. King. And really, if it works for Stephen King - why wouldn't you try it?
I tried one suggestion right away. Instead of a five day write week, I moved to a six day write week. He writes every day, every day. He gives beginning writers some wiggle room - you can take a day off if need be. Moving to six days really kept me more focused. I didn't have to spend the first day or two (after my usual two day break) to get back into character(s). My day "off" - maybe not writing scenes, but certainly still thinking about and jotting notes on the story.
Moral of this post - you may want to pick up King's book. Nothing too scary in this one, so you won't lose sleep. But you will gain insight. And that's never a bad thing.
Posted July 26, 2009
I have not enjoyed a book as much in years. Stephen King is one of those authors after hearing about his life you question how he survived to be with us today. My favorite part of the book is his comparison of a man on the roof of a burning house to one of his life choices. I still laugh when I picture that analogy. Although, you can learn from this publication, the pleasure you derive from reading this book should be the primary reason for purchasing it. Buy, read, learn, and enjoy.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.