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I can recommend this single volume work in the same way I would recommend an encyclopedia, or a toolkit. I really do not expect readers to plow through every chapter, or use every tool in this book of "literary inventions."
Some chapters, I found enthralling, exciting and thought provoking. In others I was completely lost. So which is which? I am reminded of the advertising salesman who admitted to a client that, honestly, half of his advertising buy is a waste of money. But, he reminded the client, there was no way to tell which half.
Except in this case, there is. The strategy I eventually came up with for this book was the following. At the beginning of each chapter, I checked to determine whether I knew even a little about the books under consideration. This is easy, as each chapter has descriptive sub titles. If, after that quick check, I realized I knew the books, I would read that chapter. If they were books I had no familiarity with, then I skipped the chapter, rather than get bogged down. I will say there is so much densely packed information here that the chapters I did read went slowly
It seems to me that this is a book for an English or world literature class, more so than for a general reader. But I must say, if you are in class and this is an assigned book, lucky you. Because this book, supplemented by a competent teacher would really be remarkable educational experience.
I have to admit some disappointment in this one, which is rare for me, especially for a book about books, which I tend to love. Subtitled “the 25 most powerful inventions in the history of literature”, it claims to isolate the techniques various writers have developed to generate particular responses in their readers. Examples from writers as ancient as Homer and Greek playwrights to those as modern as Maya Angelou and Elena Ferrante are used to explain how writers can inspire courage, excite curiosity, and bounce back from failure, among 22 other things.
There are a number of reasons why I don’t think this book works particularly well. From a writerly point-of-view, I find it to be repetitive to the point of distraction. Every chapter unfolds in the same way—invention is introduced through originating author/work, brain mechanisms are brought to bear to explain why this works, and other examples of authors/works (often expanding to movies/TV/music) that use this invention are mentioned. Also, I find the arguments about the impact of these inventions to be less than convincing. Not only do I not see these results clearly in the books described with which I am familiar, I also do not see any evidence that stories can be so precise and universal in their effect.
The thing I find most irritating, however, is the mechanistic point-of-view taken by the author. I am a trained scientist and mathematician, but I found all these discussions of the impact of different kinds of reading on various brain regions to be unconvincing. Of course, the brain is the primary organ impacted by the experience of stories, but if our experience could be explained entirely by brain science, everyone would have the same reactions to the same reading. And every chapter takes us down this dead-end road.
Every generation seems to take on a new view of how to interpret literature. In our scientific age, I suppose this brain-centered approach shouldn’t be surprising. And, to be fair, I think every type of criticism can add something to our bank of knowledge. That said, I feel this approach, though not without some appeal, is quite limited.
This book is beautifully written, which is a refreshing surprise given the complexity of the subject matter. Each chapter comes with loads of information delivered articulately and in a beginner-friendly manner. As a writer, this has changed the way I approach the pen and paper.
However, I did find one small problem. Pages 371-386 are missing from the book. I never thought to check it until I got that deep into the book, and by that time the return window had closed on my order. I am writing this review in the hope that Amazon will reach out to me and attempt to reconcile the issue somehow.
If you do order this book (And I highly recommend you do), I hope that yours has all the pages. Also, buy it from a local bookstore if you're able. It'll be better for everyone, and you'll likely be able to return it if pages 371-386 are missing.
Fletcher guides us through a roughly chronological tour of western literature, showing us how authors invented (sometimes unwittingly because innovation often happens like that) ways to make us feel or think or act as social humans. Grounded in neuroscience, dedicated to engaging our wonder and sense of fun, this is a literature major's dream.
The book is formulaic - like an algebraic expression. You can enjoy the text by reading it as you would a typical didactic manuscript. But if you want to USE Wonderworks - study it as if it is a mental training manual for writers - because that's exactly what it is.
I found this book really engaging. It's not only a great tour of literature, it views fiction through the lens of innovation, examining for example stream of consciousness writing and how it fits into a broader picture of psychology and even neuroscience. The book itself is an innovation, and well worth the read. Highly recommended.
All those books I had to read in high school, college, and grad school you'll understand WHY those books/stories/essays were require. If you're an English major, teacher or just an aficionado, this book is one to be on your shelves for you and generations to come.
Conceptual models for effective writing fiction, exposition, theatre scripts, sales and propaganda pitches. Current models of neurological functions in brain cited convincingly though with a bit too much breathless introduction. Interesting read as is. Would be more digestible with organization of the many topics into an overall schema ; perhaps on the notion of effective suasion.