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The art of fiction, uncaged

Table of contents

1. The Uncertainty Principle
2. Emblem, Essence
3. The Piano Has Been Drinking
4. Elkin
5. Ain’t That Pretty at All, or Going to the Tigers
6. Refer Madness
7. Living, Loving, Temple-Going
8. A Maker of Mirrors
9. C. and Sardinia 
10. Kafka’s Budget Guide to Florence
11. Invisible Ink: A Mystery


In this funny and perceptive collection, novelist and essayist Robert Cohen shares his thoughts on the writing process and then puts these prescriptions into practice—from how to rant effectively as an essayist and novelist (“The Piano Has Been Drinking”), how to achieve your own style, naming characters (and creating them), how one manages one’s own identity with being “a writer” in time and space, to the use of reference and allusion in one’s work. Cohen is a deft weaver of allusion himself. In lieu of telling the reader how to master the elements of writing fiction, he shows them through the work of the writers who most influenced his own development, including Roth, Ellison, Kafka, and Robinson. Rooted in his own experiences, this collection of essays shows readers how to use their influences and experiences to create bold, personal, and individual work. While the first part of the book teaches writing, the essays in the second part show how these elements come together.

Robert Cohen is the author of Inspired SleepAmateur Barbarians, and The Varieties of Romantic Experience, among other works of fiction. His honors and awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers Award, and a Pushcart Prize. He teaches at Middlebury College, and has previously taught fiction at Harvard, the Iowa Writers Workshop, the Bread Loaf Conference, and the Warren Wilson MFA Program for Writers.

“Rage, intelligence, laughter: they’re all here in Robert Cohen’s Going to the Tigers. Who knew that literary criticism and memoir could be this entertaining and this incisive, all at the same time? Like D. H. Lawrence—exasperated by low-voltage life, ordinary politeness, and everything else—these essays go all out, burning with infallible brilliance and wit as they approach those fearsome, death-dealing metaphorical animals, the tigers.”
—Charles Baxter, University of Minnesota

- Charles Baxter

“A miracle of voice, a virtuosic demonstration of how sliding up and down the tonal register can convey genuinely deep (and conflicting) modes of feeling and thought. Irresistible.”
—David Shields, author of Reality Hunger: A Manifesto

- David Shields

“I came out of this book so glad to have read it. These are brilliant essays, in which the life of the mind is a radiant and cranky thing. As I read nonstop, arguing and assenting, I kept being dazzled—the ideas kept giving me ideas. A triumph.”
—Joan Silber, author of Secrets of Happiness and Improvement

- Joan Silber

“Robert Cohen is a wonderful fiction writer and renowned teacher and this collection of essays on writing and reading, filled with lucent insight and almost insouciant erudition, proves what many of us have known for years, that he’s thrillingly excellent intellectual company. The rueful wit, and slightly grizzled wisdom of this charming, brilliant, soulful book has swiftly made it one of my favorites on the writing life.”
—Peter Ho Davies, author of The Art of Revision: The Last Word

- Peter Ho Davies

“In this homage to negative capability, Robert Cohen writes with marvellous wit, passion, erudition and self-deprecation about the journeys he has taken with some of his favourite writers. Going to the Tigers is pure pleasure, and reading it made my brain feel larger.”
—Margot Livesey, author of The Boy in the Field

- Margot Livesey

“Robert Cohen brings the same humane sensibility to his nonfiction that is everywhere evident in his fiction. I love the way that he both promotes and erodes certainty in these eleven literary pieces of uncertainty and quest. As a writer who reads prose to save his life, he is frequently both funny and sad at the same time—droll, dizzying, street-smart, imaginative, and wise.”
—Edward Hirsch, author of 100 Poems to Break Your Heart

- Edward Hirsch

 “What a master class this is--not only about the art of writing, but also about the glorious, messy, hilarious, soul-stirring, lifelong practice of being a writer. In these essays, Robert Cohen is both incisive and fearless. Anyone interested in writing seriously needs to read this book.”
—Stacey D’Erasmo, author of The Complicities

- Stacey D'Erasmo

“I read Robert Cohen’s work to learn how to be a better writer. His command of the prose, the elegance of his sentences, his sense of irony coupled with compassion are a gold standard in my book. He is a fabulous writer and critic of writing.”
—Julia Alvarez, Middlebury College

- Julia Alvarez

"Robert Cohen’s essays are insightful, entertaining explorations of writers and writing. . . Going to the Tigers is an enriching, engaging guide to some of the highs, lows, hows, and whys of literature." 
Foreword Reviews

- Peter Dabbene

"Threading his treatises with self-deprecating humor and examples from authors who influenced him, Cohen subtly illustrates one of the cornerstones of good writing — show, don't tell — with elegance, wit and style."
Seven Days

- Seven Days

Read: Excerpt in The Millions | October 28, 2022
Read: Review in Seven Days | August 24, 2022