Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Book Review: The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life

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Title: The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life
Author: Nava Atlas
Publisher: Sellers Publishing, Inc. South Portland, ME
Publishing Date: 2011
ISBN 13: 978-1-4162-0632-3
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Nava Atlas is a well-known cookbook author. The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life is a departure but in it, she offers us the ingredients twelve famous female writers combined to serve up their writing lives. Through family problems, depression and social misconceptions, they wrote. They persevered in order to say what they were compelled to say. Because they did, we now know the works of Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontё, Willa Cather, Edna Ferber, Madeline L’Engle, Lucy Maud Montgomery, Anaïs Nin, George Sand, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edith Wharton and Virginia Woolf.

Atlas talks about the “universal yearning to set thoughts to paper.” Literary Ladies explains how each writer showcased in the book made space in her life to accomplish that goal. It wasn’t easy.

Harriet Beecher Stowe raised seven children and had to supplement her husband’s meager income by publishing her articles. Yet, she found the time to produce Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book that rattled a nation.

Edith Wharton was on the other end of the economic ladder. The phrase “keep up with the Joneses” pertains to her family. It was Wharton’s family with whom the elite struggled to keep up--both socially and economically. Although she had money, time and ability, her family thought the pursuit of writing was an embarrassment to their station in life and not worthwhile for a socialite. She still forged ahead to win a Pulitzer Prize.

The information about the authors comes from their diaries, letters, journals memories and interviews. From these sources, we learn about how they struggled to find and maintain their own voice, master uncertainty about their abilities and balance their family lives with the need to write. It breaks down forever the fallacy that writing is easy work.

Chapters in The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life include Becoming a Writer, Developing a Voice, Tools of the Trade, Conquering Inner Demons, The Writer Mother, Rejection and Acceptance, Money-Matters and Farther Along the Path. At the end is a section on Sources, Notes and Acknowledgements which gives additional information for deeper study. The only thing the book doesn’t have is an index, which would come in handy.
Nava Atlas not only wrote this book but also illustrated it, and did it well. She is an accomplished illustrator with work in several gallery collections. Writer, artist, cook, mother, she herself is an example of the persevering woman. But even as gifted as she is, Atlas said about her early writing life, “I thought I lacked ability when the writing got hard.” It’s so easy not to see the big picture.

Twenty-First Century women still have the same challenges as did the Literary Ladies. They must figure out how to write, get a publisher, make a living as a writer while raising a family and, in most cases, hold down a full-time job. Atlas’s book motivates modern-day female writers to carve out time from the same twenty-four-hour day the Literary Ladies had to pursue their craft. The Literary Ladies Guide to the Writing Life offers them the ingredients and motivation to bake up their OWN literary masterpieces. That’s why this book is so important to read.

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