Sunday, 26 October 2008

To Write Like A Woman - Joanna Russ

A collection of essays in literary criticism and feminism may sound, to some, a dull thing. These are people who do not know the writings of Joanna Russ. To begin with, she knows what she is talking about. Not only is she intelligent, but she is also wise. These two qualities do not always go together, especially in this field. And as if that was not enough, she is a successful writer of fiction (fantasy and science fiction).

As a basis for tackling her subjects in these essays, that would be enough to set Russ apart from most other literary critics. But she has another quality that is even rarer. Her writing is clear. She avoids jargon, she avoids the dull and often meaningless schools of thought normally associated with literary criticism. And what we get are essays that cast a bright, often penetrating, light on science fiction and fantasy. They offer original insights into work, they expound the importance of good science fiction and fantasy, and they place such works firmly within the bounds of legitimate concern for feminists and students of literature alike.

Yet the heap of praise is not yet finished. For these essays are witty. They do not poke fun, they do not denigrate (and they are not ‘man hating’). They are fun. It is clear that Russ loves words, is passionate about her subject (and sometimes despairing at what the education system does to women), and clearly enjoys the process of writing about writing. The cherry, if you like, on the icing, on top of the cream cake. Yum.

If you read science fiction and fantasy and want to see what an original feminist thinker has to say on the subject; if you are a writer (of anything); if you want to see how literary criticism should be written (although I give you fair warning that you’ll find it spoils you, that other work will seem dull ever afterwards), this is the book for you.