Monday, September 22, 2014

Reads for Writers: Caroline Knapp Provides a Masterclass

From Kate's Writing Crate…

As a reader, I always love finding books that appeal to me. As a writer, I am twice as pleased when the authors also provide masterclasses within their books.

Masterclasses take place when performance artists and musicians work one-on-one with students. Writers don’t generally have this option, but I have found some books to be masterclasses for characters, backstories, plots, settings, voice, and/or creativity.

Each of us has a list of authors so good we will read whatever they write. One of these authors, for me, is Caroline Knapp.
        I discovered Knapp when Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs was released in 1998. Since I own German shepherds, the cover caught my eye as on it the author poses with her shepherd mix, Lucille.
        In the book, Knapp becomes a new dog owner of an eight-week-old puppy after being sober for 18 months and while dealing with the deaths of both her parents. She works her way through training while meeting new dog-owning friends and dealing with old not-so-enthusiastic-about-new-dog friends and family.
        "Before you get a dog, you can't quite imagine what living with one might be like; afterward, you can't imagine living any other way." (page 6)
That's my kind of person—and this is my kind of book: funny, thoughtful, and informative.
        As I always do when I find an author I like, I read his or her previous books. In Knapp's case, this consisted of Alice K's Guide to Life: One Woman's Quest for Survival, Sanity, and the Perfect New Shoes, a light-hearted collection of her Boston Phoenix columns featuring a somewhat fictional character, and Drinking: A Love Story, a national bestseller.
        I'm not much of a drinker, but I never better understood what alcoholics feel than when she wrote: "But even now, when a waitress walks by with a tall glass of white wine, six or eight ounces of liquid relief, my pulse still quickens and I find myself watching it wistfully, the way you might look at a photograph of someone you loved deeply and painfully and then lost". (page 105)
        In her next book, Knapp looked back at her twenties and her struggle with anorexia in Appetites: Why Women Want. Again, not a disease I suffer from or one I would normally read about; however, it turns out, I could relate to far more of this book than I ever would have guessed. I recommend it to all women.
This was the last book she would write. It was published posthumously as Caroline Knapp died at 42 from lung cancer in 2002. I cried when I heard about her death which surprised me as I never met her, but her writing was so honest and intimate and insightful, I felt bereft.
In 2004, I felt like I received a gift when The Merry Recluse: A Life in Essays was released. From the back cover: "Caroline Knapp had a remarkable presence on the page. Throughout her writing career…she brought a keen eye and incisive scrutiny not only to women's lives, but also to…contemporary culture..." She is a writer I admire.
Then there was one final, glorious gift. Let's Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship was published in 2010 by Caroline Knapp's best friend, Pulitzer Prize winner Gail Caldwell. She deserves a masterclass post of her own which will appear here next week.

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