Drifting Away From This Read...

Day 277

This is probably the first time I have reviewed a book I didn't finish, and it's definitely the first time I've done so on this blog. I'm a third of the way into "Drifting on a Read" by Michael Jarrett. It feels unfair to review it without seeing it to the end, and it's not a bad book. I might return to it at some point. It's just a very different book than I was expecting, and right now I'm reading several things and this one isn't what I want.

The subtitle is "Jazz as a Model for Writing," and the author is an English professor. I think it was largely that, in addition to the back cover reviews, that misled me. With reviews like, "Can we use jazz music -- and concepts drawn from jazz composing -- to help students become better writers? Mike Jarrett shows us how," I was hoping for something that guided writers through the techniques used in prose that's known for being infused with jazz. I admire writers like Ralph Ellison and Toni Morrison. I believe in form following function, so I wouldn't want to apply all those techniques every day, but I think that having a handle on a wide range of techniques to make my writing feel and sound the way I want is always good, so adding to that range benefits my writing as a whole. But now I think that the best way to learn from jazz prose writers' musicality is just to read a lot of their work and pay close attention. Perhaps someone has broken down their techniques in a useful discussion, but this wasn't it.

What the book does do, at least in the first seventy pages, is analyze writing about jazz through the lens of critical theory. Jarrett delves into questions of how texts relate to other texts and how texts relate to their own existence, rather than questions of how to evoke feelings or how to interweave multiple narrative threads without compromising them. I knew from the reviews and some of the pages I had flipped through that critical theory and high-brow literary criticism was a part of Jarrett's toolbox in analyzing writing, I just didn't know it would be such a big part. I don't want to write a review of critical theory or of abstract literary criticism -- that's too big a subject to conquer -- but generally speaking, I think they have their place even though I'm not the biggest enthusiast. I'm not sure whether this is their place, but I'm confident I'm not going to get what I was looking for. If I later finish the book, I may have an informed opinion on whether "Drifting on a Read" doesn't accomplish what it set out to, or whether I simply misunderstood what it hoped to do. If Jarrett's style of analysis is up your alley, by all means, check it out.  An earlier edition is available online, and this may well be a very good book for someone else, or for me another time.