Title: First Words: Earliest Writing From Favorite Contemporary Authors

Author: Paul Mandelbaum

Have you ever wondered what your favorite authors were like before they became well known? Perhaps curious about what they once wrote about?

If so, First Words by Paul Mandelbaum is the book for you.

Background on the Book:

Forty-two writers were brave and generous enough to send Mandelbaum their childhood manuscripts. Photographs of the authors thenand now as well as facsimile reproductions of their submissions enliven this unique collection, as do Mandelbaum's pithy and engaging profiles of each author.

Many writers share memories about their first forays into literature. Jill McCorkle fondly recalls her cozy little playhouse where she wrote stories that "had" to "get a laugh or a tear," while others recall how reading and writing lifted them out of the confines of childhood or profound shyness. Every submission is of interest, but some are simply hilarious, such as Margaret Atwood's satirical essay on why women should smoke cigars, and Paul Bowles' droll little dramas about love triangles, written at age 9.

Precocity and sophistication beyond experience prevail. John Updike's startlingly accomplished "Untitled Mystery" was composed at age 14, while the obsessions of Michael Crichton and Stephen King were already apparent in their earliest compositions. Other contributors include Madison Smartt Bell, Gail Godwin, W. P. Kinsella, Bobbie Ann Mason, Norman Mailer, Maxine Hong Kingston, and Gore Vidal.

In Short:

Inspiring, uplifting and written gracefully, this anthology allows its readers to turn back to a time when Pat Conroy was just a boy experiencing the death of a friend and Madeleine L'Engle was just an imaginative little girl who ended up blowing up her science lab whilst pretending she was Madame Curie.

Madame Curie in her lab

This anthology provides its readers with a nice little account of the authors life, as well as their inspiration for early works not to mention future works. It also gives you funny little antidotes throughout their respective sections and provides some information about the happiest and most tragic times in these writers lives.

One of my favorite things about this anthology is that sheds light on the early writings of these authors. I know that many aspiring writers have a tendency to compare their personal writing with that of their favorite authors. And many times find themselves thinking, "I'll never be able to write like that." Fear not! If this anthology teaches you anything is that writing is a craft which must be nurtured and may never be perfected.

Curious about who's early writings you could read? How about...

  • Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale)
  • Pat Conroy (The Prince of Tides)
  • Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park)
  • Stephen King ( Carrie ...almongst many others)
  • Ursula K. Le Guin ( A Wizard of Earthsea... almongst many others)
  • Madeleine L'Engle ( The Wrinkle in Time)
  • Joyce Carol Oates (The Gravedigger's Daughter)
  • Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club)
... and many more!

A Few Things I Love:

- I loved reading about Pat Conroy's high school friend, Randy. It's really inspiring how Conroy was able to take a personal tragedy and turn it into his first poem.

- Michael Crichton's "Untitled" dialogue from 1960 is written in such a minimalist, yet addictive way that it is no surprise that he went on to write such favorites as Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain. By the end of this simple piece of writing, you will be dying to know what's really going on!

- I love seeing the originals of the different works by these authors. It's very interesting seeing the changes they think need to be made, what they've scratched out and their thoughts scribbled in the margins.

- One of my favorite bits in this book is Madeleine L'Engle's account about being an outcast and having deformities:

"I remember quite clearly coming home in the afternoon....and thinking, calmly and bitterly, 'I am the cripple, the unpopular girl,'...and writing a story for myself where the heroine was the kind of girl I would have liked to be."

All in All:

I really enjoyed this book. I would definitely recommend it to aspiring writers who have an interest in the lives of other authors. I also think the books underlying message is compelling - one that we, as writers, can take a somewhat tragic situation and make it into something positive.

Reading through the early writings of these authors is also beneficial to young writers who are sometimes disillusioned by the act of writing. First Writings provides a good account of the early beginnings of authors who didn't necessarily start off as being particularly good, but rather had to work hard at perfecting their craft.

Rating for First Words: Earliest Writing From Favorite Contemporary Authors by Paul Mandelbaum: A


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