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Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing

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Overview

For more than forty years, distinguished author Roger Rosenblatt has also been a teacher of writing, guiding students with the same intelligence and generosity he brings to the page, answering the difficult questions about what makes a story good, an essay shapely, a novel successful, and the most profound and essential question of them all—why write?

Unless It Moves the Human Heart details one semester in Rosenblatt's "Writing Everything" class. In a series of funny, intimate...

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Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing

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Overview

For more than forty years, distinguished author Roger Rosenblatt has also been a teacher of writing, guiding students with the same intelligence and generosity he brings to the page, answering the difficult questions about what makes a story good, an essay shapely, a novel successful, and the most profound and essential question of them all—why write?

Unless It Moves the Human Heart details one semester in Rosenblatt's "Writing Everything" class. In a series of funny, intimate conversations, a diverse group of students—from Inur, a young woman whose family is from Pakistan, to Sven, an ex–fighter pilot—grapples with the questions and subjects most important to narrative craft. Delving into their varied lives, Rosenblatt brings readers closer to them, emotionally investing us in their failures and triumphs.

More than a how-to for writers and aspiring writers, more than a memoir of teaching, Unless It Moves the Human Heart is a deeply felt and impassioned plea for the necessity of writing in our lives. As Rosenblatt wisely reminds us, "Writing is the cure for the disease of living. Doing it may sometimes feel like an escape from the world, but at its best moments it is an act of rescue."

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Culled from his experiences teaching writing workshops, novelist, essayist, and longtime professor Rosenblatt (Making Toast) tackles the "why"--not the "how"--of writing by chronicling his winter/spring 2008 semester of "Writing Everything," wherein students discuss and write short stories, essays, and poetry. Chapters include these students' work; Rosenblatt's humor, wit, and wisdom; and classroom discussions of questions both obvious (how does a story differ from an essay?) and remarkably precise (how does James Joyce convey so much in the first sentence of "Clay" and what does it all mean?). The author repeatedly points out that he cannot teach his students to be professional writers, but rather to simply write better than they did before. Less a how-to book than a measured reflection on teaching, the work nonetheless offers aspiring writers many concrete suggestions (let your nouns do the work; go for imagination over invention; write with "restraint, precision, and generosity"). And the oft-invoked words of other authors should resonate with readers and writers alike. (Jan.)
People
“There is much to love and ponder within these passionate pages.”
Boston Globe
“Roger Rosenblatt is the teacher you always wished you had... Adept and inventive, Rosenblatt encourages his students to write with moderation but think with grandiosity…Having skillfully addressed matters of style, he ends by eloquently approaching the spirit.”
Washington Post
“Unless It Moves the Human Heart is right up there with Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones,” although less Zen, and Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird,” although less confessional... The book is filled with humor and practical advice…”
People Magazine
"There is much to love and ponder within these passionate pages."
People
“There is much to love and ponder within these passionate pages.”
Library Journal
With this slim volume, Rosenblatt (Making Toast) offers his take on the challenges and responsibilities facing would-be writers. His approach differs from other writing treatises: the chapters follow a group of students taking one of Rosenblatt's courses at Stony Brook University in New York to reveal his dictates and theories on writing short stories, essays, and poems to readers as if they were part of the class. The text is full of dialog among real students, though Rosenblatt explains in his preface that these conversations are re-creations, not direct quotations. The informal and succinct format makes this a fast read but not a simple one. Rosenblatt's students voice many of the thorny questions that trouble writers—e.g., "Do I write only for myself, or with my reader in mind?" and "Do I read other writers' work to improve my own or do I avoid this for fear of too much outside influence?" VERDICT This will appeal to readers interested in an artful take on the writing life, as well as to fans of Rosenblatt's previous works.—Stacey Rae Brownlie, Lititz P.L., PA
Yvonne Zipp
Unless It Moves the Human Heart is right up there with Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones, although less Zen, and Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird, although less confessional. It takes the form of a memoir that re-creates classes in which Rosenblatt and his students tried to answer the question: Why write?…The book is filled with humor and practical advice…
—The Washington Post
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061965616
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/4/2011
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 625,678
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Roger Rosenblatt

Roger Rosenblatt's essays for Time and The NewsHour on PBS have won two George Polk Awards, the Peabody, and the Emmy. He is the author of six off-Broadway plays and sixteen books, including the national bestsellers Kayak Morning, Making Toast, Unless It Moves the Human Heart, Rules for Aging, the novel Lapham Rising, and Children of War, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has held the Briggs-Copeland appointment in the teaching of writing at Harvard, and is currently Distinguished Professor of English and Writing at Stony Brook University.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 20 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 20 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2012

    Flint

    He raises a pale hand to her cheek and whispered" im sorry. " and he cuckled

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2012

    Mithos to Flint and Kat

    Mithos splits into eight mithoses. They each bear a silver round shield. They bear flint to the city of angels. City of angels result five

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2012

    Alex and jason

    Alex: she watched and thought about what he brother might do . Jason: in that moment he turned his sixteen again and he felt deep anger but he didnt show it instead he ran off back to camp. Alex: she follows

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2012

    Carlie

    I dont think hell b thinking about tht

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 17, 2012

    Apollo to evry body

    Result 5 for the night evry body.

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  • Posted May 4, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    blah...

    Roger Rosenblatt is a huge name in the world of writing. He's written magazine columns, plays, essays, and books and is a master of language. I've always enjoyed his articles in Time-he's a favorite of mine. In this book he describes a semester of teaching several students to write, by having them experiment with different forms of fiction and poetry. In an interview for his book, he describes the concepts he wanted to bring to the classroom to inspire his students:



    "In one instance, I closed the door and the sound of the closing door would be another sensory stimulus. Once I did it, then I saw that they launched into their work with an entirely different vocabulary and an entirely different zest and a feeling of themselves. Then I began to think, there are other things one can really do to teach one to write in a more sophisticated way. And I started to pay attention to such things. I started paying attention to [things like] the power of the noun, to using anticipation over surprise, imagination over invention, things like this that are not exactly nuts and bolts of writing but they are related and they work in the service of a larger goal."

    ------------CSMonitor 2/6/2011




    Being excited to read these slim guidebook, I was hoping to find ways to improve my own writing with useful advice. I've already learned that I need to be more succinct and edit more carefully. I appreciate what his purpose is, to help writers find humanity in their writing and go beyond the easiest cliches and visual images. I'm sure the actual students that he taught enjoyed the class (I know I would have loved taking it), but reading about it second-hand, almost as if eavesdropping on the class, is incredibly disappointing.



    I'm not sure if it's because the dialogue (which must have been recorded for him to have so much detail?) sounds stilted or because the students sound artificial, but it just doesn't feel real. Many times he'll ask a question of the class as a way to open a conversation, but often his advice came off as contrary to what he just stated. It's almost as if it would have been simpler to say "there are no hard and fast rules to writing", because that's the message the book gives. While the involved conversations and arguments in the classroom show intelligent students with a challenging teacher, hearing his interpretation of them and their work is annoying.



    I'm not sure who would most enjoy the book. Perhaps for someone looking for motivation to write more experimentally, it would be useful. But for those of us still working on the basics, it wasn't that helpful. I know, I know....I'm setting myself up by saying that about such an esteemed writer. It pretty much guarantees that this post will be full of typos and bad grammar. In any case, for a better experience, his book Making Toast is far more enjoyable and insightful.

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    Posted July 9, 2011

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