The Destiny Thief
A master of the novel, short story, and memoir, the best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Everybody's Fool now gives us his very first collection of personal essays, ranging throughout writing and reading and living. In these nine essays, Richard Russo provides insight into his life as a writer, teacher, friend, and reader. From a commencement speech he gave at Colby College, to the story of how an oddly placed toilet made him reevaluate the purpose of humor in art and life, to a comprehensive analysis of Mark Twain's value, to his harrowing journey accompanying a dear friend as she pursued gender-reassignment surgery, The Destiny Thief reflects the broad interests and experiences of one of America's most beloved authors. Warm, funny, wise, and poignant, the essays included here traverse Russo's writing life, expanding our understanding of who he is and how his singular, incredibly generous mind works. An utter joy to read, they give deep insight into the creative process from the prospective of one of our greatest writers.

The Destiny Thief Details

TitleThe Destiny Thief
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseMay 8th, 2018
PublisherKnopf Publishing
Rating
GenreNonfiction, Writing, Essays, Language, Autobiography, Memoir

The Destiny Thief Review

  • Diane Barnes
    January 1, 1970
    Richard Russo is one of my favorite fiction writers, and these essays give his readers a tiny glimpse of his life and philosophy and approach to his writing. I enjoyed all of them, and, of course, his trademark humor shines through. Recommended to anyone who is a fan.
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  • Ken
    January 1, 1970
    In addition to reading more poetry, I'm trying to read more essays. This fiction and nonfiction stranglehold makes too much the cookie-cutter readers of us, no?Anyway, I'm not a Russo junkie by any means. I think I read Straight Man years and years ago. That's it. And I'm not sure essays are his element. He's a tad all over the place. Undisciplined at times. You know--like a novelist. Ah, those novelists. Thanks to the big picture, they can get away with murder (and sometimes, with whodunit).Let In addition to reading more poetry, I'm trying to read more essays. This fiction and nonfiction stranglehold makes too much the cookie-cutter readers of us, no?Anyway, I'm not a Russo junkie by any means. I think I read Straight Man years and years ago. That's it. And I'm not sure essays are his element. He's a tad all over the place. Undisciplined at times. You know--like a novelist. Ah, those novelists. Thanks to the big picture, they can get away with murder (and sometimes, with whodunit).Let's start with the good. I enjoyed Russo's tight essays on Dickens and Twain. The first, called The Pickwick Papers, is built on G.K. Chesterton's conviction that Pickwick is Dickens' greatest comic novel. That's a bold statement, considering it's his first, but, upon rereading the book, Russo sees some merit to Chesterton's trash talk and tells us why. All you have to do is get past the first few chapters to the introduction of the character Sam Weller. From then on out, bliss! And most every theme on society Dickens will get to in later books, only with a healthy sense of humor. (After Bleak House, it all gets rather bleak in CD Land.)Which sounds a bit like Twain in reverse. With Twain's masterpiece, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it's the END of the book you lop off. Not the appearance of a Sam Weller as cue, but the reappearance of a Tom Sawyer. Still, Russo's not about Huck here. Rather he's looking at voice, at Twain's bigger-than-life audacity, on how the lines between Twain's fiction and nonfiction bled so badly you might as well give up distinguishing in some cases. The essay is called "Mark Twain's Nonfiction" and gives insight into Russo's other literary hero, Mark as in Twain.As for the essays about writing (the reason many writing aspirants might pick this up), there's some good and some bad. On the good side is his praise of the omniscient point of view in "What Frogs Think: A Defense of Omniscience." Why are writers, even MFA writers, so afraid of the Big Bad Omniscient? In Russo's hands, it offers a variety of advantages to your story (short, novella, novel) that can't be found under the restrictions of 1st and 3rd limited (or what he calls "third close"). I felt like I was in his classroom, which is what I wanted from the book. I even felt like giving omniscient a test drive--in poetry, yet!Then there was the rambling of "The Gravestone and the Commode" and, especially, "Getting Good" (which weighs in at 62 pages and makes you wonder when Russo will get good at self-editing). The latter has great musings on learning to write, on MFA vs. no MFA, on insiders vs. outsiders, on talent vs. discipline, etc., and I found numerous writing-related quotes to enjoy, too, but really, on and on and at times in circles it went. Rule #1: It's never a good thing to repeat yourself in a single essay. Isn't that in Strunk? White, maybe?
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  • Tiffany Reisz
    January 1, 1970
    Ah, I needed this book. Thank you, Andrew, for getting it for my for my birthday. If I ever write a book in omniscient POV it'll be Richard Russo's fault. Can't wait to meet him and have him as a teacher in January!
  • Reggie
    January 1, 1970
    The author presents a couple of thought-provoking essays. However, I got the impression some of the essays were merely page-count fillers. Given Richard Russo's talent and reputation, I found this to be a disappointing collection.
  • Glady
    January 1, 1970
    Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo offers his take on writing, life, opportunity, and family in The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life. I recently saw Russo at "Writers in the Loft," a program run through the Portsmouth Music Hall. The small and intimate area of the Loft made it appear that Russo was speaking to each audience member individually rather than a large, shadowy group. This intimacy really fit in with Russo's reading and question/answer session. He was at tim Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Russo offers his take on writing, life, opportunity, and family in The Destiny Thief: Essays on Writing, Writers and Life. I recently saw Russo at "Writers in the Loft," a program run through the Portsmouth Music Hall. The small and intimate area of the Loft made it appear that Russo was speaking to each audience member individually rather than a large, shadowy group. This intimacy really fit in with Russo's reading and question/answer session. He was at times humorous, at times contemplative.Russo's essays explore the absolute hard work required to really be a writer, successful or not. He frequently cites the "ten thousand hour" rule; in other words, one must practice, practice, practice. Here he reviews the pros and cons of formal writing programs. Russo studied in Arizona and has taught at several programs across the country. He believes the strength of such programs involves the intense scrutiny of one's writing as well as the writing of peers. In other words, one can learn from others' mistakes. But, talent is only one element that is required to be successful. Luck, support, and persistence are all required. And, today's up-and-coming authors have far less support from traditional sources like publishing houses. He is somewhat critical of the concept of self-publishing, mainly because he perceives that the business of being a writer/publisher interferes with the focus of being a writer. Despite this criticism he feels very fortunate that his success came at a time prior to the e-book revolution.Russo provides examples from his own life to prove his points. Sometimes he is his harshest critic as in "Imagining Jenny." A close friend confides in Russo about his intended transition surgery and Russo's reaction is initially rather selfish. But, this turmoil allows Russo to dive into the concepts of friendship and personal truth. The Destiny Thief is surprisingly entertaining while it reinforces the necessity of having literature in our lives.
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  • Emily Meacham
    January 1, 1970
    I like Russo's fiction better, although I really liked "Elsewhere" ... but these essays were just not as interesting, and some actually had the same stories in them ...
  • Katie
    January 1, 1970
    I love Richard Russo and will read anything he writes. That said, he’s at his best when he’s writing fiction. I would given this 4 stars except there were a few essays that dragged for me (a disappointment) though the others I truly enjoyed. Last year I read (and really enjoyed) his collection of short stories (Trajectory); I hope that there is another novel in the works.
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  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    I love Richard Russo, and I loved some of these essays. I was particularly intrigued by Russo's writing about finding humor in everyday life and then sharing that humor. That strikes me as important for writers but also for readers. Figuring out what's funny vs. offensive and then deciding how to react seems to be one of our social hurdles these days.However, I wasn't 100% sure why these particular essays were put together in this collection. I wanted there to be a larger anchor or theme or poin I love Richard Russo, and I loved some of these essays. I was particularly intrigued by Russo's writing about finding humor in everyday life and then sharing that humor. That strikes me as important for writers but also for readers. Figuring out what's funny vs. offensive and then deciding how to react seems to be one of our social hurdles these days.However, I wasn't 100% sure why these particular essays were put together in this collection. I wanted there to be a larger anchor or theme or point that would pull me through some of the more technical and narrow pieces.
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  • Danielle
    January 1, 1970
    As the title suggests this is a book essays written by Richard Russo on the topices of writing and his life. I don't care much for reading about people's thoughts on writing, so I didn't care much for those essays. I generally enjoyed the ones he just wrote about his life in general though.
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  • Alan Kercinik
    January 1, 1970
    It has been some time since I've read Russo. My reading habits fall toward binging, in that I'll discover a writer and then devour much of his or her work in fairly short order. When I'd discovered Russo, some years ago, he'd had Nobody's Fool, Straight Man, Empire Falls and Mohawk under his belt. This slim volume, a collection of essays over a fairly long span of his career, none of which I'd ever read before, reminded me what a generous and sharp writer he is, but also what an eye he has about It has been some time since I've read Russo. My reading habits fall toward binging, in that I'll discover a writer and then devour much of his or her work in fairly short order. When I'd discovered Russo, some years ago, he'd had Nobody's Fool, Straight Man, Empire Falls and Mohawk under his belt. This slim volume, a collection of essays over a fairly long span of his career, none of which I'd ever read before, reminded me what a generous and sharp writer he is, but also what an eye he has about both human hearts and behaviors. This is especially evident in Imagining Jenny, in which he recounts his own heart and behaviors surrounding gender reassignment surgery of one of his closest friends.The other big takeaway, for me, is what a student of writing he is. This should come as no great shock. Russo taught fiction for a good part of his career. (He even made a book out of it -- Straight Man -- which is one of the funniest novels I've ever read, one that made my sides quite literally hurt from laughter. The only other book that ever had that effect on me was Confederacy of Dunces.) But he has spent considerable time with Dickens and Twain and, reading him again, of course they are influences. His writing has that quality, even when he is not speaking of writers who he has loved and learned from, of a man trying his best to teach some lesson that he has learned, hard-learned or otherwise.
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  • Alice
    January 1, 1970
    Although I love RIchard Russo's fiction, I did not particularly enjoy these essays. A few were memorable -- such as the one about his friend Jenny Boylan -- but others -- such as about Mark Twain -- didn't interest me at all. Probably more about the writing process than I wanted to read. As always, Russo's writing is fine. I guess I will just return to his fiction, which is always first-rate.
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  • Sigrun Hodne
    January 1, 1970
    I must admit, I much prefer his novels.
  • Mike
    January 1, 1970
    I had never heard of Brooks Koepka until he won the U.S. Open golf championship a couple of weeks ago. Scratch that. I’m pretty sure I said the same thing a year ago, when Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open golf championship. Never heard of that guy! Now that he’s won it two years in a row, I can say I have heard of him, I just immediately forgot all about him. Similarly, a few weeks ago I received a Richard Russo book that I didn’t know was being published. But clearly I did know it was being publ I had never heard of Brooks Koepka until he won the U.S. Open golf championship a couple of weeks ago. Scratch that. I’m pretty sure I said the same thing a year ago, when Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open golf championship. Never heard of that guy! Now that he’s won it two years in a row, I can say I have heard of him, I just immediately forgot all about him. Similarly, a few weeks ago I received a Richard Russo book that I didn’t know was being published. But clearly I did know it was being published, because I had put a hold on it at the library months ago that was finally fulfilled. I simply had forgotten all about it in the meantime. So when it came it, I was surprised and overjoyed by the little gift I had given myself. “How could Richard Russo have a new book out that I didn’t know about?” I thought. But clearly I did know about it since I now had it. I had just forgotten that I knew about it. Kinda like Brooks Koepka and the U.S. Open.What I didn’t forget is that Richard Russo is a brilliant author. Every essay in “The Destiny Thief” is a reminder of that. The title essay is evidence of that, as Russo explores his history as a writer, comparing it to a friend of his who thought he was going to have the career Russo has enjoyed. Instead, Russo wound up with a career beyond his imagination, and in some ways feels imposter syndrome as it was never written in the stars for him. Other essays – some previously published, others unclear on the status – show he is an expert in Mark Twain and Charles Dickens’ “The Pickwick Papers,” and a very good writing teacher.Whatever the subject, Russo is as smooth a writer as it gets. He tells us that “show, don’t tell” is for beginning writers, makes an essay about grappling with his friend’s transition from man to woman as funny and heartfelt as it can be, and made me want to learn more about “The Pickwick Papers” when I couldn’t have cared less about it heading into this book.I hope I forget all about Richard Russo’s next book right after I put a hold on it at the library. And then I hope I am as overjoyed when the book arrives as I was this time. I’m sure I’ll enjoy it just as much, as Russo always comes through. Unlike Brooks Koepka, who I might forget about again as soon as I post this review, I’ll never forget about Richard Russo. I’ll just lose track of when his books come out.
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  • Bill Palmer
    January 1, 1970
    Like a lot of other reader reviewers, I prefer Russo's fiction. That's what he does best. But I was expecting this to be sort of dry, perhaps a bit on the technical side. Yet these essays are chock full of keen observations and sprinkled with pertinent quotes from other illustrious authors. And there's a fair amount of decent humor, as in "Address to the Graduates of Colby College" and "The Gravestone and the Commode". "Imagining Jenny" is a brutally honest and touching look at a long time male Like a lot of other reader reviewers, I prefer Russo's fiction. That's what he does best. But I was expecting this to be sort of dry, perhaps a bit on the technical side. Yet these essays are chock full of keen observations and sprinkled with pertinent quotes from other illustrious authors. And there's a fair amount of decent humor, as in "Address to the Graduates of Colby College" and "The Gravestone and the Commode". "Imagining Jenny" is a brutally honest and touching look at a long time male friend's decision to undergo gender reassignment. I'll not likely be a published author, especially since I'm not trying to be, but I do like to write and I thought "Getting Good" was, well, good. I found a couple lists of well regarded essay collections and quickly saw that I haven't read many of them. This wasn't on either list, but neither were Vonnegut or Chuck Klosterman. So I'm not going to worry about it too much and neither should Russo.
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  • Julia Nock
    January 1, 1970
    In these beautiful and generous essays, Richard Russo shares the wisdom gained through a long career of reading, writing, and teaching. Although nominally about writers and writing, ( and Russo gives us deft and original readings of Dickens and Twain), this collection offers a lens through which we can see and think about life itself. In the title essay “The Destiny Thief”, we see life's unforeseeable and ironic paths traced through the careers of young Russo and a college classmate; comic visio In these beautiful and generous essays, Richard Russo shares the wisdom gained through a long career of reading, writing, and teaching. Although nominally about writers and writing, ( and Russo gives us deft and original readings of Dickens and Twain), this collection offers a lens through which we can see and think about life itself. In the title essay “The Destiny Thief”, we see life's unforeseeable and ironic paths traced through the careers of young Russo and a college classmate; comic vision and the absurdity of life inspired by a prosaic home repair project in “The Gravestone and the Commode”; the difficult lessons of apprenticeship and the building of competence in “Getting Good”, the gently humorous but apt “Russo’s Rules for Life” in”Address to the 2004 Graduates of Colby College”;thinking about how we think and what we know ( and how to write about it) in “What Frogs Think: a Defence of Omniscience”, and the role of empathy and imagination in both life and writing as a longtime friend and colleague undergoes gender reassignment surgery in “Imagining Jenny”. Finally, we read about the vagaries of building bridges between cultures and the importance of the task of encouragement in “The Boss in Bulgaria” in which Russo is the keynote speaker at a somewhat misbegotten Bulgarian seminar. Russo’s long career as a writer of fiction serves him well here; while his topics are serious, they are told with humor, down-to-earth humility, and his typical gift of storytelling. I just loved this and would highly recommend it.
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  • Staci
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent collection of essays by Russo - funny, thoughtful and touching.
  • Kathy
    January 1, 1970
    Listened to audiobook.
  • Sharon
    January 1, 1970
    Loved the essay on omniscience. The essay on Jenny Boylan was intriguing, if a bit cringey at points.
  • Michael
    January 1, 1970
    A (mostly) solid collection of essays about writing and writers.
  • Katherine
    January 1, 1970
    "Most writers had about a thousand pages of shitty prose in them, he went on, and these have to be expelled before they can hope to write seriously" (3-4)."Explanations, in the final analysis, never satisfy us completely. They only reassure us, and that's a lesser achievement" (29)."As you may know, requests for exhumation are seldom granted" (25)."How do you learn not to care about something that matters? Because good teaching does matter. I intended to quit the classroom as soon as I could aff "Most writers had about a thousand pages of shitty prose in them, he went on, and these have to be expelled before they can hope to write seriously" (3-4)."Explanations, in the final analysis, never satisfy us completely. They only reassure us, and that's a lesser achievement" (29)."As you may know, requests for exhumation are seldom granted" (25)."How do you learn not to care about something that matters? Because good teaching does matter. I intended to quit the classroom as soon as I could afford to, but until then I approached my job as my grandfather did his imperfect skins. Each student, many of them first generation, was a puzzle worth pondering. Speed, carelessness and inattention were the enemy. If some of my colleagues were contemptuous of their students' abilities and doing slipshod work themselves, what did that have to do with me? Not a blessed thing" (77)."The word 'no' is the message no artist or craftsman wants to hear: 'You're not good enough yet,' which the little voice in you head, the one that lives to fuck with you, immediately explicates as: 'You're not good enough and you never will be'" (91)."Don't worry too much about the world they'll be born into, which will suck, because that's what the world mostly does" (113). *On having children.*Interesting info about the writing of Nobody's Fool in his essay on omniscience."'...mote-magnifying tyrant'" (186). *He's quoting Twain here. I love it.
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  • Cherise Wolas
    January 1, 1970
    Russo has a lovely welcoming voice and I enjoyed this collection of essays. Mind-blowing no, but filled with heart and intelligence.
  • Melanie
    January 1, 1970
    Years have passed since I read and loved Russo's work, but I admire him even more after devouring this collection. (I will likely reread parts; it's that good.) The essays explore the writer's experiences creating and connecting; at their heart, they examine language, and the ways we use it to move one another. "Getting Good" is superior, with "The Gravestone and the Commode" a close second.
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  • Shannon
    January 1, 1970
    Just finished the audiobook, and was so sorry that it was over that I listened to Russo read the copyright information. For me, a new book from Russo is like a long conversation with an old friend, who is much more funny and smart than I could ever hope to be.
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  • Leslie
    January 1, 1970
    Literary Hub's "Best Reviewed Books of the Week," May 18, 2018
  • Virginia Albanese
    January 1, 1970
    Some of the essays bit too esoteric for me. Interesting his take and admiration for Dickens and Twain.
  • Cynthia
    January 1, 1970
    I like especially the essays about humor--the Gravestone and the Commode--and the long, conflicted one about craft and excellence, unions and guilds, and "getting good."
  • Beau
    January 1, 1970
    #richardrusso
  • Kim
    January 1, 1970
    I expected more from this collection. Didn't seem to have a thread that held it all together. And there were a few passages, where he revealed himself as just another old school white male, that were off putting.
  • Patty
    January 1, 1970
    I loved these 205 pages of essays of Russo's thoughts told in his slow, connective style. We get a glimpse of his experiences so that we can learn what this man has learned. Like a teacher trying to instill the values of writing and writers he also suggests that doing the best work you can, no matter what profession you follow, is the golden key to satisfaction with your life as well as probable success. His story in the essay, Getting Good, about Guilds, that train a member by apprenticeship, a I loved these 205 pages of essays of Russo's thoughts told in his slow, connective style. We get a glimpse of his experiences so that we can learn what this man has learned. Like a teacher trying to instill the values of writing and writers he also suggests that doing the best work you can, no matter what profession you follow, is the golden key to satisfaction with your life as well as probable success. His story in the essay, Getting Good, about Guilds, that train a member by apprenticeship, and Unions, that protect the members while they are working and learning the job, was very helpful in discovering why Russo thinks both are important and why Russo is both a guild man, like his grandfather, and a union man, like his father. (Vice president of the Authors Guild; defending the writing life, and Member of the Writers Guild; screenwriters, which is really a union because it bargains collectively.) His observations and experiences will stay with me because he explained them so thoughfully and thoroughly. His question, "How do you learn not to care about something that matters?" seems to come up frequently in our race for time and money.The rest of the essays are equally impressive and thought provoking easy reading. But only by reading them yourself will you enjoy the lessons Russo shares. His ability to build a character in his novels has crossed over to these essays to let us know about his own character and how he operates. And why we appreciate his writing.
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  • Cathryn Conroy
    January 1, 1970
    This book of essays on writing, writers and life is for two types of readers:1. Diehard Richard Russo fans: You know who you are. I am one, too. He wrote it. You read it. Enough said.2. Aspiring novelists: His advice and recollections of his own fitful start in creative writing is a must-read for anyone who is seriously considering a career as a fiction writer, especially undergrads and 20-somethings. In addition to lots of inspiration, Russo provides a behind-the-scenes look at the book-writing This book of essays on writing, writers and life is for two types of readers:1. Diehard Richard Russo fans: You know who you are. I am one, too. He wrote it. You read it. Enough said.2. Aspiring novelists: His advice and recollections of his own fitful start in creative writing is a must-read for anyone who is seriously considering a career as a fiction writer, especially undergrads and 20-somethings. In addition to lots of inspiration, Russo provides a behind-the-scenes look at the book-writing profession, including how difficult it is to get a big publisher to notice your work. This is quite an eclectic collection of essays. • There are some that function almost as a memoir but then morph into something else, typically praise and criticism for the publishing industry. • There is a fascinating essay on Russo's reaction to and involvement with a close male friend as he had transgender surgery. • His commencement address to the Colby College graduating class of 2004 is so good that it alone is worth the price of the book. • One essay is almost a graduate seminar in writing point of view—which one to choose and why. • Two others on Charles Dickens and Mark Twain, both great influences on Russo, made me want to read "Bleak House" or "Huck Finn" all over again.It's always fun to open the curtain and see a favorite author working his magic. That's what this book was for me.
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