Book Review: “Unless It Moves the Human Heart”

I guess I’ve got the heat-grumps. This is the second time lately I’m blogging a book I won’t particularly recommend.

This time it’s Unless It Moves the Human Heart by Roger Rosenblatt. Its subtitle, “The Craft and Art of Writing,” places it squarely in a genre I read almost as obsessively as memoir. (I’m all about the true story well told, after all.)

I read a praise-filled review of this book and popped it into my library request list. Eagerly opened it, expecting something between William Zinsser On Writing Well and Avi Steinberg’s Running the Books. You know, some teacherly thoughts on writing craft and some first-person reflections on diverse people who share an interest in writing and books.

Back-jacket copy promises…

Unless It Moves the Human Heart details one semester in Rosenblatt’s ‘Writing Everything’ class. In a series of funny, intimate conversations, a diverse group of students…grapples with the questions and subjects most important to narrative craft. Delving into their varied lives, Rosenblatt brings readers closer to them, emotionally investing us in their failures and triumphs.


The Preface reveals …

Before you read this book, I must confess a fraud. What I present as a word-for-word account of the conversations that went on in my writing classes at Stony Brook University in the winter/spring of 2008 is fiction, top to bottom. …To be clear: nobody really said what I say he said in class. But the ideas expressed here were expressed there. The samples of student writings are genuine. And the students themselves are justas gifted, lovable, and annoying as I have drawn them.

Sorry, this device of mixing teaching with memoir of teaching just did NOT work for me. I get what he’s trying to do–I’ve written plenty of how-to stuff, I know it’s just a long plod through “you shoulds” if the author doesn’t find some means to couch the instructions in story.

But he comes across as a mediocre novelist who just can’t get me to care about him or his characters. And as for the writing advice? Same old same old. Heard it before. Better put.

You know what? If you read this book maybe you’ll love it like Book Lady’s Blog and I’m sure plenty of readers did. But maybe you won’t.

Maybe we should all just go write instead?

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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2 Responses to Book Review: “Unless It Moves the Human Heart”

  1. Francie says:

    Wow, Sarah! I’m glad I read this from you — I had seen the Rosenblatt book and loved the title line … but your pan got my attention, and maybe I won’t bother now …. and shoot, I’m kind of a fan of Roger Rosenblatt too ….


  2. Pingback: The Right Word | True Stories Well Told

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