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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

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An Absorbing Errand

An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery - Janna Malamud Smith

I have a problem with non-narrative non-fiction books: they can be boring. Not only does the author often drone on and on, but they repeat the same point they made in the first chapter, expanding on it until it is worn so thin I can use the pages as tissue. Perhaps it's my own flaw, but I need a story; without it, my attention wanes. So I was a little hesitant to pick up An Absorbing Errand. I thought the topic was interesting, but I knew that didn't necessarily mean it would keep my interest. And, in full disclosure, I mostly picked up this book because it was written by the daughter of Bernard Malamud (I have this strange obsession with reading books by the offspring of my favorite authors). An Absorbing Errand, however, was an absorbing read. If you want to understand better your need to create, why you have been dragging your feet as an artist, then this is the book to read.


Smith has been around a wide range of artists. Not only did she grow up amongst artists, but she has remained in their midst throughout the years. Furthermore, she is a psychotherapist and is well read. Smith knows artists and she understands them. This leads to a very insightful read that is equally cautionary as it is reassuring.


What I most liked about this book is how united it made me feel with other artists around the globe. If Smith is right in her diagnosis, we're not all that different from one another. We may approach our respective arts from different angles, but we largely experience the same feelings of fear, isolation, and ruthlessness. In her understanding of artists in general, Smith shows that she knows me. She understands why I create. Suddenly, I don't feel so alone.


Walking away from this book, the one thing I realize I most need to succeed is the company of others. Since I graduated from with my MFA two years ago, I've been doing this on my own. I have walled myself in with my novel and have become so consumed with it that I am not allowing myself interaction with other humans. I need counsel. I need communication. I need to have a friend or two. Without these, my work will suffer.