Learning a Trade Critical Essays

Reynolds Price

Learning a Trade

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Reynolds Price began his notebooks soon after his graduation from college, and they have become the foundation for the more than thirty books he has written over the next four decades—plays, poetry, and fiction. These notebooks are one writer’s laboratory, the quiet place he goes to try out his ideas, characters, plots. In minute detail, they show a writer practicing his profession and learning his craft.

Price writes in his preface to the volume that the value of the notebooks is twofold: for nonwriting readers, the notes give some notion of the origins of books, how they “are made, not found.” For the apprentice writer, however, they also provide some sense of the strategies writers employ. The chronology of these notebooks reveals Price’s evolution as a writer, but they are most valuable when they show Price’s creative process at work. He speaks of “a good deal of unconscious work going on” here, and readers can witness it. The notebooks become, Price learns, a “means for persuading my unconscious mind to concern itself all day and night with a project I couldn’t attend to constantly.” And it does.

LEARNING A TRADE: A CRAFTSMAN’S NOTEBOOKS, 1955-1997 is almost like standing in a gallery and looking at the retrospective show of an important painter to read the notes to forty years of creativity, and it is an experience readers only rarely get to witness. This is one of those rare instances where the writer’s creative process itself is revealed, and particularly the way that it functions as a dialogue between conscious planning and unconscious work. The notebooks also reveal the active working life of one important American writer, a contemporary Southern novelist and poet who has created memorable scenes and characters, and has deepened appreciation for literary language.

Sources for Further Study

Atlanta Journal-Constitution. July 19, 1998, p. L1.

Booklist. XCV, November 15, 1998, p. 561.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, November 16, 1998, p. 64.

The Wall Street Journal. November 27, 1998, p. W5.

The Washington Post. December 18, 1998, p. D10.