REVIEW: Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation, Tom Bissell

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

In Magic Hours, award-winning essayist Tom Bissell explores the highs and lows of the creative process. He takes us from the set of The Big Bang Theory to the first novel of Ernest Hemingway to the final work of David Foster Wallace; from the films of Werner Herzog to the film of Tommy Wiseau to the editorial meeting in which Paula Fox's work was relaunched into the world. Originally published in magazines such as The Believer, The New Yorker, and Harper's, these essays represent ten years of Bissell's best writing on every aspect of creation—be it Iraq War documentaries or video-game character voices—and will provoke as much thought as they do laughter. What are sitcoms for exactly? Can art be both bad and genius? Why do some books survive and others vanish?

I enjoyed a total of one (1!) essay in Tom Bissell’s Magic Hours collection. That would be the first (I believe?) one, which is about Franz Kafka, Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson, and how easily their words could have gone unheard. After that though, everything began to go seriously downhill.
This is primarily because, Magic Hours is not what it appears. Because, instead of solely focussing on the creative process, Bissell inserts far too much of himself into the essays. Far too much. Which leads to creators and creation being bypassed, in order to talk about how he was the one who brought their books to print.
All in all, this led to an incredibly arrogant, and honestly rather snide, narrative-voice in which Bissell shills the creators whom he believes spin gold, and completely tears apart the ones he doesn’t. And, to be honest, some of the comments about them were frankly just unnecessary and left a rather bad taste in my mouth by the end of the book.
And, I now wish all of the book was just that first 10%.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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