Yuka Igarashi of Soft Skull Press

Sometimes the only words I feel I can trust are nouns. I’m not sure this is a recommendation for writers, but it is a thought that has occurred to me when describing books. 

I just looked back at my e-mails, and in the past week I’ve called books I like or am interested in or am working on “exciting,” “so exciting,” “funny,” “nuanced,” “surprising,” “vivid,” “unbelievably good,” and “full of amazing ideas.” I’ve written that a manuscript “made me think” and that I “was excitedly underlining every other sentence.” I’m trying to use these phrases sincerely, taking care to be simple and clear and not state anything I don’t believe is true. Also, I’m usually addressing colleagues and writers and other people in publishing I already know. Still, part of me understands it’s lazy to talk about literature this way. It can start to feel like I’m playing Mad Libs or contributing to our slide toward meaninglessness and cliché, when at least in theory the purpose of my work is to publish writing that resists those things. 

What saves me when I find myself worrying about this is nouns, particularly concrete nouns. Here are some other words I’ve used to talk about books I’m currently working on: “pharmacist,” “FedEx package,” “compost,” “yellow leaves against blue sky,” “Tortie the cat,” “child beauty pageant,” “periods,” “ex-academic,” “Hi8 tape,” “shampoo commercial,” “plane crash,” “pitless avocado.” Nouns bring me back to tangible and material things. So one piece of advice is: If you ever feel confused or confusing while writing, it might help to to focus on details and sensations—something in the world that your senses can directly perceive.

Yuka Igarashi, editor in chief, Soft Skull Press

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Author: squong

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  • August 18, 2020