Daniel Kolb Kolb itibaren Sovkhoznoye, Kaliningradskaya oblast', Rusya, 238460
Most collections like Bringing the Devil to His Knees tend to be hit or miss, given the fact that there are multiple authors contributing writing of varying quality. Blame it on the exceptional editors, but aside from one seemingly misplaced essay (Pablo Medina's take on "democratic" writing, which appears to be aimed at the litcrit community and not writers), this collection was illuminating and entertaining, full of well-reasoned insight for any practicing and/or struggling writer. There are, of course, favorites among the essays, as well as places where the material unfortunately fails to live up to the quality of the work that surrounds it (Karen Brennan's laborious "Dream, Memory, Story, and the Recovery of Narrative" comes to mind). But most of the essays are consistently helpful, and varied enough in voice and content to be useful for a variety of writerly concerns. Granted, the essays continually hit some familiar touchstones in citing "perfect" stories; Chekhov, Barthelme, and O'Connor deservedly appear in a number of essays. But you don't get the impression that all of the authors approach writing in the same way, which works to the collection's benefit. The authors are, after all, not writing directions on how to change a transmission. Predictably, Charles Baxter's contribution ("'You're Really Something': Inflection and the Breath of Life") was fantastic. The book also serves as a great source for a reading list - I've already picked up Jim Shepard's short story collection, given the quality of his essay contained here, "I Know Myself Real Well. That's the Problem." One final (and very minor) point on the fantastic quality of this book: contained in one of the essays is perhaps my new favorite Flannery O'Connor quote, knocking her take on creative writing programs stifling writers ("My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them") to second place. The author of the essay outlines various authors' responses to the question of why he or she writes, receiving a variety of mysterious and poignant responses that all but elevate writing to the act of self-preservation. And O'Connor's reason? "Because I'm good at it."