TALKING HORSE

BERNARD MALAMUD ON LIFE AND WORK

Sensible reflections on the writer's life from a modest master of postwar fiction. While widely respected and, thanks to the popular success of The Natural (1952), more widely read than many of his contemporaries, the novelist and short-story writer Bernard Malamud (1914-86) has remained a somewhat enigmatic figure. As editors Cheuse (The Light Possessed, 1990. etc.) and Delbanco (In the Name of Mercy, 1995, etc.) explain in their loving commentaries, Malamud was a private man, not known for blowing his own horn. He did, however, produce a significant body of reflections on literature, the craft of writing, and his own experiences, now gathered in this agreeable volume. Malamud's best pieces explore the singularities of his formation. In a lecture at Bennington College in 1984, Malamud recollects his long apprenticeship as a high school teacher and as a professor at Oregon State University. In a Paris Review interview he covers this territory in more discursive fashion, interspersing some subtle yet striking remarks about his works. Having called his novel Pictures of Fidelman "a book about finding a vocation," Malamud wryly asks the reader to "forgive the soft impeachment." But essay-length enjoinders to young writers to "take chances" become extended cliches. Still, cliches can have their virtues, and Malamud's have the not inconsiderable virtue of integrity. This quality shines through when Malamud considers his own life experience, for instance, from the perspective of his relation to his Jewish identity. It shines as well in a pair of addresses, given when Malamud served as president of the PEN American Center, which forcefully make the case for the importance of writing as a humanistic, civilizing endeavor. In such pieces, the quiet moral courage at the heart of Malamud's work, his stubborn devotion to the integrity of an artist's unique, individual vision, are thrown into bold relief, reminding us of how much we miss that humane, modest, intelligent voice.

Pub Date: May 23, 1996

ISBN: 0-231-10184-8

Page Count: 246

Publisher: Columbia Univ.

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1996

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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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