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From the Stacks: Puzzles, writing meet in creative book

by Ken Satterfield | September 18, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

Have you ever wondered about the process that leads to the end result of what you read? You don't get to see what comes before: the blank page starting to fill with thoughts, words assembling into sentences, phrases snipped, paragraphs rearranged and words replaced.

If that sounds something like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, you begin to understand the premise of Peter Turchi's book "A Muse & A Maze: Writing as Puzzle, Mystery and Magic."

In his previous book, "Maps of the Imagination," Turchi compares writing to map creation, deciding how much detail needs to be included while helping the reader identify where they are in relation to the world. Here, he finds fascinating links between writing, puzzles, illusions and life.

Many day-to-day tasks we encounter are puzzle-like: the shortest route to finish all your errands, laying out a website or setting up soccer schedules. The solution to life's little puzzles is not based solely on our knowledge. It also requires insight, those "aha! moments" when we discover a relationship between what we already know and what we are examining.

Like the magician's misdirection in performing a trick, a writer's purpose is not to hide hidden messages as much as it is to drop clues that lead the reader into considering something new. Like the shapes of a tangram that are rearranged to make a picture, we and the author try to determine how the pieces of life fit together to reveal new truths. Like a maze, arriving at a destination or understanding may involve many detours and surprising dead ends before (hopefully) reaching the goal.

The narrative of the book is a meandering path itself, dwelling on artists and authors alike. Turchi considers how Samuel Clemens reinvents himself as Mark Twain, debates the real identity of Jay in "The Great Gatsby," and looks at the clues Norman Rockwell shares about himself in his "Triple Self-Portrait."

Turchi does more than write about puzzles, he sprinkles diversions throughout the book. You may encounter a parenthetical thought, riddle, folk tale or the secret to a magic trick. Two pictures of a Sudoku illustrate that while no one wants to solve it with only one square empty (too easy) or all empty (too difficult), in between there are a great number of variations, as in life.

I am a puzzle enthusiast and enjoy writing, so the premise of the book appealed to me. I enjoyed uncovering many unexpected connections between the two pursuits that made me appreciate each a little more. Much like finally stumbling onto a puzzle's solution, there are many satisfying aha! moments for you to discover.

Ken Satterfield is a circulation assistant at the Missouri River Regional Library.

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