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

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Multiple award-winner Roger Rosenblatt has received glowing critical acclaim for his exceptional literary works—from the hilarious novels Lapham Rising and Beet to his poignant, heartbreaking, ultimately inspiring memoir Making Toast. With Unless It Moves the Human Heart, the revered novelist, essayist, playwright, and respected writing teacher offers a guidebook for aspir Multiple award-winner Roger Rosenblatt has received glowing critical acclaim for his exceptional literary works—from the hilarious novels Lapham Rising and Beet to his poignant, heartbreaking, ultimately inspiring memoir Making Toast. With Unless It Moves the Human Heart, the revered novelist, essayist, playwright, and respected writing teacher offers a guidebook for aspiring authors, a memoir, and an impassioned argument for the necessity of writing in our world. In the tradition of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Rosenblatt’s Unless It Moves the Human Heart provides practical insights and advice on the craft, exquisitely presented by one of contemporary literature’s living treasures.


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Multiple award-winner Roger Rosenblatt has received glowing critical acclaim for his exceptional literary works—from the hilarious novels Lapham Rising and Beet to his poignant, heartbreaking, ultimately inspiring memoir Making Toast. With Unless It Moves the Human Heart, the revered novelist, essayist, playwright, and respected writing teacher offers a guidebook for aspir Multiple award-winner Roger Rosenblatt has received glowing critical acclaim for his exceptional literary works—from the hilarious novels Lapham Rising and Beet to his poignant, heartbreaking, ultimately inspiring memoir Making Toast. With Unless It Moves the Human Heart, the revered novelist, essayist, playwright, and respected writing teacher offers a guidebook for aspiring authors, a memoir, and an impassioned argument for the necessity of writing in our world. In the tradition of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Rosenblatt’s Unless It Moves the Human Heart provides practical insights and advice on the craft, exquisitely presented by one of contemporary literature’s living treasures.

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

  1. 4 out of 5

    Aven

    I took a class with Roger as an undergrad. I consider myself to be one of a very fortunate few who were able to do this. I look forward to continuing to work with Roger. He didn't talk about what he was writing often, but when he did, we always approached it like we were being given a very special treat that required a great reverence. He didn't talk about this book, though. I found out about it when he published the last part: a letter to his ungrateful students in the New Yorker. This book doe I took a class with Roger as an undergrad. I consider myself to be one of a very fortunate few who were able to do this. I look forward to continuing to work with Roger. He didn't talk about what he was writing often, but when he did, we always approached it like we were being given a very special treat that required a great reverence. He didn't talk about this book, though. I found out about it when he published the last part: a letter to his ungrateful students in the New Yorker. This book does something which is absolutely incredible: it takes you behind the person who wrote for TIME magazine and into the classroom to learn from him. I immediately pre-ordered this book and once it arrived, I found myself stealing moments to read more and more of his incredible insights and solutions. If you are looking for a book about the craft of writing, this book will not disappoint. If you are looking for a touching story about the behind the scenes aspect of the writing life, this book is also for you. The book is short and accessible, which is not to say that it does not say much. This book is a combination of a compelling narrative and a crash course in what Roger has learned as a writing professor and writer. This book would make a great substitute for those who cannot go to Southampton's writing conferences, as well as a great book for those who are considering pursuing the writer's life or who are considering Southampton's MFA in writing.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    Last Wednesday evening I attended Rosenblatt's reading at Politics & Prose and heard much of what's on these pages, in some cases verbatim. No matter. Every word he said, every story he shared, is worth hearing again. The letter to his writing class, printed on the book's last pages, just might get taped to my wall. It moved me to tears--not impossible to do when the subject is writing and books, but I can't say it's happened in a while. I first became acquainted with Rosenblatt when he moderate Last Wednesday evening I attended Rosenblatt's reading at Politics & Prose and heard much of what's on these pages, in some cases verbatim. No matter. Every word he said, every story he shared, is worth hearing again. The letter to his writing class, printed on the book's last pages, just might get taped to my wall. It moved me to tears--not impossible to do when the subject is writing and books, but I can't say it's happened in a while. I first became acquainted with Rosenblatt when he moderated the PEN/Faulkner awards several years ago. At the time, he alluded to a difficult year, and went on to entertain us with dark, great humor. Only later did I learn that his daughter, a Bethesda pediatrician, had died suddenly, leaving behind a young family. Making Toast: A Family Story is his story of that tragedy, and of his and his wife's tremendous effort to care for their son-in-law and grandchildren in the aftermath. A woman I know who was close to his daughter told me at the reading that she thought his writing had saved him these last few years. I have no doubt that more than a few students of writing--as well as veterans of the pursuit--will be saved by Unless It Moves the Human Heart.

  3. 5 out of 5

    John McDonald

    Toward the conclusion of this charming (ugh! The advertising writer who named a toilet paper using this word-"Charmin"-really described how the word could best be used.), pleasant, and helpful book, which the author, Roger Rosenblatt, writes in the medium of Professor Rosenblatt engaging with his students in a writing class, takes place at a "reunion dinner" where the author engages former students in a running conversation throughout the book, at a restaurant owned by one of those students. As Toward the conclusion of this charming (ugh! The advertising writer who named a toilet paper using this word-"Charmin"-really described how the word could best be used.), pleasant, and helpful book, which the author, Roger Rosenblatt, writes in the medium of Professor Rosenblatt engaging with his students in a writing class, takes place at a "reunion dinner" where the author engages former students in a running conversation throughout the book, at a restaurant owned by one of those students. As they sat and ate and spoke about what they were writing or, in some cases, not writing, one of the students asks, "Could we be a literary circle." Silently, I answered that question, "only if they do not end up being a writer's block." I think Rosenblatt would have complimented me about making the pun--my silent answer went well beyond the question asked and would have forced the group to consider something they hadn't been thinking about--because this scene in a restaurant amplified the question well beyond its intent or meaning. As Rosenblatt repeatedly reminds us here, good writing gives meaning to our lives because "the first task of a writer is to make the reader see". Most people, I think, do not recognize the necessity of being good writers. My experiences as a lawyer for more than 45 years has dramatically and emphatically taught me, from experience, that entire careers are devoted to making other people see my point of view, mostly in writing, to make my arguments and present my evidence in a way that helps my audience (a judge, another attorney, a witness, a jury) see and understand what I am telling them. I noticed also that my children took that same point of view, trying to wheedle something out of me or my wife, even though they tried it orally most of the time. I see it repeatedly in discussions of political issues I have with my friends. When I can't "make them see" my viewpoint and cannot convince them with my oral arguments, I find that one piece of comprehensive and eloquently presented piece of writing can make my point of view and its justifications clearer, better, more convincing, things I learned to do from my father who constantly cut articles out of newspapers and magazines to mail to me to prove his point, even if his point was that Paul Arizen of the 1950s Philadelphia Warriors was a better jump shooter than Hal Greer or Dolph Shayes. That writing was the superior authority that expanded our minds to receive the evidence. Is it a mystery, then, that Cicero, when he was delivering his Cataline speeches or defending Romans charged with murder or other crimes that carried either the horrors of carrying out a Roman death sentence or being exiled by banishment to wastelands far from Rome and its conveniences, always, without exception, told his jurors or Senate colleagues story after story about the notable defendant, hoping to make the defendant appear just like them, hoping to inject humanity into their desperate lives, hoping to give the Roman nobility who served as jurors just a single reason to be understanding, compassionate, and open to a vote favoring Cicero's Client and providing a measure of hope for an acquittal. I am on board with Roger Rosenblatt's ideal, that knowing how to tell a story matters a lot. It is an ideal found in every good book, starting with the Bible, which really is slightly more than a series of stories, told from the point of view of sufferers and teachers, who are providing lessons about how life ought to be lived. Rosenblatt believes that writing fiction not only allows us, but requires us to wander beyond the truth, that indeed, wandering beyond the truth--but not too much--is mostly the point of fiction unless you believe that life imitates art in the first place. After all, when we tell a story, orally or in writing, about something that happened to us or our mates in our youths, we depend on faulty memories, an inconsistency in the recalled facts each time the story is told. But that doesn't really matter because the point of writing is "make the reader see" what you mean. "We start with a story because it is basic to human nature. It's like a biological fact, an inborn insistence. In the last days of the Warsaw ghetto, the Jews knew what was going to happen to them. They had seen their mothers and neighbors hauled off to the extermination camps, and . . . yet they had the strength and the will to take scraps of paper on which they wrote poems, fragments of autobiography, political tracts, journal entries. And they rolled those scraps into small scrolls and slipped the scrolls into the crevices of the ghetto walls. Why? Why did they bother? . . . If their scraps of paper were discovered, the victors would laugh at them, read and laugh, and tear them up. So why expose their writing, their souls to derision? Because they had to have to do it. They had a story to tell. They had to tell a story." (Rosenblatt, Unless It Moves the Human Heart, page 19). Notice that Rosenblatt, in the above quotation, doesn't merely say that these people, destined to die in the horrors of the gas chamber, urgently wanted to tell a story. It is the natural and primordial need of people to tell a story, to make a connection with others, to justify their own humanity, to, as Rosenblatt reminds us time and time (often, sometimes implicitly) make other people "see." Knowing this, acting on this, the writer then focuses on writing and saying what you mean to say, not overwriting, not trying to mimic a famous writer, not being pompous or affected, but knowing how to tell your story in order to make the audience "see." The Greeks--Socrates as I recall--told us to "know thyself", and this lesson is central to the writer success, too. The daughter of Bill Russell, the Boston Celtics great of the 1950s and 60s, once asked her father, "Daddy, what do you think when they boo you like that? He said, 'I never hear the boos because I never hear the cheers.' Your vision, only your vision matters", Russell told his daughter. [By the way, anyone who ever saw Russell head up against Wilt Chamberlain in a Celtics-Warrior game as I have had the pleasure of experiencing saw two mighty fortresses whose physical strengths were impressive weapons, who played with vision only, who could not hear the cheers or the boos because they were executing their vision by wreaking havoc on opponents, and, partially perhaps, doing what they wanted their audience, the fans, to see.] The best writing is restrained, says Rosenblatt, and a writer should keep that posted in the forefront of her mind. Do not overwrite, do not stay too long, say what must be said. Even Dickens in Bleak House and George Eliot in Middlemarch and Trollope in his mighty Palisers' volumes, stayed only as long as we expected them to stay, saying only that which we had to know until we were able to "see". Perhaps the best chapter of this tiny book is the chapter on the importance of reading to a writer. I didn't know anyone ever doubted the truth that to write well (not just write, but write well) a writer must read and read across a wide spectrum of forms and subjects. I highly recommend this book. or if you want, this short novel, since it surely must be almost fiction since everything he writes, he writes in quotes. And, don't read it as though you expect to become a famous writer, or even a good writer who gets his works accepted by publishers. In the end, Rosenblatt, the consummate teacher, just wants to help us tell our stories that must be told and must be told in a way that allows our readers to see what we see and mostly, what we believe to be true.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    I have a nonfiction bookshelf here and it feels weird not to place this book there. It's by TIME essayist Roger Rosenblatt, after all, and about his experiences teaching an MFA writing course at Stony Brook University called "Writing Everything." Why the hesitation, then? Rosenblatt makes up the classroom dialogue between himself and his students, that's why. As he himself writes, it's "fiction, top to bottom," and, turns out, it makes the book a helluva lot funnier than it might have been if he I have a nonfiction bookshelf here and it feels weird not to place this book there. It's by TIME essayist Roger Rosenblatt, after all, and about his experiences teaching an MFA writing course at Stony Brook University called "Writing Everything." Why the hesitation, then? Rosenblatt makes up the classroom dialogue between himself and his students, that's why. As he himself writes, it's "fiction, top to bottom," and, turns out, it makes the book a helluva lot funnier than it might have been if he recorded actual classrooms and transposed the back-and-forth such as it was. Instead we get adult students of every stripe (almost like a sitcom or a reality show!) and of various abilities doing their darnedest to please their witty professor. So yes, if you enjoy a chuckle via academic badinage, you might be jonesing for this book. What about the structure? The book follows the same design as Roger's course. It starts with stories because that's where it all began (think of your first fireside chat in ancient Greece when that Homer fellow started oraling his tradition with a tale of a sailor's very-long trip home on the wine-dark sea). As a teacher, I most enjoyed this chapter because Rosenblatt shares not only a few of his own teaching ideas but also a few of those learned from professors HE studied under. Also, the dialogue here is rich in allusions to this author and that, that book and this, and, as you know, we Goodreads sorts just eat that stuff up because it reminds us of... ourselves, maybe. Rosenblatt is also in rare form when he moves on to essays. This is the second book I've read in recent months that has provided the etymology of the word "essay" (the French word essayer means "to try"). I also got it in Sarah Bakewell's lovely How To Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer. On one point I disagreed with Rosenblatt: he feels a personal essay has to have a point, while memoir does not. To me, many memoirs have points. Or maybe he is saying that I, the reader, am making the point. The memoirist himself is not. Bah. Nonsense, really. Next, in a "filler" chapter, Rosenblatt talked about the wellworn nostrum of good readers making good writers. Here he allows every fictional student to tell us about his or her earliest books. Prepare, then, for the likes of My Friend Flicka and Lassie (which I don't mind too much -- unless you play the whistling theme song from the TV show, which makes me teary-eyed). This was a slog, to say the least. And in a final disappointment, Rosenblatt talks about teaching poetry. Actually he doesn't talk about it enough -- here he gives the show more to his students because he is out of his own element, I think. We read some MFA poetry in this chapter, poems Rosenblatt deems "good" (which might make you question your own ability to discern good poetry). A mixed bag, then. But I urge you to try it if you're a teacher or have any interest in teaching or writing. It's a mere 155 pp. and I checked it out of the library as a preventative against disappointment. You can too. See if it moves your human heart while you're at it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    James Murphy

    I'd expected this book to tell me more about the experience of writing, and reading, than it does. It's constructd in the form of a memoir in which Roger Rosenblatt recounts a semester of a writing class he teaches at Stony Brook University. Through his teaching points and the loosely remembered and constructed conversations of his class he discusses the elements of writing good fiction, essays, and poetry. My introduction to Rosenblatt and his book came through an interview of him on the PBS Ne I'd expected this book to tell me more about the experience of writing, and reading, than it does. It's constructd in the form of a memoir in which Roger Rosenblatt recounts a semester of a writing class he teaches at Stony Brook University. Through his teaching points and the loosely remembered and constructed conversations of his class he discusses the elements of writing good fiction, essays, and poetry. My introduction to Rosenblatt and his book came through an interview of him on the PBS News Hour. Inspired by what he said in the interview I approached the book eagerly but was a little surprised at how basic it is: what a story is, how to begin, write about what you know. So it's useful in turning your head so you're focused on what you need to see and remember as good practices rather than teaching techniques to make your writing better. I thought the most useful chapter that on poetry and the simple idea that poetry emphasizes the contradictions we notice about ourselves. Rosenblatt considers poets religious in their devotion to writing and their observations of the world. In the end I did find inspiration in the book. He emphasizes over and over again the importance of choosing the right word. He quotes Mark Twain: "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter--it's the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning." I think I've always known that without being able to say it so wonderfully. It's why I'm slowly reducing my thesaurus to tatters. But Rosenblatt's emphasis of it is encouragement that my industrious search for the right word will always be rewarding. That inspiration alone, for me, is worth the read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lucy

    I enjoyed this but deep down it's not a book about writing; it's a book about teaching. I enjoyed this but deep down it's not a book about writing; it's a book about teaching.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Stacy

    First published in 2011, "Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing," by Roger Rosenblatt, details the winter/spring 2008 semester in his "Writing Everything" class at Stony Brook University. It's a slim, humorous, and pithy volume, and since I've never had the privilege of attending graduate school, sitting in on this MFA class is simply delightful to me. Rosenblatt's book is chock-full of classic instruction for penning literary fiction, and I absolutely adore it. I first rea First published in 2011, "Unless It Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing," by Roger Rosenblatt, details the winter/spring 2008 semester in his "Writing Everything" class at Stony Brook University. It's a slim, humorous, and pithy volume, and since I've never had the privilege of attending graduate school, sitting in on this MFA class is simply delightful to me. Rosenblatt's book is chock-full of classic instruction for penning literary fiction, and I absolutely adore it. I first read this book in 2011, right after I heard Rosenblatt speak about it on the PBS NewsHour, and then I reread this book in February 2020. A lot has happened to me in the intervening 9 years. I've completed eleven commercial-fiction/genre novels in that time, I have self-published five of them, and I fully admit that my writing and my views about writing have changed a lot from my younger, more idealistic self. While I no longer wholeheartedly agree with all of Rosenblatt's advice, I can at least explain a little about why my views have shifted so much toward what remains a 5-star read about writing craft. Here is a paragraph from Rosenblatt's final pages, quoted from a letter he penned for his students many months after the class ended. It summarizes Rosenblatt's final advice, and delves into the thorny topic of writing and money: "How can you know what is useful to the world? The world will not tell you. The world will merely let you know what it wants, which changes from moment to moment, and is nearly always cockeyed. You cannot allow yourself to be directed by its tastes. When a writer wonders, 'Will it sell?' he is lost, not because he is looking to make an extra buck or two, but rather because, by dint of asking the question in the first place, he has oriented himself toward the expectations of others. The world is not a focus group. The world is an appetite waiting to be defined. The greatest love you can show it is to create what it needs, which mean you must know that yourself." (pg 151) (As an aside, I would have worded that final sentence: "which means you must know that yourself," but the wording typed above is what is featured in the book.) To disagree with Rosenblatt: I believe that writers can and do become influenced by the question, "Will it sell?" and those writers can and do keep writing, and producing quality work, without being "lost." Understanding the market, and how that market works, is about understanding power: how power operates in modern America. To understand power means being able to comprehend who holds power, and why, and what they will do to maintain it. Rosenblatt grew up comfortably middle-class. He is white, able-bodied, neurotypical, highly educated, and has been extremely successful as a writer. Having always lived inside the world of publishing and literature, it is easy for him to speak against writers trying to actively figure out how to "sell their work" for a profit. Part of me deeply appreciates that Rosenblatt's staunch opinion, prevalent within MFA programs, insisting that money "corrupts" art and artistic pursuits, still exists. A bigger part of me just wants to laugh, and I do laugh. No offense to Roger Rosenblatt, but the supposed "purity" of art is so rare as to be almost nonexistent. His own book included. American culture is like a giant machine, an enormous combustion engine that is always running, and understanding the book market is like popping open the hood of the truck. Why not take a look for yourself? I would never tell a writer not to pop the hood of that truck and take a look at the engine. What I've seen in that view has been fascinating, and complicated, dirty and ugly, and incredibly powerful. Once you know how the system operates, the engine of publishing becomes predictable, the same way any piece of machinery becomes predictable to a mechanic. It's not for the faint of heart, though. Seekers beware. Knowledge is dangerous stuff. But it certainly won't "corrupt" you. At least, I don't think it will. Rosenblatt disagrees. He's a purist, God bless him. This book is Classic MFA Literature, and I'll always love it, no matter how corrupted and impure I've become. Five stars. Highly recommended.

  8. 5 out of 5

    A.Y. Berthiaume

    I was disappointed that I wasn't more into this book when so many people in my local literary community had such wonderful things to say about it. I love books on writing but this one just didn't cut it for me. It felt like one long dialogue between teacher and students and I had to work too hard to figure out what the author wanted me to take away from those conversations. My favorite part was at the very end when he wrote a beautiful letter to his students about writing needing to move the hum I was disappointed that I wasn't more into this book when so many people in my local literary community had such wonderful things to say about it. I love books on writing but this one just didn't cut it for me. It felt like one long dialogue between teacher and students and I had to work too hard to figure out what the author wanted me to take away from those conversations. My favorite part was at the very end when he wrote a beautiful letter to his students about writing needing to move the human heart, for which the book gets its title.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Karen Chung

    I've read quite a few books in the "how to write" genre, and actually, all of them have been very good. This one is also excellent – it's full of keen insights and solid advice, things you may not have thought of or heard before in all those other very good books on writing. Not long, and definitely worthwhile. Thanks to Anne Serling for alerting me to this gem. I've read quite a few books in the "how to write" genre, and actually, all of them have been very good. This one is also excellent – it's full of keen insights and solid advice, things you may not have thought of or heard before in all those other very good books on writing. Not long, and definitely worthwhile. Thanks to Anne Serling for alerting me to this gem.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    I would prefer to give it 2.5 stars A little indulgent in the way of quips, and the admittedly fabricated conversations with students is a forced-form. Those things aside, there are a couple of useful tips, and the book’s intentions are good - if that counts for anything. Overall, a soft book. Read, or reread ‘The Elements of Style’ instead.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Rebekah O'Dell

    This charming, compelling book follows a semester in Roger Rosenblatt's writing workshop at Stonybrook University. Part memoir and part practical writing guide, Rosenblatt engagingly writes what could easily have been a vastly inferior book. One of the things I loved most about this book is that it is as much a book about teaching as it is a book about writing. I found myself underlining gems that I insist on emailing to other teacherly/writerly friends, writing on my chalkboard, and posting as This charming, compelling book follows a semester in Roger Rosenblatt's writing workshop at Stonybrook University. Part memoir and part practical writing guide, Rosenblatt engagingly writes what could easily have been a vastly inferior book. One of the things I loved most about this book is that it is as much a book about teaching as it is a book about writing. I found myself underlining gems that I insist on emailing to other teacherly/writerly friends, writing on my chalkboard, and posting as my Facebook status. For example, I gave my students Rosenblatt's words, "Most nouns contain their own modifiers ... and they will not be improved by a writer who wants to show off by making them any taller, fatter, happier, or prettier than they are" (15). Eureka! Semi-snarky writing critique that I have been dying to give my students in a beautifully eloquent package! He continues, "I tell them not to stretch to find a different word for the sake of difference. 'Read Hemingway's short stories, where he uses the same words over and over, and the words gain meaning with every repetition. IF you have someone say something, let him 'say' it -- not aver it, declare it, or intone it. Let the power reside in what is said" (15). It didn't my hurt my appreciation of the book that Rosenblatt references my long-time boyfriend Hemingway. Often. :) Lots of teacherly jewels reside within this little (less-than-150-page) text. Rosenblatt warns students against "throat-clearing" in their writing -- the tendency to avoid a strong begining by overwriting. He derides the quest for voice as the "latest cliche to signify good writing", and more simply defines it as knowing what you want to say. I absolutely loved this book. True to his own admonitions, there is no sappy overwriting here, which I was sort of expecting from the subject matter and the cover of the book. While he does chronicle his students' writing forays, they are not dramatically written so as to feel cheesy. Today on my chalkboard was another Rosenblatt quote, "If you have the goods, there's no need to dress them up. The reader will do that for you." Indeed, Rosenblatt's book has the goods.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    This book is everything I love rolled into one. It's a book about the writing craft, to be sure, but it's so much more than that. It's the story of one semester in Rosenblatt's "Writing Everything" class, complete with the lively, diverse group of students and the discussions about everything from their personal backgrounds to writing experiences to snippets of their writings. It's more than a how-to manual or a memoir of teaching writing or even a story of a semester in a classroom. It's about This book is everything I love rolled into one. It's a book about the writing craft, to be sure, but it's so much more than that. It's the story of one semester in Rosenblatt's "Writing Everything" class, complete with the lively, diverse group of students and the discussions about everything from their personal backgrounds to writing experiences to snippets of their writings. It's more than a how-to manual or a memoir of teaching writing or even a story of a semester in a classroom. It's about what it takes to move the human heart through writing. Nothing you write will matter unless it moves the human heart, said the poet A. D. Hope. And the heart that you must move is corrupt, depraved, and desperate for your love. (...) The greatest love you can show it (the world) is to create what it needs, which mean you must know that yourself. Rosenblatt is funny, his students rag him endlessly (as he does them), and I want to call him up and beg to be in one of his classes. Even if I didn't want a MFA or a career in writing, I would still want him as a teacher. He reminded me a bit of one of my favorite professors when he writes this about his teaching mentor: he found something valuable in every comment students made, no matter how far off the mark it might be. . . . I'm aware of its warming effect on a classroom. If you give every student the idea that his answer can never be entirely wrong, it makes him feel part of the group enterprise. Above all, Rosenblatt pleads for us to write. 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. This is a book about writing that recognizes what nuts and bolts writing craft books often don't: writing must move the heart. It must have a heart. It must be an extension of the writer's heart. Whether it succeeds or fails depends on the condition of the writer's heart. I wish all would-be and professional writers, their agents and editors, their mentors and advisors realized this.

  13. 5 out of 5

    John of Canada

    "Books count.They disturb people.You never heard of a tyrant who wanted to burn the tv sets." "...I hate the intrusion of journalism when we are talking about real writing." "Jasmine pipes up out of the blue.'I don't like John Donne.'In forty years of teaching literature and writing courses,I had never heard such a thing." I love this book.Enough that I am stealing a category from one of my Goodreads friends and giving it a 6 star rating.The book tells a story about how to tell stories.It is also a "Books count.They disturb people.You never heard of a tyrant who wanted to burn the tv sets." "...I hate the intrusion of journalism when we are talking about real writing." "Jasmine pipes up out of the blue.'I don't like John Donne.'In forty years of teaching literature and writing courses,I had never heard such a thing." I love this book.Enough that I am stealing a category from one of my Goodreads friends and giving it a 6 star rating.The book tells a story about how to tell stories.It is also a really good book about how to parent.e.g. So I told Patta what we had done at the amusement park...I narrated my day.He seemed amazed,enthralled.And so I lengthened the story,and made stuff up,about red waterfalls,and wild speeding boats in the shape of turtles.All sorts of things.And my grandfather's eyes got wider and wider,and he looked at me as if mine was the only voice in the world. In Atonement by Ian McEwan,thirteen year old Briony's mother is reading a play that Briony has written:"Briony studied her mother's face for every trace of shifting emotion,and Emily Tallis obliged with looks of alarm,snickers of glee and at the end,grateful smianiseed wise,affirming nods." I remember watching an interview with a champion swimmer who was talking about her first race.She was dead last and there was concern that she might drown,but her parents were so enthusiastic and proud of her that she thought she must be terrific.She,Briony and Roger were very lucky children. There are lots of tips in the book.There is also much love in this book.This is my favourite book this year.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

    It is difficult for a book to capture the atmosphere of a classroom, which is what Rosenblatt tries to do here: to pass on his convictions about creative writing, developed through many years of teaching and writing, to a broader audience than fits in his classroom. He writes classroom scenes in dialogue, as if his students all have the timing of stand-up comics and one pithy insight after another falls from his lips. I enjoyed seeing how he cultivates a cranky, somewhat insulting teaching perso It is difficult for a book to capture the atmosphere of a classroom, which is what Rosenblatt tries to do here: to pass on his convictions about creative writing, developed through many years of teaching and writing, to a broader audience than fits in his classroom. He writes classroom scenes in dialogue, as if his students all have the timing of stand-up comics and one pithy insight after another falls from his lips. I enjoyed seeing how he cultivates a cranky, somewhat insulting teaching persona; his advice seems solid if standard; and he clearly enjoys and respects his students. He ends with a direct plea to write things that matter, out of deeply idealistic commitment to the world. Perhaps there would be less lame writing if people followed this advice, yet I wasn't as receptive to his earnest message as I should have been, partly because leading up to this, he pretty much dismisses poetry as inherently trivial and incapable of this work, which seems to reflect selective reading of poetry. Plus I confess I developed a bit of a McSweeney's jones over the course of reading this b/c he seems old-fashioned and conservative. But I would think an aspiring writer who wanted a little affirmation would be glad to spend some time with him.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Caryn

    I like most books about writing, mainly because they inspire me to write more. This book was jaunty and easy to read, but kind of simplistic. It's a good evocation of a writing class' spirited repartee with an engaged (and engaging) teacher, but the format wore on me after awhile. Roger Rosenblatt, though charmingly self-deprecating, is a little too charming, and the reconstructed dialogue too glibly entertaining to be convincing (Rosenblatt freely admits that he has made up most of the dialogue I like most books about writing, mainly because they inspire me to write more. This book was jaunty and easy to read, but kind of simplistic. It's a good evocation of a writing class' spirited repartee with an engaged (and engaging) teacher, but the format wore on me after awhile. Roger Rosenblatt, though charmingly self-deprecating, is a little too charming, and the reconstructed dialogue too glibly entertaining to be convincing (Rosenblatt freely admits that he has made up most of the dialogue in the book "based" on conversations he's had with students over the years). But still he populates the book with specific, named students whom he furnishes with detailed back-stories. The whole thing seemed a little cutesy and disingenuous to me. I would have preferred an overall discussion of Rosenblatt's thoughts on writing, which is basically what he's trying to convey anyway. I guess the book was more about teaching, and so I am not its target audience. I did get some mild insights out of it, but I would prefer a discussion with more complexity. His class provides a good discussion of the "basics," however.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Laura Leaney

    I am slightly disappointed. The book is set up as a memoir of a class Roger Rosenblatt once taught, but it's a fictionalized amalgamation of students he once had and the comments he once heard from them. The re-created dialogue feels unnatural to me - and all the students are overly bright shining faces hoping to please the professor. I've always been a fan of Rosenblatt, but this little book made me a tad depressed. I've taken enough writing courses to know that there's at least one student who I am slightly disappointed. The book is set up as a memoir of a class Roger Rosenblatt once taught, but it's a fictionalized amalgamation of students he once had and the comments he once heard from them. The re-created dialogue feels unnatural to me - and all the students are overly bright shining faces hoping to please the professor. I've always been a fan of Rosenblatt, but this little book made me a tad depressed. I've taken enough writing courses to know that there's at least one student who's a complete pain in the ass. In Rosenblatt's classroom, everything runs smoothly and according to plan; even the students know their scripts. Nevertheless, there's value here if you're a teacher of writing. I like Rosenblatt's musings on whether teachers (purposefully or not) try to mold all student writing to their own style - and what kind of damage that could cause. So, it seems to me that this is NOT a book on the "craft and art of writing" but a book on the craft and art of teaching writing.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Carol Bakker

    I read (and liked) Rosenblatt's memoir Making Toast about his daughter's sudden death, so I checked out his next book: a chronicle of a year teaching a postgraduate writing class. Now, I'm a junkie for books on how to write. To say I have dozens would be only a minor stretch. I love to read them, to re-read them, and to promise myself that someday I will do what they say. So I was reminded, as expected, to slash away at adverbs and adjectives. Yes. But I really enjoyed Rosenblatt's comments as a I read (and liked) Rosenblatt's memoir Making Toast about his daughter's sudden death, so I checked out his next book: a chronicle of a year teaching a postgraduate writing class. Now, I'm a junkie for books on how to write. To say I have dozens would be only a minor stretch. I love to read them, to re-read them, and to promise myself that someday I will do what they say. So I was reminded, as expected, to slash away at adverbs and adjectives. Yes. But I really enjoyed Rosenblatt's comments as a teacher: "Teaching takes a lot of wheedling and grappling but basically it is the art of seduction. Observing a teacher who is lost in the mystery of the material can be oddly seductive." And this: "But there's no purpose in writing unless you believe in significant things — right over wrong, good over evil. Your writing may deal with the gray areas between the absolutes, and all the relativities that life requires. But you still need to acknowledge that absolutes exist, and that you are on the side of the angels."

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michele

    "Nothing you write will matter unless it moves the human heart, said the poet A.D. Hope. And the heart that you must move is corrupt, depraved, and desperate for your love." I think "Unless It Moves the Human Heart" is Roger Rosenblatt's Magnum Opus. The final word of a life lived with countless words. It is one of the most inspiring, fun, funny, serious writing books I have read. That it is a work of fiction on the craft of writing is brillant. This is one of the few writing books that I want to "Nothing you write will matter unless it moves the human heart, said the poet A.D. Hope. And the heart that you must move is corrupt, depraved, and desperate for your love." I think "Unless It Moves the Human Heart" is Roger Rosenblatt's Magnum Opus. The final word of a life lived with countless words. It is one of the most inspiring, fun, funny, serious writing books I have read. That it is a work of fiction on the craft of writing is brillant. This is one of the few writing books that I want to own and will mark up as I reread it through the years. I give it 5 stars not because it is cleaver and good writing, which it is, but because the heart of the book is true, and truth is priceless.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jose

    Not bad, but it was a little boring at times.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Emma Sedlak

    I used 115 post-it note flags for a 150 page book. This is a beautiful work of teaching and writing.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ashly Curtis

    I have a habit of reading whatever is next on my bookshelf and when I got to this book, I was not excited about it. Most of the time, by the time I get around to reading something, I've long forgotten where I'd heard about it or even where it came from and I think this was the case here. Was this a book recommended by a beloved professor or friend? Something someone who loves me gave me and thought I would like, but is horrible? A book someone raved about on a podcast? I had no idea and did not I have a habit of reading whatever is next on my bookshelf and when I got to this book, I was not excited about it. Most of the time, by the time I get around to reading something, I've long forgotten where I'd heard about it or even where it came from and I think this was the case here. Was this a book recommended by a beloved professor or friend? Something someone who loves me gave me and thought I would like, but is horrible? A book someone raved about on a podcast? I had no idea and did not feel enthusiastic about giving it a shot. But, I stuck by my habit and did it anyway. I don't write on a regular basis so much anymore, but I still consider myself a writer. After this year, I did not want to spend any time reading about the "craft and art of writing." I was expecting a dry, procedural style manual about writing fiction. I was way off. Through this short book, Rosenblatt follows a semester in one of the writing classes he teaches. He describes each of his students modestly and introduces them, and himself, as characters. The chapters are short and accessible. Having the book set up as a retelling of a semester in class allows the reader to learn alongside the students without the stresses of being in an actual classroom. Important discussions and ideas are highlighted in easily digestible vignettes. The process of learning while reading this book has a Socratic feel to it that works well from an outside perspective. Many of the discussions are set up with the students or Rosenblatt asking and answering questions about the content or pieces being read. As the reader sees these dialogues, they are able to glean their own meanings from the conversations as well. There is a good variety of topics and types of writing covered in the short time (and space); the book is a comprehensive discussion on writing. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in any aspect of creative writing. I felt inspired and energized after reading it and was pleasantly surprised by how well the format worked for me as a former student of writing. I did a lot of underlining. :)

  22. 4 out of 5

    R.C.

    A book less about writing than it is about teaching writing. That's fine, as about 75% of the book is entertaining enough for its short length. However, his framing the book into a class' conversations about writing felt overly forced to me. The author admits that he's making up the actual words, but the "characters" even feel flat, to the point where I had trouble remembering who was who. The disparaging banter between the teacher and the students fell a bit flat for me, too. There were also a A book less about writing than it is about teaching writing. That's fine, as about 75% of the book is entertaining enough for its short length. However, his framing the book into a class' conversations about writing felt overly forced to me. The author admits that he's making up the actual words, but the "characters" even feel flat, to the point where I had trouble remembering who was who. The disparaging banter between the teacher and the students fell a bit flat for me, too. There were also a few sideline conversations that I would have absolutely tuned out in my classes, because they seemed mostly about semantics (as someone else mentioned, the one about good readers making good writers, in particular, just felt pointless to me.) Though in real life I'm sure everyone was having a fun time in his class and toward the end he made it clear he held great affection for them, I just couldn't believe them as people, and since I couldn't, it all felt very artificial. Still, his letter to his students at the end was the best part of the book, and if you need someone to tell you to write as an art form, to write for yourself, to write without thought for publication or genre or anything else, then this is a book for you.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Evan

    Makes you feel good and inspired for the most part- I didn't know what to expect when I started this book, but if any writer were to pick this up, it's easy to pull the information and passages that will push you forward in the craft. Rosenblatt clearly loves writing as well as teaching people how to write. It makes me want to go to a café with a stack of paper and a pen and spend two hours there, or begin a manuscript in my dining room, or even just read more. If you find yourself in a creative Makes you feel good and inspired for the most part- I didn't know what to expect when I started this book, but if any writer were to pick this up, it's easy to pull the information and passages that will push you forward in the craft. Rosenblatt clearly loves writing as well as teaching people how to write. It makes me want to go to a café with a stack of paper and a pen and spend two hours there, or begin a manuscript in my dining room, or even just read more. If you find yourself in a creative slump or with a case of writer's block, Unless It Moves the Human Heart will give you the push you need to start anew. A word of warning, though: when Rosenblatt describes his non-white female students, he romanticizes their "exotic-ness" and it can feel uncomfortable to read. It was to the point where I wanted to stop reading it altogether. I quickly skimmed the chapter and moved on to much better content, but my statement still stands.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Anson Cassel Mills

    There are helpful insights in this quasi-fictional memoir about a writing class that Rosenblatt taught at Stony Brook University in 2008. Though Rosenblatt called the class “Writing Everything,” he really isn’t interested in writing everything but in writing imaginative fiction. Rosenblatt made it clear in a 2011 interview that although he considered Strunk and White’s Elements of Style “extremely good for solid, adequate writing, it is not good for inspired writing. That probably wasn’t its int There are helpful insights in this quasi-fictional memoir about a writing class that Rosenblatt taught at Stony Brook University in 2008. Though Rosenblatt called the class “Writing Everything,” he really isn’t interested in writing everything but in writing imaginative fiction. Rosenblatt made it clear in a 2011 interview that although he considered Strunk and White’s Elements of Style “extremely good for solid, adequate writing, it is not good for inspired writing. That probably wasn’t its intention, but if you want to be a real writer, that has nothing to do with this book.” So, if you are an aspiring writer of fiction, this slender volume—as much about teaching writing as it is about writing per se—is worth perusing. Otherwise, I suppose in Rosenblatt's eyes you’re not a “real writer.”

  25. 5 out of 5

    Treasure Island Books

    I continued to read this book long after I should have stopped. I chose it because I thought it would offer insights into writing and the writing life. Instead, the book is a series of conversations between the writing teacher and his students about the stories, essays, and poems they write for a class. There is no such thing as a universal book of writing advice that works for everyone. We are all different and have different needs and aspirations. This book simply was not intended for me.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Kamil

    The format of a lecture series means this is generally circuitous and digressive, but there are a few useful insights contained within. Moreso than direct practical advice, however, the strength of this approach is that it allows readers the space to ponder over the act of writing from various perspectives.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Danielle Routh

    I used quotes from this book to support my junior thesis on why the novel isn't dead (why? Your guess is as good as mine) but didn't read it in full until now. It's winsome and readable, full of pithy quotes about writing and solid instruction from an author who clearly knows his stuff but isn't so famous to be inaccessible. I would definitely recommend this to all writers. I used quotes from this book to support my junior thesis on why the novel isn't dead (why? Your guess is as good as mine) but didn't read it in full until now. It's winsome and readable, full of pithy quotes about writing and solid instruction from an author who clearly knows his stuff but isn't so famous to be inaccessible. I would definitely recommend this to all writers.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    A short, lyrical observation of one year in a adult writing course. The dialogue between students and teacher give the reader new perspectives on the craft. Because none of the students were professional writers, questions are posed to the teacher that we might all ask. The answers are worth reading.

  29. 5 out of 5

    J R

    Found this book because Anne Serling, Rod’s daughter, who I admire and follow on Good Reads had posted she wanted to read this book. I had never heard of Robert Rosenblatt before, so I watched some YouTube videos of his lectures and then actually bought this book. Excellent content for any budding writers. Good Read Indeed

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sapphire Mohler

    Unless I read this book in my english class and i thought it was great. Rosenblatt seems like an amazing teacher and id like to think i learned something about writing while reading his book

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