The sixteen essays in Frederick Busch’s A Dangerous Profession: A Book About the Writing Life are of two distinct types: personal essay/memoir and literary criticism. All of them address the author’s love for both reading and writing books.
The personal essays consist of ruminations over people and authors who have inspired Busch’s writing. In “My Father’s War,” he recounts his reading of his father’s World War II diary, which led Busch to imagine his father’s secret life, the part of him that was beyond the “map” of his family’s knowledge. Busch skillfully compares this with the process of writing fiction and the struggle to place his own characters in a geography of his own invention. Other essays, all of which reveal the author’s wit and clarity of thought, address the difficulties of getting published and of being the spouse of a writer—in this case the wife (Busch reminds the reader that he does not have a husband).
In the critical essays, Busch expresses his love for such writers as Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Herman Melville, and Franz Kafka. Other chapters explore aspects of twentieth century literature that the author deems less than exhilarating, such as “Bad,” in which he blasts the poor, “incapable and irresponsible” writing that dominates best-seller lists.
Many of Busch’s essays serve as a warning to aspiring writers: He repeatedly reminds the reader that writing is a dark, compulsive profession with little logic and even less glamour. The essays themselves, however, reveal the greatness that can be accomplished when these difficulties are overcome.