This was a rocky journey and let me tell you why:
p. 13 "For the vast majority of my life I have longed to write"
p. 14 "Once I began to write books regularly, sometimes publishing two at the same time, more and more comments were made to me about how much I was writing."
p. 15 "To overcome fears about writing, I began to write every day. My process was not to write a lot but to work in small increments, writing and rewriting. Of course I found early on that if I did this dilligently these small increments would ultimately become a book."
p. 16 "I know that this body of work emerged because I am again and again overwhelemd by ideas I want to put in writing. Since my interests are broad and wide-ranging, I am not surprised that there is an endless flow of ideas in my mind."
p. 18 "My zeal for writing has intensified over the years and the incredible affirming feedback from readers is one catalyst."
p. 18 "Sometimes I feel an urgent need to write ideas down on paper to make room for new ideas to arrive, keep my mind from becoming too crowded."
Look up 'graphomania'.
p. 19 "Since I have never tried to make a living as a writier, I have had the extreme good fortune to be able to write only what I want to write when I want to write it."
p. 19 "When I choose to write an essay book that includes work that may have been published first in magazines, reviewers will often write about the work as though it is stale, nothing new. A book of mine might include ten new essays (which alone could be a book) and four or five pieces that were published elswhere and a reviewer might insist that there is no new work in the collection. Men can produce collections in which every piece has been published elsewhere and this will not even be mentioned in reviews."
I think she is missing the point here. When the reviewers say her work is repetitive, it is NOT because it has already been published somewhere else!
p. 29 "Among my critics, individual black women tend to be the most vociferous in their insistence that I write 'too much'. Glibly, Jewelle Gomez began a critique of my thirteenth book by facetiously labeling me 'the Joyce Carol Oates of black feminist writing'. Wrongly, she suggested that the book was merely a recycling of already published work. In actuality, it was a collection of twenty-two essays in which six were reprinted. Had they not been included it would still have been a book-length manuscript."
Yes, you said.
p. 29 "Often the suggestion that I am writing 'too much' comes from black women who have either written very little or not as much as they want to write.
Oh, that's what it is. They are just jealous of your logorrhoea.
p. 30 "Fortunately I have never to had to write to make a living. As a consequence I have always only written on subjects that intrigue and fascinate me."
I see. Wait, didn't you say that about 10 pages ago. Am I having a deja vu ?
p. 30 "No black woman writer in this culture can write 'too much'. Indeed, no woman writer can write 'too much'. Considering the centuring of silence, the genres of writing that have been virtually the sole terrain of men, more contributions by women writers should be both encouraged and welcomed."
Please, let no one encourage bell hooks to write even more, please.
p. 31 "When I publish collections of essays where pieces are included that have been published elsewhere, reviewers will sometimes suggest that there is nothing new in these works. Yet collections by women who write much less, whose articles may have all been published elsewhere do not get dismissed as mere recycling. And men, no one mentions the absense of 'fresh' work in their collections. "
Now I am absolutely certain I have heard this before. Two times. And we are only on page 31!
p. 33 "Instead, women writers and all our readers must talk back to all attempts to mock and belittle our commitment to words, to writing."
I suppose I will be getting in trouble for writing this review.
p. 34 "No woman is writing too much. Women need to write more."
Ok.. Now, that you've repeated it 15 times I think I get it.
p. 35. "Writing is my passion. It is a way to experience the ecstatic."
Yes. So I've noticed.
As you can see, by the page 35, I was really annoyed and ready to scream. Bell hooks obviously refused any criticism of her work and put it down to sexism, racism or simple jealousy. She kept insisting that there was some white supremacist conspiracy created to belittle her work.
And while I believe the publishing world (like any world) is still very racist and sexist, she wasn't doing the cause any favours by sounding like a total lunatic.
And you know what? It's all a shame, because she makes quite a few valid and important points amongst that verbal diarrhoea and 'anti-feminist backlash' this and 'anti-feminist backlash' that.
I disagreed with her views on confessional literature and how supposedly male confessional literature is automatically given more literary value than female confessional literature that is just sent straight down to Oprah. I think male confessional literature that is sensational in character is dismissed as much as its female counterpart.
I also didn't care much for the essay on her spiritual growth and how it inspired her writing. That might be my fault though. I suppose I am not very spiritual and have never experienced spirits writing through me or any sort of muse. I just sit down and write and it is hard work. I actually refuse any notion of a muse and divine inspiration because I think this is one of the main reasons Polish literature is not very good.
My favourite essays were the ones about labels, and class and politics of writing and black women writing. In the essay called 'Writing without labels' she says:
"Writers from marginalized groups are usually faced with two options: overidentification with an identity or disidentification".
It is extremely hard to find the right balance and I keep questioning myself who I want to be as a writer. While being a 'Polish immigrant' and a 'female' writer could very well be my selling point when approaching publishers I would rather not have this label stuck to me forever. I just want to be a writer who happens to be a Polish immigrant and a female.
Bell hooks also makes excellent observations about African-American literature that for some reason (and despite international recognition of people like Toni Morrison) the publishing world refuses to see as being of literary value. At the same time, it has no problems accepting serious and literary challenging works from writers from Africa or the Caribbean. It seems that there is only one style available for African-American authors that they should fit into if they want to be published. I had never thought about this that way but I realise that for once bell hooks might be onto something. It is especially obvious when it comes to African-American female authors.
In her piece on confessional writing she insists that writers from white privileged backgrounds have less problems with that as they have always been taught that the freedom for artistic expression always comes first before the feelings of the family and friends that might be hurt. She says that the friends and family of white privileged authors understand that too. I think that's ridiculous. If you start to dish out dirt in public, recounting real life events, including people's real names all in the name of your artistic freedom, you have to be prepared that people will get hurt and they might cut you off, regardless of your background.
What's more, I believe that kind of writing has less to do with artistic expression and more to do with nursing grudges. A truly skilled writer would take all those experiences and feelings and translate them into fictional work so that he or she can have a cake and eat it, too. And if they need to write the story as it is for therapeutical reasons, there really isn't any need to publish it.
When some authors say that they will only write something autobigraphical like that after their parents' death (which I think is a reasonable way of going about it), bell hooks counters:
"Their confidence that they will outlive their parents suprises me. In part, the awareness that so many black women writers die young has compelled me to write openly and honestly about aspects of my life I would have once believed would be best shared in old age.”
Well, that’s just... I don’t know what to say to that.
I would just like to close this review by another quote from the book:
“Women should not be afraid to critique a lack of standards in writing by women.” So there. I wasn’t.
(Looking at the lenght of this review I am probably another woman who writes 'too much'.)