Blackbird House, Oh how I long for you!

I recently finished my second book requirement for graduate school, and I am so excited to write this paper. Usually, a mix of fear and curiosity it what strikes me when I must write a paper for school.  Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all writing, but when a grade attached there is bound to be some anxiety.

With the disappointing feeling I received from my first critical paper, I am determined to do better this time. I think the hardest part about any English assignment is the book. It doesn’t matter if the essay is 5 or 25 pages long with an annotated bibliography. If you can connect with the book on any level, especially a deep one, then the essay is going to be of a much better quality.

Alice Hoffman's Blackbird House: Member of the Ballantine Reader's Circle. It sounds important so I included it.

However, it doesn’t mean that liking a book with produce a great paper. It’s the connection to the character or the story that wills you creative mind to come up with more insightful ideas to add to your writing. So, when I read Blackbird House by Alice Hoffman in three days I was itching to get my paper started.

One of the most appealing aspects of this book lies in its format. Initially, Hoffman wrote one short story (the second to last in the book), and was convinced to write the other stories to create the collection. The placement of the stories is so interesting because it is logically make sense, but to the reader it is an adventure. She compiled the stories chronologically beginning with the first family in the 18th century.

Knowing this, you would think the reader would have a good grasp on what was in the next story. Instead, there is a sense of wonder that befalls the reader as he/she flips through the stories. Will the next story be a new family or will it continue the lives of the ones I have already attached myself to? It is impossible to know what to expect unless you have read the book before.

In addition, the aspect of the stories that draws you in is Hoffman’s use of place. Place is one of the most vital pieces of a story, and Hoffman invokes the place (Blackbird House in Cape Cod) in a magical way. Identical to the way nature writing uses place, Hoffman utilizes place as a foundation for connecting to the audience. She treats the Blackbird House and the coastal area as characters drawing the reader into the story.

When you experience the Cape, you think of the salty air, the gossip of local women, and the welcoming feeling of nature all around you. Hoffman brings the coast to life with the imagery of place, and the subtle use of fantasy. She weaves together the lives of families decades apart through this one house.  I am still sh0cked at how easily Hoffman drew me into the life of the families living on the coast. Maybe it’s because I have a desire to travel or a love of nature, but she captivated my attention with every story. Usually, there are one or two stories in a collection that I don’t favor. This collection has none of those. The only things missing from this collection were the lulls or boring spots that might appear in writing. Someone once told me: When you’re reading good writing, you won’t be able to finish it without going back and finding out the author’s name. It is that urgency that notifies you of good writing.

Since I already knew who the author was, I had a parallel experience understanding the good quality of her writing. While browsing the list of her other books, I found that she had written a book I read a long time ago. My terrible memory doesn’t allow me to remember the authors of many books I read in the past. Yet, the impression left after reading her book  Green Angel was so similar to this one that it lead me to my aha moment. The moment where you realize you recognize this author for his/her ability to connect to you no matter what they have written. While Green Angel was a children’s book, the voice of Hoffman spoke to me in a powerful way.

I could have qualms about the book such as the stories all ending without me wanting them to, but those are qualms that will stay silent. As a writer, I am so proud to be in this profession with authors like Hoffman. I went on to research her other books, hell-bent on reading all of them. She is not my favorite author (yet), but I have become a fast fan after being reunited with her work. I would suggest her work to any with an affinity towards nature or any use of fantasy. She has a well-rounded use of imagery and dialogue, with descriptions that paint a picture immediately in your mind.

With my positive review, I look forward to writing this critical essay. It’s not just because I enjoyed the stories. I paid more attention to what made the book special rather than forcing myself to look deeper into the book. I just hope my other two assigned books move me as much as this one.

Happy reading and writing, readers!


Filed under Idea of the Day

2 responses to “Blackbird House, Oh how I long for you!

  1. It seems like each of these books we’re assigned is supposed to give us something different. From what you’ve said about this book, the strength seems to be setting and place descriptions. Olive Kitteridge was a crash course is characterization, and The Gathering is definitely known for its strong voice. I don’t know if we have the same fourth book (mine is The Sword at Sunset), but I’m excited to know what it’s going to bring new to the table. Imagine if we can combine all these great things into one? Novel of the century!

    • Yeah, Jane definitely did a great job in book choice. I don’t have the same fourth book, though. I have P.D. James’ Desires and Device I think it is. I think they will be books to hold onto just to remind us of these important aspects of writing. Sure, there are dozens more that will help us, but these set the building blocks for us to create the best writing possible. I am definitely hoping it affects my writing. I know The Gathering helped me with my short story, so I’m hoping Blackbird House stays with me until I need to use place more directly. I absolutely loved this book, though. I can’t believe I have ignored Hoffman for so long, especially since I enjoyed one of her books so long ago. But I can’t keep track of all the books I’ve read, so I guess some will be lost along the way. 😛

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