Writing about writing about writing Review 5

Part 5 of an intermittent series where I read or re-read the writing books on my shelf to see if they’re worth keeping. See previous part here

Metaphors We Live By by Lakoff & Johnson. Keeping to the dull cover theme that runs through this series the first up was this book that blew my mind the first time I read it. This time I clocked that it’s really quite academic/philosophic and although it does make you think of ‘meaning’ in a different way isn’t actually all that useful as a writing reference. I did wonder about basing a short story on some of the ideas in the book though, so I’m tempted to keep it. But…

Introducing Metaphor by Knowles and Moon is in a similar vein as the Lakoff & Johnson one – it does have a chapter on literary metaphor though. But I found it less engaging than Metaphors We Live By.

Neither book is worth reading from a ‘how to use metaphors in your writing.’ So from that point of view I’ll be putting them on the discard pile.

Poetic Diction by Owen Barfield. Barfield was one of the Inklings – along with Tolkein and Lewis and his works are on the philosophical basis of mythopoeia. This one is quite an easy read but just as mind-exercising as Metaphors We Live By. Barfield says in the preface: “This book grew out of two empirical observations, first, that poetry reacts on the meanings of the words that it employs, and, secondly, that there appear to be two sorts of poetry… Thus, it claims to present, not merely a theory of poetic diction, but a theory of poetry: and not merely a theory of poetry, but a theory of knowledge.” Again it’s a scholarly and philosophical piece and not really one I would refer back to much. As such it and Barfield’s other book I have on the shelf won’t make the cut.

History In English words is a delightful book on the history of English, showing how our language has grown from the various roots – Anglo-Saxon, Germanic, Norse etc. And also a meditation on meaning, similar to Poetic Diction. However it’s not a reference book, as such.

These four books are interesting to read – but are not accessible toolboxes for a writer. I’d argue that although gaining this level of knowledge and understanding of how language works, and specifically how English works, will not harm you as a writer it’s not actually needed.

Since these were in my “poetry” section of writing books I’m going to stick to that topic but read books that are more ‘nuts and bolts’ next. Given my level I’m going to read Ted Hughes’s book aimed at teaching children poetry – “Poetry in the making” – next.

Published by suttope

Pete W Sutton is a writer and editor. His two short story collections – A Tiding of Magpies and The Museum for Forgetting – were shortlisted for Best Collection in the British Fantasy Awards in 2017 & 2022 respectively. His novel – Seven Deadly Swords – was published by Grimbold Books. He has edited several short story anthologies and is the editor for the British Fantasy Society Horizons fiction magazine.

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