Attack of the Copula Spiders
Book News, Reviews, Orders
“…a master of narrative structure” (Wall Street Journal)
“…every literate person in the country should be reading Glover’s essays.” (Globe and Mail)
Order Attack of the Copula Spiders
- from the Numéro Cinq Bookstore (Amazon.com)
- from IndieBound
- from Amazon.ca
- from Chapters/Indigo
- from the publisher
April 25, 2013
Brendan Riley review in Review of Contemporary Fiction:
This is not literary craft reduced to statistical formulae and write-by-the-numbers word-bytes. Glover’s admirable ability and patient willingness to cast a careful—not cold—eye on what makes sentences hum and flow is fueled by a vital, infectious fascination with words, enabling him to reveal the inspired, alchemical, verbal concatenation at work in the most alluring and memorable fiction writing.
March 30, 2013
March 9, 2013
A Canadian author’s book on writing went viral on social media recently, leading to thousands of would-be fiction writers searching their manuscripts for “Copula Spiders.”
Douglas Glover’s book Attack of the Copula Spiders (Biblioasis) coins the term to refer to the multi-appendaged mess created by circling and linking all of the variations of the verb “to be” in a paragraph. (Copula is a term for the link between subject and predicate of a verb.) Excessive use of sentence constructions like “he was happy” or “the building was unassuming” lead to “flaccid and uninteresting prose,” he writes.
Joe Ponepinto, book review editor of the Los Angeles Review, brought Glover’s ideas to the literary world in a much-circulated blog post subtitled “Why I’ll never write (or read) the same way again.”
March 2, 2013
I reviewed a book a while back that has stayed with me for many months and has affected the way I write and read, and it’s opened my eyes to a weakness in much creative writing, even in published books. Douglas Glover’s Attack of the Copula Spiders (Biblioasis, 2012) criticizes many aspects of fiction, but saves its most withering scorn for the rampant and indiscriminate use of copulas.
I hear you asking, “What’s a copula? I admit I had to look it up. Webster’s definition says: “the connecting link between subject and predicate of a proposition.” In most cases, this refers to a form of the word “be.” But what does that mean to us everyday writers? It means banal, didactic, often passive sentences, almost completely lacking in action or depth.
As Glover says: “A copula spider occurs when a student uses the verb ‘to be’ so many times on a page that I can circle all the instances, connect them with lines, and draw a spider diagram. Now there is nothing grammatically wrong with the verb ‘to be,’ but if you use it over and over again your prose is likely to be flaccid and uninteresting.”
From Chapman/Chapman’s Favorite Longreads of 2012.
“‘A Scrupulous Fidelity: on Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser’ by Douglas Glover, The Brooklyn Rail
Close reading doesn’t get much better than this. Glover expertly unpacks the logorrheic hilarity of Bernhard’s text without ruining any of the fun.”
Attack of the Copula Spiders named one of the top non-fiction books of 2012 by The Globe and Mail.
“[By] by the time I reached the penultimate chapter, a brilliant examination of, among other things, the catastrophic meeting of the 15th-century book cultures of Europe and the oral cultures of the new world, I had decided that every literate person in the country should be reading Glover’s essays.” — Charles Wilkins
Governor-General Podcast Interview with Sky Hornig in Calgary during Wordfest in mid-October.
The Governor-General Podcast Interview – Douglas Glover
A few months ago I read a book by Douglas Glover titled Attack of the Copula Spiders. At the time, I didn’t even know what a copula was. Once I understood, I spent days fixing copula-laden writing, and sweated over every sentence I wrote to make sure I was using more active verbs. In time, though, those fixations fade into the subconscious, which is where they belong. The key to good writing, I believe, is not to ignore rules and not to obsess over them. It’s to incorporate the ones you believe are true into your writing psyche so that you are aware of them without thinking about them. — Joe Ponepinto, Book Review Editor at LA Review. Writer, editor, teacher. Occasional curmudgeon. Dad to henry, the coffee-drinkin’ dog
If I had to guess what events will sell out first, my money would be on the Douglas Glover Master Class. He’s a spectacular Canadian writer who has kindly agreed to do a three hour class on the mechanics of good creative writing for WordFest patrons. The best part about it? It’s only 30 bucks per person. What are you waiting for? Follow this link and buy tickets now!
Shelagh Shapiro interviews dg on his new book Attack of the Copula Spiders at Write the Book, Shelagh’s long-running radio show, which, by the way, is fast becoming an institution in its own right, a vast trove of writerly advice and experience. Listen to the interview on Shelagh’s site or download the podcast — it’s also available at iTunes.
by Jane Eaton Hamilton
I’m reading “Attack of the Copula Spiders” by Douglas Glover. i remember him trying to drill the matters in his first piece, “How to Write a Novel,” through my thick brain back in Saratoga Springs in the early 90s. It was the best advice I had ever gotten on making a novel. Really, it still is, and I’m glad to see it again in other than my own scrambled notes.
Vivian Dorsel interviews Douglas Glover in upstreet 8.
Dorsel: What do you emphasize in your teaching of writing?
Glover: Reading. The first thing I give students is a reading rubric and an analytical check-list to begin to reform their reading skills. As I say in Attack of the Copula Spiders, we live in a post-literate age. On a certain level that book is about the act of reading. I am pushing a critical aesthetic that is a bit like New Criticism and a bit like Russian Formalism; but, to my mind, as a writer, it just seems reasonable and immeasurably expands comprehension. You read a story and pay some attention to how it’s put together and, beyond the illusion of fictional narrative, you suddenly engage with the text on a whole other, rather exciting, level of grammar, rhythm and meaning. You begin to see connections that hitherto you vaguely passed over supplying your own dreamy connotations (as you’re taught to do in high school). We’re at a moment in our culture when differences in the ability to read and comprehend a text are critical.
I can’t remember the moment when I actually invented the phrase “copula spiders,” I only foggily recall circling over and over again all the “to be” verbs and then noticing that I could make a diagram on the page and that the diagram resembled a spider (with far more legs than it should have). The real issue, the shocking point, is that when you teach writing you are basically teaching the same student over and over again. It doesn’t matter whether the student is writing nonfiction or fiction or that the student thinks the burning piece of paper in his hand is the next War and Peace because he has put his heart into it and it comes out of his own original personal thoughts and is different (he believes) from anything ever written before (or in the future). The shocking thing is the uniformity of mediocrity. The shocking thing is that intelligent adults can’t think of another verb to use (actually most students jog along with a verb repertoire of about five: to be, to look, to sit, to stand, to see—absolutely the most popular verb choices).
The crucial connector here is to realize that part of the reason proto-writers don’t notice they are doing this is because they don’t know how to read. Eighty percent of what I do every semester is teach students how to read like writers, that is, with attention to structure and the felicities of well-written prose. So the two aspects of my book are necessarily joined: you can’t teach people to write simply by telling them what they are doing wrong; you have to show them where it is done right, that is, you have to show them how to read.
Once you learn to read you can teach yourself how to write. Literature is an encyclopedia of technique.
“The best essays in this collection come further in as Glover, like a physicist dissecting atoms, breaks down the prose of several great writers of the past few decades. A successful fiction writer in his own right, he wants not only to identify the techniques of stylists such as Alice Munro, Mark Anthony Jarman, and Thomas Bernhard, but to understand the grand logic behind the structures, the God-like plans that such geniuses hatch to produce their greatest works. Although this is not specifically a “how-to” book, Glover’s analyses in Copula Spiders prove far more insightful than traditional criticism, and by extension far more helpful to writers who are serious about approaching perfection in their craft.” — Joe Ponepinto @ The Los Angeles Review
The first bad review; always a landmark. DG taken to the barn and whipped with limp squibs by Daniel Evans Pritchard at The Critical Flame, a young man apparently lacking a sense of humor and a delusional optimist who seems to think all those e-books coming out are worth reading. Without a trace of irony, he quotes, um, a Gallup poll to tell us the state of literary culture in America. At least he spelled my name right (although he didn’t manage to copy Mark Anthony Jarman’s name with the same accuracy — Mark suddenly becoming French in the translation — Marc Anthony Jarman). Tiresome as it is, I herewith issue my usual challenge to a duel.
Such was the pace of my conversion, that by the time I reached the penultimate chapter, a brilliant examination of, among other things, the catastrophic meeting of the 15th-century book cultures of Europe and the oral cultures of the new world, I had decided that every literate person in the country should be reading Glover’s essays and was fixing to present them to my eldest daughter, who is about to begin literary studies at UBC.
Glover is at times rather detached in his assessment of the value of storytelling. And yet there is a subtext to his work, a sense that if a story is to have life beyond the intrinsics of its existence, it must, sooner or later, ease up to the imponderables at the heart of what it is to be human. As Joni Mitchell said of songwriting, if at some point a song’s lyrics don’t extend themselves into a larger orbit, “it’s all just complaining.” Charles Wilkins, The Globe and Mail
His sortie on the verb “to be” in “Attack of the Copula Spiders” is particularly brilliant. Mark Sampson at Free Range Reading
Attack of the Copula Spiders is a practical guide for anyone interested in writing. Glover’s first chapter, “How To Write A Novel,” alone is worth the price of the book. Telegraph Journal SalonBooks
Caroline Adderson, author of A History of Forgetting: “Just ordered it. The essay on “Meneseteung” alone is worth the price.”
“These essays are not just for writing students, however. Whatever heightens student awareness of craft also sharpens the awareness of the general reader who has no desire to try his or her hand at writing but would like better to understand literature. Glover has an essay on Alice Munro that is of value to any short story writer but also should be required reading for anyone interested in Canadian fiction.” Philip Marchand in the National Post
“You should have a look at Douglas Glover on what may be the Mexican classic, Pedro Paramo, which was once described to me as “Mexico’s Joyce.” (The essay appears in Glover’s recent Attack of the Copula Spiders, which looks to be a great book of literary essays.)” — Scott Esposito at Conversational Reading
“Thoughtful and erudite books such as Attack of the Copula Spiders are always useful as roadmaps for developing better readers and writers. Now if we could only get the world to read them carefully.” George Fetherling review in Quill and Quire
“I’m a few chapters into reading it a second time. All of it is wise and clear and exciting. The book is chock-full of good stuff, but the first and third chapters are especially brilliant. And the first paragraph of your essay on the Rooke novel is itself worth the price of the book. ” — Jack Hodgins, Governor General’s Award winning author of The Resurrection of Joseph Bourne and The Invention of the World
Douglas Glover interview re Attack of the Copula Spiders on The Danforth Review.
Douglas Glover’s Craftwork talk on the novel at the Center for Fiction — based on “How To Write A Novel,” one of the essays in Attack of the Copula Spiders
Craftwork: Douglas Glover — Wednesday, March 14, 2012, 7:00 pm, at
The Center for Fiction
17 E. 47th Street
(between Fifth and Madison)
New York, NY 10017
Douglas Glover Read at Celebration of The Literarian
The Center for Fiction
17 E. 47th Street
(between Fifth and Madison)
New York, NY 10017
Thursday March 15, 2012
Come join us for drinks and micro-readings in celebration of our online magazine, The Literarian, featuring contribs Alan Cheuse, Anne Landsman, Barbara O’Dair, Carmela Ciuraru, Christine Schutt, Diane DeSanders, Douglas Glover, Elissa Schappell, Jane Ciabattari, Kim Chinquee, Leigh Newman, Leopoldine Core, Terese Svoboda, Tracy O’Neill, and Victoria Redel.
The Thomas Bernhard essay in Attack of the Copula Spiders quoted in The New Yorker online Book Bench.
Among the essays included in the book:
- How to Write a Novel (dg’s famous Novel Lecture)
- How to Write a Short Story: Notes on Structure and an Exercise (see examples of student stories written from the exercise here and here)
- The Drama of Grammar
- The Mind of Alice Munro
- Novels and Dreams
- A Scrupulous Fidelity: On Thomas Bernhard’s The Loser
UK Guardian reviewer and columnist and editor of the magazine 3 a.m. Andrew Gallix quotes from Attack of the Copula Spiders.
(This is in his Phantom Book category, related to language theory and a modernist aesthetic. dg is up there with Walter Benjamin, George Steiner and Herman Melville.)
Linked on A Piece of Monologue, ReadySteadyBook, and wood s lot.
“…excellent essay” — @ Who Killed Lemmy Caution?
“…excellent essay” — @ Three Minutes’ Chewing
“…a great essay by Douglas Glover about Thomas Bernhard’s novel The Loser (it is serialized from Attack of the Copula Spiders and Other Essays on Writing, published by Biblioasis. The essay makes a fine rundown of the various rhetorical devices that makes Bernhard Bernhard. So if you ever wonder how he manages to attain those typically Bernhardian effects, look here.” Scott Esposito @ Conversational Reading