Book Blog Review: Isakby Nina Ignaczak • 07.15.2010
Welcome to Isak, the project of journalist and fiction writer Anna Clark. Named after writer Isak Dinesen, the blog seeks to provide “a space to celebrate tales and truth in the curious, loving way that embodies the spirit of the writer for which it is named.” On a given day, you may encounter Clark’s musings on the merits and inadequacies of author Francine Prose, an in-depth look at the work of recent Pulitzer winners, or a list of top literary magazines to which you absolutely must subscribe. Isak was recently listed as one of Largehearted Boy’s “Blogs to Read 2010.”
Clark’s meditations reflect a heartfelt reverance for literature and its importance to society and spirit. Whether she is arguing with literary critics on form (the role of narrative vs. scenes in fiction in Marilyn Robinson’s Housekeeping), expounding on the macabre prose style of William Styron ’s Lie Down in the Darkness, or commenting on a Wall Street Journal article about a kid’s campaign to prevent closure of a local independent bookstore, she exhibits unmistakable allegiance to the power and sanctity of words.
In 2009 Isak launched Choose Books: A Gift Guide for Those Who Love Stories series, a 53-page Christmas shopping guide designed to get a book into the hands of readers of every persuasion. Clark presents this guide as a call to action:
Your participation in literary culture matters more than ever. And it’s not as if this is something to be done out of charity: there are so many wonderful books out there, dynamic and strange and absorbing books, books suited to so many different personalities and tastes.
Another Isak gem is the weekly Literary & Media Indulgences, which contains a list of shorts and links to a smorgasbord of literary and media topics. The June 2, 2010 edition included a link to a funny and poignant piece at the Millions about not finishing books, an On the Media piece on photournalistic ethics, and a link to the top ten gothic novels of the twentieth century.
Isak also gives ample space to social justice issues, which clearly are as dear to Clark’s heart as literary life. Her freelance journalism and blog posts touch frequently on women’s reproductive rights, prison justice (she serves as a mentor in the Prison Creative Arts Projects), gay rights, and poverty issues. Clark was recently awarded a Fulbright fellowship and will live for six months in Nairobi, Kenya starting this winter, where she will facilitate writing workshops with young people.
Clark has been at work on Isak for four years, averaging 11 posts per week. Her site has been visited by readers in 103 nations, and has amassed 2,596 posts as of March 30, 2010. She writes from her home near Wayne State University Cultural Center in Detroit, “a city I’ve been hungry to come to for a long time,” she claims. Although Clark is clearly an active Detroiter, Isak does not have an overtly Detroit focus; just 16 of over 100 posts since January 1st, 2010 have borne the tagline “Detroit Stories.”
What makes Isak stands out among literary blogs is that it is obviously a labor of love. What the site lacks in graphic polish (it uses a standard typepad URL and design theme and is a bit cluttered) it makes up for in heart. Never cerebral or unapproachable, Clark serves up her literary analysis with such unaffected honesty it is clear that not only is she in love with words, but she truly believes they can change the world.