Book Review: “The Half-Known World” by Robert Boswell

Whoops. I know this was sudden, because I just posted the First Impression Friday topic on this book a few days ago, but to be honest, that was written a few weeks ago when I actually started the book.

Now we stand here, with me scratching my head and attempting to figure out how I can safely review this book without sounding like a moron.

This book is composed of several essays that have to do with the craft of writing fiction. In the first chapter, Boswell rails against “normal” creative writing classes, where professors have students make lists of characters, settings, etc., and so on and so forth. I understand his meanings behind it, but I still feel like knowing things about my character helps me write the books.

Several of these chapters had me shaking my head and disagreeing, particularly when he praises Alice Munro. I know that she’s an important writer, and I know that she is practically worshiped for her prose, but I have never been able to truly get into her writings. Oh, I’ve read several short stories and collections of hers, but I’ve never seen what makes her worthy of being elevated to god-like status. That probably makes me a bad writer.

I also discovered that my fantasy plot is probably trite and will not be well-received by anyone, despite my professor enjoying what I’ve written so far and encouraging what I’ve written so far. It’s a little disheartening to read things like this, to be honest.

I understand where Boswell is coming from, and I understand that many people hold this as one of the best fiction-writing craft books out there, but it was just such a struggle for me to get involved in this. I spent nearly two months attempting to read this book, because I just could not get into it. Every single page was a trudge to get through.

Do I consider it a good book? Probably. Would I re-read this? Most likely not. It’s going to go on my writing shelf just in case I need to reference it at some point in the future. But for now…it’s not for me.

I don’t feel right in giving this a “proper” grade. It has a 4.2 on GoodReads, but I’m just not feeling this. I’m sure it will help many other people, but it was a lot of repetition and a lot of things I disagreed with. Maybe I’ve just had bad creative writing professors (and I KNOW that’s not the case).

Have you read this book? What were your opinions on it? Do you think we can accurately grade books that fall into the category of “craft” books? Let me know in the comments!

And as always, keep reading.


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