Despite the inevitable omissions—his warmly democratic tribute to the New York Public Library being the most egregious—an...

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ALFRED KAZIN’S AMERICA

CRITICAL AND PERSONAL WRITINGS

Selections from the distinguished late critic’s books and articles highlight his sense of kinship with American writers from Hawthorne to Didion.

Writing as a literary scholar for the general public, Kazin (1915–98) coupled his criticism with three volumes of memoirs to proclaim the personal sustenance a son of immigrants found in American literature, and to assert that it belonged to everyone. Excerpts from A Walker in the City (1951), Starting Out in the Thirties (1962), and the bluntly titled New York Jew (1978) paint vivid, bracingly unsentimental portraits of Brooklyn in the 1930s; of such peers in “the literary life” as Mary McCarthy, Philip Rahv, and Saul Bellow; of elder statesmen like Lionel Trilling and Edmund Wilson (the latter one of Kazin’s best character/cultural sketches). Pieces drawn from On Native Grounds (1942) remind us of Kazin’s pioneering work in tracing the flowering of realism in American literature from William Dean Howells in the 1890s through Theodore Dreiser and Sherwood Anderson to Lost Generation icons Fitzgerald and Hemingway. Only Edith Wharton seems to evade his complete understanding, but he does better with contemporary female authors like Joan Didion and Joyce Carol Oates in a section also notable for sharp essays on Flannery O’Connor and Walker Percy; Cheever, Salinger, and Updike; Bellow, Malamud, and Roth. WASPS, Jews, or southerners, they were all Americans first and foremost to Kazin: few critics have more penetratingly limned the “belief in the ideal freedom and power of the self, in the political and social visions of radical democracy” that informs our national literature. “Departed Friends” examines those same overriding themes in the 19th-century titans, including Thoreau, Melville, Dickinson, and Twain. Editor Solotaroff’s introduction sets Kazin’s life in historical context, an important service for a critic who always insisted on the intimate, intricate links between literature and society.

Despite the inevitable omissions—his warmly democratic tribute to the New York Public Library being the most egregious—an enthralling introduction to the work of a man who “lived to read” and conveyed that passion to his own readers for half a century.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-621343-6

Page Count: 592

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2003

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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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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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