The first time I saw Bravo’s TV show Writing Life corresponded to the same time I was reading the anthology, which coincidentally shares its title, put out by PEN Canada featuring fifty of Canada’s most celebrated living writers. The TV show episode I saw was about 70-year-old Alistair MacLeod who also contributed to the book. I sat patiently in front of the television, watching as the cameraperson followed the friendly writer around his cluttered office, invading his personal space. After the show, I picked up Writing Life and read his four-page personal essay, “Some Thoughts on Writing,” a mere five minute read, I felt as though I was taken out of his disheveled office and into his world as a writer. His personal relationship with writing suddenly became clear. What seemed rather incoherent in the TV interview sprung to life through words that showed writing to be not just art but an act of communication.
You don’t love writers like MacLeod for what they say or do on TV, you love them for what they show and tell on a page. Writing Life (the book) emphasizes this, as many of the writers discuss the often uncomfortable politics of the publishing and literary world. Lynn Coady and Shyam Selvadurai write about their reluctance to go on book tours and perform public readings of their work. Others like Di Brandt and Alberto Manguel explore their experiences growing up and eventually developing into writers. I found out through Writing Life that Margaret Atwood is a serious comedienne: her personal essay “Five Visits to the Hoard World” was remarkably funny. I also enjoyed Peter Robinson’s essay on crime fiction being accepted as serious literature. I shall say that predictably, the book was better than the film (or TV series in this case). (Erin Kobayashi)
edited by Constance Rooke, $24.99 (proceeds towards PEN Canada), 450 pgs, McClelland & Stewart, 75 Sherbourne Street, Toronto, ON, M5A 2P9, mcclelland.com