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A master of the novel, short story, and memoir, the best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Everybody's Fool now gives us his very first collection of personal essays, ranging throughout writing and reading and living. In these nine essays, Richard Russo provides insight into his life as a writer, teacher, friend, and reader. From a commencement speech he gave at A master of the novel, short story, and memoir, the best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Everybody's Fool now gives us his very first collection of personal essays, ranging throughout writing and reading and living. In these nine essays, Richard Russo provides insight into his life as a writer, teacher, friend, and reader. From a commencement speech he gave at Colby College, to the story of how an oddly placed toilet made him reevaluate the purpose of humor in art and life, to a comprehensive analysis of Mark Twain's value, to his harrowing journey accompanying a dear friend as she pursued gender-reassignment surgery, The Destiny Thief reflects the broad interests and experiences of one of America's most beloved authors. Warm, funny, wise, and poignant, the essays included here traverse Russo's writing life, expanding our understanding of who he is and how his singular, incredibly generous mind works. An utter joy to read, they give deep insight into the creative process from the prospective of one of our greatest writers.


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A master of the novel, short story, and memoir, the best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Everybody's Fool now gives us his very first collection of personal essays, ranging throughout writing and reading and living. In these nine essays, Richard Russo provides insight into his life as a writer, teacher, friend, and reader. From a commencement speech he gave at A master of the novel, short story, and memoir, the best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Everybody's Fool now gives us his very first collection of personal essays, ranging throughout writing and reading and living. In these nine essays, Richard Russo provides insight into his life as a writer, teacher, friend, and reader. From a commencement speech he gave at Colby College, to the story of how an oddly placed toilet made him reevaluate the purpose of humor in art and life, to a comprehensive analysis of Mark Twain's value, to his harrowing journey accompanying a dear friend as she pursued gender-reassignment surgery, The Destiny Thief reflects the broad interests and experiences of one of America's most beloved authors. Warm, funny, wise, and poignant, the essays included here traverse Russo's writing life, expanding our understanding of who he is and how his singular, incredibly generous mind works. An utter joy to read, they give deep insight into the creative process from the prospective of one of our greatest writers.

30 review for The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I can almost imagine the way this collection came together - Russo's agent saying - let's put together a collection of your best essays about writing and we'll call the collection "On Writing." Russo: Hmm -I only have a few possibilities - maybe 100 pages worth. Agent: "OK - do you have anything else?" Russo, digging through his computer files: "Yes! - I have an essay on the Pickwick Papers and another one on Twain! Agent: "Great, we'll call it, "On Writing and Writers!" Russo: It is still only 150 I can almost imagine the way this collection came together - Russo's agent saying - let's put together a collection of your best essays about writing and we'll call the collection "On Writing." Russo: Hmm -I only have a few possibilities - maybe 100 pages worth. Agent: "OK - do you have anything else?" Russo, digging through his computer files: "Yes! - I have an essay on the Pickwick Papers and another one on Twain! Agent: "Great, we'll call it, "On Writing and Writers!" Russo: It is still only 150 pages. Agent: Don't you have anything else? Russo: "How about an old commencement address and the afterword to my friend's memoir from 2003? Agent: Perfect! We'll call it "Essays on Writing, Writers and Life" That just makes 200 pages, just enough to package as a book. But I'm still giving it 4 stars because Russo is wonderful.

  2. 4 out of 5

    J.K. Grice

    THE DESTINY THIEF is an engrossing look into the life and mind of author Richard Russo. It's a terrific mixture of philosophy, personal stories, and commentary on the writing process itself. The essays in this book are both entertaining and thought provoking. This collection is definitely a must read for any aspiring writers and for Russo fans in general. THE DESTINY THIEF is an engrossing look into the life and mind of author Richard Russo. It's a terrific mixture of philosophy, personal stories, and commentary on the writing process itself. The essays in this book are both entertaining and thought provoking. This collection is definitely a must read for any aspiring writers and for Russo fans in general.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    Richard Russo is one of my favorite fiction writers, and these essays give his readers a tiny glimpse of his life and philosophy and approach to his writing. I enjoyed all of them, and, of course, his trademark humor shines through. Recommended to anyone who is a fan.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    In addition to reading more poetry, I'm trying to read more essays. This fiction and nonfiction stranglehold makes too much the cookie-cutter readers of us, no? Anyway, I'm not a Russo junkie by any means. I think I read Straight Man years and years ago. That's it. And I'm not sure essays are his element. He's a tad all over the place. Undisciplined at times. You know--like a novelist. Ah, those novelists. Thanks to the big picture, they can get away with murder (and sometimes, with whodunit). Let In addition to reading more poetry, I'm trying to read more essays. This fiction and nonfiction stranglehold makes too much the cookie-cutter readers of us, no? Anyway, I'm not a Russo junkie by any means. I think I read Straight Man years and years ago. That's it. And I'm not sure essays are his element. He's a tad all over the place. Undisciplined at times. You know--like a novelist. Ah, those novelists. Thanks to the big picture, they can get away with murder (and sometimes, with whodunit). Let's start with the good. I enjoyed Russo's tight essays on Dickens and Twain. The first, called The Pickwick Papers, is built on G.K. Chesterton's conviction that Pickwick is Dickens' greatest comic novel. That's a bold statement, considering it's his first, but, upon rereading the book, Russo sees some merit to Chesterton's trash talk and tells us why. All you have to do is get past the first few chapters to the introduction of the character Sam Weller. From then on out, bliss! And most every theme on society Dickens will get to in later books, only with a healthy sense of humor. (After Bleak House, it all gets rather bleak in CD Land.) Which sounds a bit like Twain in reverse. With Twain's masterpiece, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it's the END of the book you lop off. Not the appearance of a Sam Weller as cue, but the reappearance of a Tom Sawyer. Still, Russo's not about Huck here. Rather he's looking at voice, at Twain's bigger-than-life audacity, on how the lines between Twain's fiction and nonfiction bled so badly you might as well give up distinguishing in some cases. The essay is called "Mark Twain's Nonfiction" and gives insight into Russo's other literary hero, Mark as in Twain. As for the essays about writing (the reason many writing aspirants might pick this up), there's some good and some bad. On the good side is his praise of the omniscient point of view in "What Frogs Think: A Defense of Omniscience." Why are writers, even MFA writers, so afraid of the Big Bad Omniscient? In Russo's hands, it offers a variety of advantages to your story (short, novella, novel) that can't be found under the restrictions of 1st and 3rd limited (or what he calls "third close"). I felt like I was in his classroom, which is what I wanted from the book. I even felt like giving omniscient a test drive--in poetry, yet! Then there was the rambling of "The Gravestone and the Commode" and, especially, "Getting Good" (which weighs in at 62 pages and makes you wonder when Russo will get good at self-editing). The latter has great musings on learning to write, on MFA vs. no MFA, on insiders vs. outsiders, on talent vs. discipline, etc., and I found numerous writing-related quotes to enjoy, too, but really, on and on and at times in circles it went. Rule #1: It's never a good thing to repeat yourself in a single essay. Isn't that in Strunk? White, maybe?

  5. 4 out of 5

    Reggie

    The author presents a couple of thought-provoking essays. However, I got the impression some of the essays were merely page-count fillers. Given Richard Russo's talent and reputation, I found this to be a disappointing collection. The author presents a couple of thought-provoking essays. However, I got the impression some of the essays were merely page-count fillers. Given Richard Russo's talent and reputation, I found this to be a disappointing collection.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Glady

    Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo offers his take on writing, life, opportunity, and family in The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life. I recently saw Russo at "Writers in the Loft," a program run through the Portsmouth Music Hall. The small and intimate area of the Loft made it appear that Russo was speaking to each audience member individually rather than a large, shadowy group. This intimacy really fit in with Russo's reading and question/answer session. He was at tim Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo offers his take on writing, life, opportunity, and family in The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life. I recently saw Russo at "Writers in the Loft," a program run through the Portsmouth Music Hall. The small and intimate area of the Loft made it appear that Russo was speaking to each audience member individually rather than a large, shadowy group. This intimacy really fit in with Russo's reading and question/answer session. He was at times humorous, at times contemplative. Russo's essays explore the absolute hard work required to really be a writer, successful or not. He frequently cites the "ten thousand hour" rule; in other words, one must practice, practice, practice. Here he reviews the pros and cons of formal writing programs. Russo studied in Arizona and has taught at several programs across the country. He believes the strength of such programs involves the intense scrutiny of one's writing as well as the writing of peers. In other words, one can learn from others' mistakes. But, talent is only one element that is required to be successful. Luck, support, and persistence are all required. And, today's up-and-coming authors have far less support from traditional sources like publishing houses. He is somewhat critical of the concept of self-publishing, mainly because he perceives that the business of being a writer/publisher interferes with the focus of being a writer. Despite this criticism he feels very fortunate that his success came at a time prior to the e-book revolution. Russo provides examples from his own life to prove his points. Sometimes he is his harshest critic as in "Imagining Jenny." A close friend confides in Russo about his intended transition surgery and Russo's reaction is initially rather selfish. But, this turmoil allows Russo to dive into the concepts of friendship and personal truth. The Destiny Thief is surprisingly entertaining while it reinforces the necessity of having literature in our lives.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kristen

    Meh. Essays on "writing, writers, and life" is a bit overstated given that you'd assume the writing would be the biggest piece of the collection. Not surprisingly, the first essay, which was explicitly about writing, was my fave. Russo is so insightful--even for an academic writer who, as he notes, has very different routines and needs from a fiction writer. His work is so, so male. Like--save for a few mentions of his (supportive) wife and daughters and his trans friend, I'm not sure there are Meh. Essays on "writing, writers, and life" is a bit overstated given that you'd assume the writing would be the biggest piece of the collection. Not surprisingly, the first essay, which was explicitly about writing, was my fave. Russo is so insightful--even for an academic writer who, as he notes, has very different routines and needs from a fiction writer. His work is so, so male. Like--save for a few mentions of his (supportive) wife and daughters and his trans friend, I'm not sure there are ANY examples or anecdotes about women. It started to grate on me. However, he really is a beautiful writer and I appreciate deeply his ability to vacillate between academic and popular press settings.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I love Richard Russo, and I loved some of these essays. I was particularly intrigued by Russo's writing about finding humor in everyday life and then sharing that humor. That strikes me as important for writers but also for readers. Figuring out what's funny vs. offensive and then deciding how to react seems to be one of our social hurdles these days. However, I wasn't 100% sure why these particular essays were put together in this collection. I wanted there to be a larger anchor or theme or poin I love Richard Russo, and I loved some of these essays. I was particularly intrigued by Russo's writing about finding humor in everyday life and then sharing that humor. That strikes me as important for writers but also for readers. Figuring out what's funny vs. offensive and then deciding how to react seems to be one of our social hurdles these days. However, I wasn't 100% sure why these particular essays were put together in this collection. I wanted there to be a larger anchor or theme or point that would pull me through some of the more technical and narrow pieces.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    I love Richard Russo and will read anything he writes. That said, he’s at his best when he’s writing fiction. I would given this 4 stars except there were a few essays that dragged for me (a disappointment) though the others I truly enjoyed. Last year I read (and really enjoyed) his collection of short stories (Trajectory); I hope that there is another novel in the works.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Emily Meacham

    I like Russo's fiction better, although I really liked "Elsewhere" ... but these essays were just not as interesting, and some actually had the same stories in them ... I like Russo's fiction better, although I really liked "Elsewhere" ... but these essays were just not as interesting, and some actually had the same stories in them ...

  11. 4 out of 5

    Julia Nock

    In these beautiful and generous essays, Richard Russo shares the wisdom gained through a long career of reading, writing, and teaching. Although nominally about writers and writing, ( and Russo gives us deft and original readings of Dickens and Twain), this collection offers a lens through which we can see and think about life itself. In the title essay “The Destiny Thief”, we see life's unforeseeable and ironic paths traced through the careers of young Russo and a college classmate; comic visio In these beautiful and generous essays, Richard Russo shares the wisdom gained through a long career of reading, writing, and teaching. Although nominally about writers and writing, ( and Russo gives us deft and original readings of Dickens and Twain), this collection offers a lens through which we can see and think about life itself. In the title essay “The Destiny Thief”, we see life's unforeseeable and ironic paths traced through the careers of young Russo and a college classmate; comic vision and the absurdity of life inspired by a prosaic home repair project in “The Gravestone and the Commode”; the difficult lessons of apprenticeship and the building of competence in “Getting Good”, the gently humorous but apt “Russo’s Rules for Life” in”Address to the 2004 Graduates of Colby College”;thinking about how we think and what we know ( and how to write about it) in “What Frogs Think: a Defence of Omniscience”, and the role of empathy and imagination in both life and writing as a longtime friend and colleague undergoes gender reassignment surgery in “Imagining Jenny”. Finally, we read about the vagaries of building bridges between cultures and the importance of the task of encouragement in “The Boss in Bulgaria” in which Russo is the keynote speaker at a somewhat misbegotten Bulgarian seminar. Russo’s long career as a writer of fiction serves him well here; while his topics are serious, they are told with humor, down-to-earth humility, and his typical gift of storytelling. I just loved this and would highly recommend it.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    I'm not sure if I have ever read essays with as much punch as these by Russo. I am a big fan of his novels (ever since "Empire Falls."). So, I didn't expect much from this book - just another "throw-away" of junk left on his computer between novels, the kind of stuff every writer does when their publisher is pressing them for "something." But, WOW, this is Russo at his best writing. He says it is about writing - but it's not. It's about life - in all its manifestations and vagaries and absurditi I'm not sure if I have ever read essays with as much punch as these by Russo. I am a big fan of his novels (ever since "Empire Falls."). So, I didn't expect much from this book - just another "throw-away" of junk left on his computer between novels, the kind of stuff every writer does when their publisher is pressing them for "something." But, WOW, this is Russo at his best writing. He says it is about writing - but it's not. It's about life - in all its manifestations and vagaries and absurdities. If you don't want to read the whole book (it's only 205 pages), then, at least read these two essays: "Imagining Jenny" and "The Boss in Bulgaria." Have you ever had an essay make you cry? I'll bet you can't get through these without a wet eye. My take-away from this book? - I wish Richard Russo were my friend. I would be a lucky guy.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    As the title suggests this is a book essays written by Richard Russo on the topices of writing and his life. I don't care much for reading about people's thoughts on writing, so I didn't care much for those essays. I generally enjoyed the ones he just wrote about his life in general though. As the title suggests this is a book essays written by Richard Russo on the topices of writing and his life. I don't care much for reading about people's thoughts on writing, so I didn't care much for those essays. I generally enjoyed the ones he just wrote about his life in general though.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alan Kercinik

    It has been some time since I've read Russo. My reading habits fall toward binging, in that I'll discover a writer and then devour much of his or her work in fairly short order. When I'd discovered Russo, some years ago, he'd had Nobody's Fool, Straight Man, Empire Falls and Mohawk under his belt. This slim volume, a collection of essays over a fairly long span of his career, none of which I'd ever read before, reminded me what a generous and sharp writer he is, but also what an eye he has about It has been some time since I've read Russo. My reading habits fall toward binging, in that I'll discover a writer and then devour much of his or her work in fairly short order. When I'd discovered Russo, some years ago, he'd had Nobody's Fool, Straight Man, Empire Falls and Mohawk under his belt. This slim volume, a collection of essays over a fairly long span of his career, none of which I'd ever read before, reminded me what a generous and sharp writer he is, but also what an eye he has about both human hearts and behaviors. This is especially evident in Imagining Jenny, in which he recounts his own heart and behaviors surrounding gender reassignment surgery of one of his closest friends. The other big takeaway, for me, is what a student of writing he is. This should come as no great shock. Russo taught fiction for a good part of his career. (He even made a book out of it -- Straight Man -- which is one of the funniest novels I've ever read, one that made my sides quite literally hurt from laughter. The only other book that ever had that effect on me was Confederacy of Dunces.) But he has spent considerable time with Dickens and Twain and, reading him again, of course they are influences. His writing has that quality, even when he is not speaking of writers who he has loved and learned from, of a man trying his best to teach some lesson that he has learned, hard-learned or otherwise.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Alice

    Although I love RIchard Russo's fiction, I did not particularly enjoy these essays. A few were memorable -- such as the one about his friend Jenny Boylan -- but others -- such as about Mark Twain -- didn't interest me at all. Probably more about the writing process than I wanted to read. As always, Russo's writing is fine. I guess I will just return to his fiction, which is always first-rate. Although I love RIchard Russo's fiction, I did not particularly enjoy these essays. A few were memorable -- such as the one about his friend Jenny Boylan -- but others -- such as about Mark Twain -- didn't interest me at all. Probably more about the writing process than I wanted to read. As always, Russo's writing is fine. I guess I will just return to his fiction, which is always first-rate.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sigrun Hodne

    I must admit, I much prefer his novels.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Katherine

    "Most writers had about a thousand pages of shitty prose in them, he went on, and these have to be expelled before they can hope to write seriously" (3-4). "Explanations, in the final analysis, never satisfy us completely. They only reassure us, and that's a lesser achievement" (29). "As you may know, requests for exhumation are seldom granted" (25). "How do you learn not to care about something that matters? Because good teaching does matter. I intended to quit the classroom as soon as I could aff "Most writers had about a thousand pages of shitty prose in them, he went on, and these have to be expelled before they can hope to write seriously" (3-4). "Explanations, in the final analysis, never satisfy us completely. They only reassure us, and that's a lesser achievement" (29). "As you may know, requests for exhumation are seldom granted" (25). "How do you learn not to care about something that matters? Because good teaching does matter. I intended to quit the classroom as soon as I could afford to, but until then I approached my job as my grandfather did his imperfect skins. Each student, many of them first generation, was a puzzle worth pondering. Speed, carelessness and inattention were the enemy. If some of my colleagues were contemptuous of their students' abilities and doing slipshod work themselves, what did that have to do with me? Not a blessed thing" (77). "The word 'no' is the message no artist or craftsman wants to hear: 'You're not good enough yet,' which the little voice in your head, the one that lives to fuck with you, immediately explicates as: 'You're not good enough and you never will be'" (91). "Don't worry too much about the world they'll be born into, which will suck, because that's what the world mostly does" (113). *On having children. *Interesting info about the writing of Nobody's Fool in his essay on omniscience. "'...mote-magnifying tyrant'" (186). *He's quoting Twain here. I love it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Paula

    After recently attending a 2-week literature festival where I took several workshops on non-fiction writing, I was very excited to pick up this new book of essays on writing, writers and life by one of my very favorite novelists. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in this book overall. The essays are all over the place - some of them are barely 2 stars, and others are 5 stars, with most somewhere in between. By far my favorite was the longest one on "Getting Good" - invaluable advice on how long After recently attending a 2-week literature festival where I took several workshops on non-fiction writing, I was very excited to pick up this new book of essays on writing, writers and life by one of my very favorite novelists. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in this book overall. The essays are all over the place - some of them are barely 2 stars, and others are 5 stars, with most somewhere in between. By far my favorite was the longest one on "Getting Good" - invaluable advice on how long one must practice one's craft, and how long it takes to truly "get good" in whatever it is one is striving to perfect - in Russo's life of course that is writing. I laughed out loud at his hilarious piece "The Gravestone and the Commode"; was deeply moved by "Imagining Jenny", a heartbreaking essay about one of Russo's best male friends who chooses to have surgery to become a woman; and could not make it through the essays on Dickens and Mark Twain. I'm glad I read the wide variety of essays in this book, but it made it very clear to me what I already knew: that Russo is one of the finest fiction writers out there, and he should, for the most part, stick to novel writing.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Shannon Diffner

    Just finished the audiobook, and was so sorry that it was over that I listened to Russo read the copyright information. For me, a new book from Russo is like a long conversation with an old friend, who is much more funny and smart than I could ever hope to be.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Xied

    Insights and stories of Mr Russo's background, getting a grip on his art/vocation. Something missing though - some real heart in the body. Insights and stories of Mr Russo's background, getting a grip on his art/vocation. Something missing though - some real heart in the body.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Beth Bonini

    From the vantage point of his late 60s, and with a whole lot of both life and writing behind him, Richard Russo has put together an essay collection that could be characterised as both musings and advice on the subject of writing. Russo quotes Ann Patchett several times, and to my mind (and possibly his own), she is the better essay writer. She writes very tight well-constructed essays and so many lines are just perfectly balanced in an epigram-like style. Russo has a more meandering style. “Get From the vantage point of his late 60s, and with a whole lot of both life and writing behind him, Richard Russo has put together an essay collection that could be characterised as both musings and advice on the subject of writing. Russo quotes Ann Patchett several times, and to my mind (and possibly his own), she is the better essay writer. She writes very tight well-constructed essays and so many lines are just perfectly balanced in an epigram-like style. Russo has a more meandering style. “Getting Good” is the longest essay in the collection, and probably the most important one, too. Russo makes various points in this essay about the long-haul of “getting good” as a writer, with many analogous asides along the way. I did feel, though, that much of his own philosophy about the craft, practice and calling of being a writer was encapsulated in this one. Other essays deal with his enthusiasms and favourite writers: Charles Dickens and Mark Twain both merit their own essay, and John Steinbeck gets several mentions throughout. One of the most interesting essays was “Imagining Jenny,” in which Russo comes to terms with the imaginative and moral challenge of accepting his longtime friend Jim as a woman named Jenny. Russo talks about point of view in this essay, and he also deals with the important subject of point of view in “What Frogs Think: A Defense of Omniscience.” This essay was one of my favourites, and I think it is definitely the most useful for the person who wants to be a (better) writer. You can get a real flavour of what he is like as a teacher in this one. Although many of the essays feel more like conversations than tightly constructed arguments, Russo has a warm voice with a lot of humour in it. I enjoyed this book, although it was not something I read with urgency. (I described Russo as having a meandering style, and it took me about 6 weeks to meander through the collection.) Note: I purchased my first edition, signed copy while travelling in Maine (Russo’s home state). ”Destiny is forged in moments like these. Curiosity and discovery in Manichaean balance with despair and self-loathing. Writing, like life itself, is difficult. Many truly talented people give up every day.” (From “The Destiny Thief”) “My writing students used to ask, How do you make things so funny? To which I usually replied, I don’t make anything funny. I’m simply reporting the world as I find it.” “The problem for a writer with a genuinely comic imagination is not ‘making things funny’ or even locating enough funny things in the world to write about. Rather, the problem - and it’s the same for any artist - is getting other people to see things as you do, to honour the truth of your idiosyncratic way of seeing.” (From “The Gravestone and the Commode”) “But hunger remembered is not the same as hunger felt. Indeed, for some that’s the final cruel joke - that hard-won mastery of craft coincides almost to the minute with passion’s ebb. Art, offered shoulders to stand on, often as not demurs.” (From “Getting Good”) “To my mind, an even-deeper mystery than the secrets we keep is how our hearts incline toward this person and not that one, how one soul selects another for its company, how we recognize companion souls as we make our way through the world in awkward bodies that betray us at every turn. This is not the special dilemma of the transgendered person; it’s all of us.” (From “Imagining Jenny”)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mike

    I had never heard of Brooks Koepka until he won the U.S. Open golf championship a couple of weeks ago. Scratch that. I’m pretty sure I said the same thing a year ago, when Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open golf championship. Never heard of that guy! Now that he’s won it two years in a row, I can say I have heard of him, I just immediately forgot all about him. Similarly, a few weeks ago I received a Richard Russo book that I didn’t know was being published. But clearly I did know it was being publ I had never heard of Brooks Koepka until he won the U.S. Open golf championship a couple of weeks ago. Scratch that. I’m pretty sure I said the same thing a year ago, when Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open golf championship. Never heard of that guy! Now that he’s won it two years in a row, I can say I have heard of him, I just immediately forgot all about him. Similarly, a few weeks ago I received a Richard Russo book that I didn’t know was being published. But clearly I did know it was being published, because I had put a hold on it at the library months ago that was finally fulfilled. I simply had forgotten all about it in the meantime. So when it came it, I was surprised and overjoyed by the little gift I had given myself. “How could Richard Russo have a new book out that I didn’t know about?” I thought. But clearly I did know about it since I now had it. I had just forgotten that I knew about it. Kinda like Brooks Koepka and the U.S. Open. What I didn’t forget is that Richard Russo is a brilliant author. Every essay in “The Destiny Thief” is a reminder of that. The title essay is evidence of that, as Russo explores his history as a writer, comparing it to a friend of his who thought he was going to have the career Russo has enjoyed. Instead, Russo wound up with a career beyond his imagination, and in some ways feels imposter syndrome as it was never written in the stars for him. Other essays – some previously published, others unclear on the status – show he is an expert in Mark Twain and Charles Dickens’ “The Pickwick Papers,” and a very good writing teacher. Whatever the subject, Russo is as smooth a writer as it gets. He tells us that “show, don’t tell” is for beginning writers, makes an essay about grappling with his friend’s transition from man to woman as funny and heartfelt as it can be, and made me want to learn more about “The Pickwick Papers” when I couldn’t have cared less about it heading into this book. I hope I forget all about Richard Russo’s next book right after I put a hold on it at the library. And then I hope I am as overjoyed when the book arrives as I was this time. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it just as much, as Russo always comes through. Unlike Brooks Koepka, who I might forget about again as soon as I post this review, I’ll never forget about Richard Russo. I’ll just lose track of when his books come out.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sandra Hutchison

    My favorite essays here are on the omniscient point of view, which has fallen out of fashion, and about Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, who have also fallen out of fashion. I particularly appreciate seeing someone whose comic writing I admire take on Twain's humor. Those essays would get five stars. Then there are some fairly meandering essays that felt as if a ruthless edit would be helpful, and those would get three because while reading them it was hard not to see this book as "let's package My favorite essays here are on the omniscient point of view, which has fallen out of fashion, and about Mark Twain and Charles Dickens, who have also fallen out of fashion. I particularly appreciate seeing someone whose comic writing I admire take on Twain's humor. Those essays would get five stars. Then there are some fairly meandering essays that felt as if a ruthless edit would be helpful, and those would get three because while reading them it was hard not to see this book as "let's package up some nonfiction and make a few bucks." The title essay had me rolling my eyes a lot. I love Russo's reflections on who succeeded and who didn't from his first writing seminar. But then it just kept going and going. Russo is too aware of the current state of publishing to not understand why self-publishing has become a thing (we get caveats upon caveats). Yet he still sides with the traditional model with the enthusiasm of a white male who has actually been able to support his family on this writing thing, which of course for him has included a whole lot of other sources of income than just book royalties. Ultimately, his high-minded division of writers into those who see it as a calling vs. those who just want to make a living is the most incredible bullshit, especially from a guy who has essays IN THE SAME VOLUME about Twain and Dickens. In short, this is an entertaining book for writers who are already comfortable and/or happily published. It may also be good for all the many other writers, especially any who are wondering, "Hey! Whatever happened to omniscient point of view, anyway?" Just be aware that you may occasionally wish to fling the book across the room.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Freund

    Gorgeous, insightful, helpful, wonderful book. I started out writing a review in verse form that began "Read this! Read this! Read this! Read this!" and I stand by those repeating words whole-heartedly. Sadly the rest of my poetic review was total crap. I am better able to recognize its few merits and its numerous demerits thanks to Russo. He's a guru. His fiction is among my very top favorite works published, ever, and he's a brilliant and generous instructor, so it's not surprising that his co Gorgeous, insightful, helpful, wonderful book. I started out writing a review in verse form that began "Read this! Read this! Read this! Read this!" and I stand by those repeating words whole-heartedly. Sadly the rest of my poetic review was total crap. I am better able to recognize its few merits and its numerous demerits thanks to Russo. He's a guru. His fiction is among my very top favorite works published, ever, and he's a brilliant and generous instructor, so it's not surprising that his collection of essays on Writing, Writers and Life would deliver equally if not more so. And boy, does it. If you are anywhere at ALL on the spectrum of considering being a writer, now or in the future, this is a great book to read. All at once or in tiny morsels. Read Richard Russo's fiction too - and Mark Twain and Charles Dickens and a hundred other writers (many of them female, I'd like to add) but definitely do not miss this particular collection of essays in your journey toward professionalism. A while ago I made a too-long youtube video on a bunch of writers' guides I like -and I'd rank this one right up there among the smallest few you really owe it to yourself to own.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Derek

    3.75 stars. I'm a Richard Russo fan so I won't pretend at objectivity here. This is a wonderful collection of essays focusing mainly on writing and the life of a writer as they exist in 2019. Insights abound and reading Russo's musings is an utter pleasure. However, this is not a full four stars from me because just about every essay left me feeling a trifle unsatisfied. Which, admittedly, might be a good thing. The old adage, "Always leave 'em wanting more", exists for a reason. Keeping that in 3.75 stars. I'm a Richard Russo fan so I won't pretend at objectivity here. This is a wonderful collection of essays focusing mainly on writing and the life of a writer as they exist in 2019. Insights abound and reading Russo's musings is an utter pleasure. However, this is not a full four stars from me because just about every essay left me feeling a trifle unsatisfied. Which, admittedly, might be a good thing. The old adage, "Always leave 'em wanting more", exists for a reason. Keeping that in mind, I still couldn't help myself from wanting Russo to go further and delve deeper time and time again. I understand full well that this might be a reader problem and not an authorial one. Is it Richard Russo's fault if I would have loved this book at twice its length? However, a feeling of some incompleteness remained throughout my reading so I thought it worth mentioning. Without question, though, this is still highly recommended for both aspiring writers and all Russo fans.

  26. 4 out of 5

    James

    The essays here are often both surprising and funnier than I would have expected. I enjoyed reading Empire Falls, so it was interesting to find out more about his trajectory as a writer and his life up to now. The closest he gets to offering anything like prescriptive advice is when he talks about young writers (in terms of craft development) and the use of third person omniscience. That alone, at least to me, is worth the price of the book. But the fact that I laughed out loud several times alo The essays here are often both surprising and funnier than I would have expected. I enjoyed reading Empire Falls, so it was interesting to find out more about his trajectory as a writer and his life up to now. The closest he gets to offering anything like prescriptive advice is when he talks about young writers (in terms of craft development) and the use of third person omniscience. That alone, at least to me, is worth the price of the book. But the fact that I laughed out loud several times along the way and never lost interest made me feel like I got more than I paid for with this one. Also, it's worth noting that Mr. Russo name drops Ann Patchett a few times in one of his essays. So, if you want to read an equally great book of essays written by a woman, I highly recommend This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage by Ms. Patchett. You will not be disappointed.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Bill Palmer

    Like a lot of other reader reviewers, I prefer Russo's fiction. That's what he does best. But I was expecting this to be sort of dry, perhaps a bit on the technical side. Yet these essays are chock full of keen observations and sprinkled with pertinent quotes from other illustrious authors. And there's a fair amount of decent humor, as in "Address to the Graduates of Colby College" and "The Gravestone and the Commode". "Imagining Jenny" is a brutally honest and touching look at a long time male Like a lot of other reader reviewers, I prefer Russo's fiction. That's what he does best. But I was expecting this to be sort of dry, perhaps a bit on the technical side. Yet these essays are chock full of keen observations and sprinkled with pertinent quotes from other illustrious authors. And there's a fair amount of decent humor, as in "Address to the Graduates of Colby College" and "The Gravestone and the Commode". "Imagining Jenny" is a brutally honest and touching look at a long time male friend's decision to undergo gender reassignment. I'll not likely be a published author, especially since I'm not trying to be, but I do like to write and I thought "Getting Good" was, well, good. I found a couple lists of well regarded essay collections and quickly saw that I haven't read many of them. This wasn't on either list, but neither were Vonnegut or Chuck Klosterman. So I'm not going to worry about it too much and neither should Russo.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Julie M

    Full disclosure-I did skip a couple of the essays in this collection. Appreciated Russo’s insights on writers teaching, his own struggles with the craft, what ‘success’ means to different authors and the good, bad and ugly aspects of many US MFA-writing programs. For me, a 2.5-hour marathon reading meant an engrossing and often humorous afternoon reading in the library. Especially the 62-page “Getting Good.” Four stars for Destiny Thief-by one of America’s best authors (Empire Falls, Bridge of S Full disclosure-I did skip a couple of the essays in this collection. Appreciated Russo’s insights on writers teaching, his own struggles with the craft, what ‘success’ means to different authors and the good, bad and ugly aspects of many US MFA-writing programs. For me, a 2.5-hour marathon reading meant an engrossing and often humorous afternoon reading in the library. Especially the 62-page “Getting Good.” Four stars for Destiny Thief-by one of America’s best authors (Empire Falls, Bridge of Sighs, Nobody’s Fool).

  29. 5 out of 5

    Zoom

    I love Richard Russo's fiction, so I was drawn to this book of essays by him. Some of the 9 essays were worthy of 5 stars, including Imagining Jenny, and What Frogs Think: A Defense of Omniscience. Getting Good was good too, but too long (which I suppose is another way of saying it wasn't that good). But alas, I was happy to get to the end of the book. I love Richard Russo's fiction, so I was drawn to this book of essays by him. Some of the 9 essays were worthy of 5 stars, including Imagining Jenny, and What Frogs Think: A Defense of Omniscience. Getting Good was good too, but too long (which I suppose is another way of saying it wasn't that good). But alas, I was happy to get to the end of the book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Brennan

    I love Richard Russo. And this book delivered on occasion. But it was hit and miss, and I would not say it was for a very broad audience (lengthy essays on Dickens' "The Picwick Papers" and the life of Mark Twain were a test for me). If you love Richard Russo novels, or if you are interested in writing fiction, this book has a lot to offer. Outside of those two groups, I think you can find more interesting things to read. I love Richard Russo. And this book delivered on occasion. But it was hit and miss, and I would not say it was for a very broad audience (lengthy essays on Dickens' "The Picwick Papers" and the life of Mark Twain were a test for me). If you love Richard Russo novels, or if you are interested in writing fiction, this book has a lot to offer. Outside of those two groups, I think you can find more interesting things to read.

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