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Book Corner

Following is information (or more information) about several books I’ve enjoyed being involved with since I retired—writing, co-writing, or helping to edit and publish—from most recent to oldest:

Cover of the book Words of Uncommon Shape

Words of Uncommon Shape;

How Writers Create Vividness in Language and Story
P.T. Barber
published 2014

Presented with warmth and wit, this book provides a theoretical and practical guide for those who want to understand how effective writing is achieved.

Building on observations of how human brains are built for absorbing information, Mr. Barber reveals the internal engines driving the composition of interesting fiction and non-fiction: successful (and unsuccessful) structuring of plots, characters, and symbolism; apt and vivid use of language and imagery; and even the sources of disastrously unintended humor. generously studded with examples obscure and familiar, he shows how great writers have made their writing so great and what would-be writers should keep firmly in mind to emulate them.Since the principles are the same for both fact and fiction, and for old literature and new, the examples are drawn from the literature of a wide array of periods, genres, and cultures, from Aeschylus to Zorro, both to demonstrate universality and to address readers with a variety of backgrounds and interests.
This book will be of use to writers of novels and short stories of any genre; teachers and students in writing classes; scientific writers who want to keep their readers awake; teachers and students of ancient and modern world literature (including English); screen writers, playwrights, and people creating any sort of theater (including choreography and cinematography); designers of advertisements; linguists; and cognitive scientists.

Cover of the book Two Thoughts with But a Single Mind

Two Thoughts with But a Single Mind;

“Crime And Punishment” and the Writing of Fiction
P.T. Barber, Mary Fleming Zirin, E.W Barber
pub. 2013

Examining Dostoevsky’s narrative choices in Crime and Punishment lays bare the fundamental processes by which novelists make—and are forced to make—choices as they write. Each choice entails particular types of results for the story: desirable, useful, awkward, or even hopeless dead ends. Honed during years of studying the practical problems of creating vividness in fiction, this mode of analysis is based on rigorous use of evidence and deduction.
Dostoevsky’s subject in Crime and Punishment is Epiphany, and he chose to write about it by creating a character whose name means “schism” and turning the pieces of his shattered mind into separate characters. Raskolnikov’s friend Razumikhin is named from a word meaning “reason”: whenever he shows up, someone gets a little smarter. The name of the main female, Sonia, is a diminutive of Sophia, Greek for “wisdom”: whenever she shows up, someone gets wise to himself. The fabled coincidences that scholars find in this novel aren’t coincidences at all on the metaphorical level.
Dostoevsky doesn’t exactly conceal from the reader that his characters are all parts of Raskolnikov, but he can’t make it too explicit either. If he did, the reader’s ribs would get very sore from all that nudging. But he does put in plenty of clues. For example, Svidrigailov, late in the story, remembers something that had happened not to him, but to Raskolnikov when the latter was all alone. At another point the narrator even gets the name of a character wrong, and it stays “wrong” from then on—unless the casual mention of a name-day ceremony is a hint that the change was purposeful.
As the destructive parts of Raskolnikov’s mind are killed or evicted, he moves toward wholeness. But Dostoevsky’s choice here creates a serious problem. When Raskolnikov kills the pawnbroker, his mental and emotional state becomes worse, so she must represent a good part of his mind, deteriorated by neglect. If that’s so, wouldn’t she have to revive for Raskolnikov to recover? But don’t take our word: Dostoevsky will be happy to show you his solution himself.
The results of all this analysis not only reveal the devices of fiction and of Dostoevsky, but move the reader from perceiving Crime and Punishment as merely “gripping” to seeing it as one of the most splendid and touchingly beautiful novels ever written.

A Summer in the Kingdom of Greece, 1962

Elizabeth Wayland Barber

A transcript of a 40,000-word journal the author kept while spending the summer in Greece in 1962, traveling alone on public transportation; 40 photographs and 12 sketches done during the trip. Currently available as a PDF only; ebook versions will be coming soon.

The Dancing Goddesses: Folklore, Archaeology, and the Origins of European Dance, by E.W. Barber.  (W.W. Norton, New York; 2013; 429 pp.; heavily illustrated.)
Full of fairytales!  Read the Table of contents.

Your bookstore can order The Dancing Goddesses for you, or you can find it online.

Resplendent Dress from Southeastern Europe: A History in Layers, by E.W. Barber and Barbara Belle Sloan.  (Fowler Museum Textile Series #11, Los Angeles; 2013; 275 pp.; heavily illustrated in color and including essays by the late Charlotte Jirousek, Joyce Corbett, and Elsie Ivancich Dunin.  Available through Fowler Museum of Cultural History UCLA.)  Catalog of large exhibit (in 2013) of “folk costumes,” with analysis of their development over many millennia.

The catalogue is available, used, through most online booksellers.

Playing Cards of the Apaches: A Study in Cultural Adaptation, by Virginia Wayland, Harold Wayland, and Alan Ferg.  (Screenfold Press, 2006; 320 pp.; 170 color photos, 30 historical photos, numerous line drawings, detailed index.)  Nothing to do with dance, but a remarkable study of culture that I grew up with.
Screenfold Press has closed its doors, and the book is difficult to find. We’ve noticed it on ebay recently.