The Writing Book Recommended by Larry McEnerney (Director of the University of Chicago’s Writing Program)

Posted by John-Henry on Monday, July 16, 2018

One day during the Spring quarter I was early to my writing class and found myself standing next to Larry McEnerney, director of the University of Chicago’s writing program. I had never spoken to early personally before that day, but I knew he was fairly famous on campus for having a fabulous, quirky personality, and was considered by many students to be a genius. I mustered up the up to courage to ask him if he had any writing books to recommend. I saw a twinkle in his eye, as he began to answer.

He answered my question by telling me a story about him and his father. “My father was a fisherman” Larry began. I could already find myself caught off track. He continue, “and one day he took me to the fishing store to buy some lures and baits.” Larry’s father then asked him, “Do you know how to design a lure that sells well?”. Larry offered some kind of non-answer, something like, “well it needs to catch a lot of fish!”. Larry’s father told him, no, “In order to sell a fishing lure that sells well, you need to make a lure that catch a lot of fisherman! Fisherman buy the lures, not fish.” I found myself thinking that Larry was not only a genius, but also an entrepreneur.

Then Larry asked me, do you know to write a writing books the sells well? I offered the same non-answer he had made to his father, mumbling something about how you need to write a book that appeals to a lot of bad writers.

No he said. “You need to write a book that writing teachers like, because they are going to make their students buy copies.” Of course that was Larry’s answer. It was time to go inside. “No I don’t have any writing books to recommend”.

Later on in the middle of class, he interrupted his own lecture to answer my question again. “There is one writing book I recommend” Larry said. “The first 50 pages of Uses of Argument by Stephen Toulmin are great, but then after that is not that good”. He took a moment to further qualify his statement, “the first 50 pages are wrong, but useful”.

If you are interested in learning more from Larry McEnerney, I recommend checking out this video


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