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Letters to a Young Novelist Paperback – Jun 1 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Picador (June 1 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312421729
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312421724
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 0.9 x 21.6 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 113 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #209,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Now based in London and teaching at Georgetown University in the U.S., Peruvian novelist and erstwhile politician Vargas Llosa's novels (In Praise of the Stepmother, etc.) and essays (Making Waves). Though the "Letters to a Young " concept has recently been franchised by another publisher (applying it to everything from golf to rabble-rousing), Rilke's slender and sage Letters to a Young Poet remains the standard after 100 years. Vargas Llosa's 12 Letters to a generalized interlocutor drift in and out of Rilke's league, rich with insight into Western literature and with commentary on the urge that overtakes its practitioners "The literary vocation is not a hobby, a sport, or a pleasant leisure-time activity. It is an all-encompassing, all-excluding occupation, an urgent priority, a freely chosen servitude that turns its victims (its lucky victims) into slaves." Yet Vargas Llosa is also somewhat wryly withholding, as if to thicken the plot: "Writing novels is the equivalent of what professional strippers do when they take off their clothes and exhibit their naked bodies on stage. The novelist performs the same acts in reverse." His examples of good and great novelists, whom he discusses while making larger philosophical points about concepts like style, time or representation, are pretty hard to take issue with: Woolf and James; Dos Passos and Hemingway; Flaubert (Madame Bovary is a particular favorite), de Beauvoir and Robbe-Grillet; Borges and Cervantes. Neither a survey course in what to read nor a practical guide to writing, the book finally is a meditation on writing and its proper relationship to life. "Good novels, great ones, never actually seem to tell us anything; rather, they make us live it, and share in it, by virtue of their persuasive powers." Particularly given the excellent translation here by PW contributing editor Wimmer, the same could be said for letters like these.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Imitating Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet, the famed Peruvian novelist passes out advice in the form of 11 letters.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
DEAR FRIEND, I was moved by your letter because in it I saw myself at fourteen or fifteen, in gray Lima under the dictatorship of General Odria, aflame with the desire to one day become a writer yet disheartened because I didn't know what steps to take, how to begin channeling my ambition, which I experience as an urgent prompting, into the creation of real works; how to write stories that would dazzle my readers as I had been dazzled by the writers I was beginning to install in my personal pantheon: Faulkner, Hemingway, Malraux, Dos Passos, Camus, Sartre. Read the first page
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Most helpful customer reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is written as a series of letters to an anonymous, aspiring novelist. Obviously it is fashioned after Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet", and although somewhat cheeky, the style and tone of these pseudo-letters fit Mario Vargas Llosa's objectives in writing.
Unlike some of the mainstream writing tutorials that are around, this volume, although slight in page length, has genuine and truly original insights that will help your writing tremendously. For example, whereas most writing instructors teaach you to stick to one point-of-view, Vargas Llosa says one of the most unbending rules in fiction is that no novel sticks to one kind of point-of-view, that it subtly changes. There are equally startling and persuasive directives regarding spatial and temporal matters in fiction.
The book is fun to read as well; only a novelist of Vargas Llosa's caliber can dismiss many of the so-called 'classics' and not seem vindictive and/or crazy. To fully understand this book (although not totally necessary), a reader should have at least a passing knowledge of the writers and their works that Vargas Llosa invokes as examples. i.e. Proust, Flaubert, Robbes-Grillet, etc.
If you are an aspiring writer, chances are good that this wry book will be an indispensable guide. Highly recommended.
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By bentmax on July 28 2002
Format: Hardcover
"Letters" is an adroitly written instruction book for beginning writers. Incorporating an imaginary correspondent, Mario Vargas Llosa writes a series of letters to a young protege sharing his years of literary experience and outlining the principles that make a novel. It is an interesting vehicle for an instruction book and it works. Most books of how to write are overloaded with superfluous detail and have the annoying tendency to be academic in the approach to writing. This book is breezy, conversational, loaded with brilliant insight and fun to read. Sighting loads of examples from classic and not so classic novels he brings to life essential topics of style, voice, time, point of view and other narrative tools that the masters of the novel have incorporated for hundreds of years.
Many of the novelists Vargas Llosa sites for his many examples are unknown to me and he has roused my interest in reading their books. Alas, many of them are not translated into English (at least not that I can find on Amazon). But that does not diminish the satisfaction derived from reading this diminutive book. His best advice to any writer is to be a great reader. An example he has clearly followed himself.
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By A Customer on Jan. 4 2004
Format: Hardcover
These short essays examine various literary techniques in detail but are ultimately unhelpful in writing (or reading) fiction. While discussing narrative options available to the writer, we never are offered advice of why different techniques work or when they might work. Or even how different authors make them work (except for one or two examples in the final chapters). There is only the indefinable je ne sais quoi. The book is very well written, witty and it is interesting to see the list of the works Vargas Llosa admires but ultimately, sad to say, forgettable.
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By A Customer on May 29 2003
Format: Hardcover
Reading Mario Vargas Llosa's works of literature is one of the best experiences a reader can have. In "Letters to a Young Novelist" Vargas Llosa shares the name of authors that have shaped his life as a writer, along with his personal insight on narrative techniques, and an unconditional love for the written word. Each chapter presents valuable information for anyone interested in the art of writing or for anyone who enjoys reading a well-written book.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 14 reviews
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Concise, Real, and Enlightening Aug. 17 2002
By "50cent-haircut" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book is written as a series of letters to an anonymous, aspiring novelist. Obviously it is fashioned after Rilke's "Letters to a Young Poet", and although somewhat cheeky, the style and tone of these pseudo-letters fit Mario Vargas Llosa's objectives in writing.
Unlike some of the mainstream writing tutorials that are around, this volume, although slight in page length, has genuine and truly original insights that will help your writing tremendously. For example, whereas most writing instructors teaach you to stick to one point-of-view, Vargas Llosa says one of the most unbending rules in fiction is that no novel sticks to one kind of point-of-view, that it subtly changes. There are equally startling and persuasive directives regarding spatial and temporal matters in fiction.
The book is fun to read as well; only a novelist of Vargas Llosa's caliber can dismiss many of the so-called 'classics' and not seem vindictive and/or crazy. To fully understand this book (although not totally necessary), a reader should have at least a passing knowledge of the writers and their works that Vargas Llosa invokes as examples. i.e. Proust, Flaubert, Robbes-Grillet, etc.
If you are an aspiring writer, chances are good that this wry book will be an indispensable guide. Highly recommended.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Adroitly written July 28 2002
By bentmax - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"Letters" is an adroitly written instruction book for beginning writers. Incorporating an imaginary correspondent, Mario Vargas Llosa writes a series of letters to a young protege sharing his years of literary experience and outlining the principles that make a novel. It is an interesting vehicle for an instruction book and it works. Most books of how to write are overloaded with superfluous detail and have the annoying tendency to be academic in the approach to writing. This book is breezy, conversational, loaded with brilliant insight and fun to read. Sighting loads of examples from classic and not so classic novels he brings to life essential topics of style, voice, time, point of view and other narrative tools that the masters of the novel have incorporated for hundreds of years.
Many of the novelists Vargas Llosa sites for his many examples are unknown to me and he has roused my interest in reading their books. Alas, many of them are not translated into English (at least not that I can find on Amazon). But that does not diminish the satisfaction derived from reading this diminutive book. His best advice to any writer is to be a great reader. An example he has clearly followed himself.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Insightful and encouraging Dec 3 2010
By Sarah - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
In this short but entertaining and enlightening little book, Mario Vargas Llosa discusses the art of writing fiction. As the title states, it is divided up into 11 letters ostensibly written to an admiring young novelist.

This is not so much a "how-to" writing guide, with step-by-step instructions on improving one's craft and abilities. Though it addresses many of the same subjects (Style, Narration, Time, etc.) it still, to some degree, feels like it touches on something deeper, within the writer himself. It's hard for me to say exactly what that is at this point, several months after I finished reading the book, but suffice it to say, at the time I had a distinct feeling that I was not only reading about how to improve my writing, but myself as one who desires to write. In this regard, I found the book extremely encouraging. The style is warm, open, and friendly. No sense of arrogance, no put-downs, no bitter cynicism or sarcasm. Go live and love life and bring that to your writing. And more importantly: write, write, write and do not stop.

I enjoyed reading this book, not only because it was full of helpful advice, but because it made me feel like writing is something that I can do and have as much right to do as anyone else, including seasoned and published authors. It's easy to fall prey to the notion that we aren't as worthy of writing because we aren't as talented, practiced, capable or whatever as the greats but it isn't true. Anyone can write and we should all strive to improve ourselves and our writing. This book mentions several ways to do just that but there are many more. The best and only way to figure them out is to sit down and start punching out word after word after word.

If I knew an aspiring writer who needed some advice and encouragement, I would give him this book. Definitely recommended.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Essential Companion May 29 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Reading Mario Vargas Llosa's works of literature is one of the best experiences a reader can have. In "Letters to a Young Novelist" Vargas Llosa shares the name of authors that have shaped his life as a writer, along with his personal insight on narrative techniques, and an unconditional love for the written word. Each chapter presents valuable information for anyone interested in the art of writing or for anyone who enjoys reading a well-written book.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Absolute best book on advanced writing! March 28 2012
By Dr. Rollie Lal - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I read this book as I was writing my first novel, and it substantially improved my approach. The book is inspirational, yes, but also informative. The book is not for the beginner: if grammar is your issue, look elsewhere. His advice is for elevating good prose into riveting prose. His insights on point of view (when to use the 2nd person voice?) are absolutely essential. And other aspects, such as his analysis of the use of space and time in a novel are extremely original. This compact and beautifully written book is the absolute best book on writing I have ever read. The only thing I wish for is more pages of it...


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