Deserving of a place among other modern classic writers’ memoirs like Stephen King’s On Writing and Chee’s mentor Annie...

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HOW TO WRITE AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOVEL

ESSAYS

A precise and candid set of essays from the novelist Chee (English and Creative Writing/Dartmouth Coll.; The Queen of the Night, 2016, etc.) about life, writing, and how each sustains the other.

This collection wasn’t planned as a conventional memoir. However, arranged to cover the author’s life from adolescence to the present day, it possesses a loose arc and consistent set of throughlines. One is Chee’s status as a gay Amerasian man, which has energized him as a pro–LGBT activist and liberated him as a person; the counterweights, though, are the friends lost to AIDS and the professional doors closed to him. (His first gay-themed novel had a hard time selling due to its subject matter.) Another throughline is Chee’s struggle to launch his writing career, and he’s engagingly blunt about the labor that serious writing demands and the money that’s often lacking anyway. At his most spirited, in “My Parade,” he rebuts the dismissive clichés about MFA programs and how they’re often born of a writer’s fear of confronting the emotional honesty the job requires. “The only things you must have to become a writer,” he writes, “are the stamina to continue and a wily, cagey heart in the face of extremity, failure, and success.” Even Chee’s detours don’t stray far from his core concerns: working as a cater-waiter for William F. Buckley and his wife demanded emotionally balancing a certain jealousy of their lifestyle and contempt for his homophobia, while tending a rose garden in his dreary Brooklyn apartment serves as a metaphor for the ordered disorder of writing a novel. What truly unifies these pieces, though, is the author’s consistent care with words and open-hearted tone; having been through emotional and artistic wars, he’s produced a guidebook to help others survive them too.

Deserving of a place among other modern classic writers’ memoirs like Stephen King’s On Writing and Chee’s mentor Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-328-76452-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis...

THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE

50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Privately published by Strunk of Cornell in 1918 and revised by his student E. B. White in 1959, that "little book" is back again with more White updatings.

Stricter than, say, Bergen Evans or W3 ("disinterested" means impartial — period), Strunk is in the last analysis (whoops — "A bankrupt expression") a unique guide (which means "without like or equal").

Pub Date: May 15, 1972

ISBN: 0205632645

Page Count: 105

Publisher: Macmillan

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1972

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Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

SEVERAL SHORT SENTENCES ABOUT WRITING

New York Times columnist and editorial board member delivers a slim book for aspiring writers, offering saws and sense, wisdom and waggery, biases and biting sarcasm.

Klinkenborg (Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile, 2006), who’s taught for decades, endeavors to keep things simple in his prose, and he urges other writers to do the same. (Note: He despises abuses of the word as, as he continually reminds readers.) In the early sections, the author ignores traditional paragraphing so that the text resembles a long free-verse poem. He urges readers to use short, clear sentences and to make sure each one is healthy before moving on; notes that it’s acceptable to start sentences with and and but; sees benefits in diagramming sentences; stresses that all writing is revision; periodically blasts the formulaic writing that many (most?) students learn in school; argues that knowing where you’re headed before you begin might be good for a vacation, but not for a piece of writing; and believes that writers must trust readers more, and trust themselves. Most of Klinkenborg’s advice is neither radical nor especially profound (“Turn to the poets. / Learn from them”), and the text suffers from a corrosive fallacy: that if his strategies work for him they will work for all. The final fifth of the text includes some passages from writers he admires (McPhee, Oates, Cheever) and some of his students’ awkward sentences, which he treats analytically but sometimes with a surprising sarcasm that veers near meanness. He includes examples of students’ dangling modifiers, malapropisms, errors of pronoun agreement, wordiness and other mistakes.

Analyzing his craft, a careful craftsman urges with Thoreauvian conviction that writers should simplify, simplify, simplify.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26634-7

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

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